Following an order from the government this week for businesses on O’Tres and O’Chheuteal beaches in Preah Sihanouk province to shut down, about 100 business owners and vendors protested in Phnom Penh on Thursday, calling for the decision to be overturned.
On Tuesday, provincial officials announced that all bars, guesthouses and restaurants on O’Tres beach, and some on the southern end of neighboring O’Chheuteal beach, would have until March 13 to close before being destroyed by authorities. The officials cited environmental concerns in their decision.
A group of beachside food vendors, owners of businesses on the beach and their employees arrived outside the National Assembly at around 9 a.m. and were met by CNRP lawmaker Chea Poch and CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng, before being allowed into the building to submit a letter requesting that they be allowed to continue working on the beaches.
The protesters said they were under the impression that they were being evicted because the government was planning to build public gardens in the area.
“Our vendors support the government plans to construct gardens, but please let us keep our businesses in the same area, or find another area where it is possible for us to continue our business,” they wrote in the letter.
“I have seven kids, and I need money to feed them. I need to stay on the beach because it’s how I get a daily wage so they can study,” said one of the protesters, Chhit Yoeun, a vendor who sells chips and drinks along O’Chheuteal beach.
Iem Moeun, a seafood seller who also works on O’Chheuteal, argued that evicting vendors and businesses would not help improve the coastal environment.
“The tourists will continue to throw trash in the sea regardless,” Mr. Moeun said.
After leaving the National Assembly, the protesters dropped off petitions at the Ministry of Land Management and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet before returning to the coast.
Seng Lout, a spokesman for the Land Management Ministry, confirmed that the petition had been received, but said he believed the businesses were illegally operating on state land.
“We will bring their concerns to the government…but for now we see people trying to take some of the state beaches to build their property,” Mr. Lout said.
Asked about rumors of the construction of gardens along the beaches, Sihanoukville governor Y Sokleng said there were no concrete plans to do so, but did not rule out the possibility.
“The government has no exact plans to build a garden, but we think we could develop it into a garden or road,” Mr. Sokleng said.
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