SIHANOUKVILLE – Authorities in Sihanoukville followed through with their long-threatened eviction of vendors from the end of the popular O’Chheuteal Beach on Saturday afternoon, demolishing nearly 100 structures along the 2 km strip known locally as Ariston.
Officials said buildings on nearby O’Tres Beach would be next, but did not say exactly when the demolition might begin.
Between 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., a total of 96 structures, from simple tents to a brick-walled restaurant, were demolished after the owners had repeatedly ignored orders to leave, deputy Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Chhin Seng Nguon said on Sunday.
“They did not move, so we had to remove them,” he said, noting that officials had set a March 13 deadline for them to leave, citing environmental concerns and the failure by residents to pay property taxes.
“If we kept stands like this, they would be all over the beach,” he said. “It is so dirty and trash is everywhere.”
Sok Phan, another deputy provincial governor, reiterated on Sunday that the beach was being cleared to beautify the area for tourists.
“We can’t keep the area like it is, we need to manage it…and make it well organized and beautiful,” he said, noting that while the evictions may have appeared harsh, strong action was required.
“When eating pork, it is necessary to eat some fat,” he said.
Saturday’s evictions coincided with the construction of a new boardwalk along the same stretch of beach, a project meant to link the upscale Sokha Beach Resort, north of Ariston, to O’Tres Beach to the south.
Authorities carrying out the evictions made use of the heavy construction machinery brought in to build the boardwalk. Two bulldozers and an excavator were accompanied by over 100 police, military police and local laborers armed with hatchets and hammers to tear down the structures.
On the stretch of beach where the removals started, Phal Cheab’s family held out until 3:30 p.m., when demolition began on their small metal hut.
“At 1 p.m. the police and government came here, and at 1:30 p.m. they started destroying all the properties,” he said, gesturing down the beach at bulldozer tracks leading south, along a line of broken wooden beams, twisted metal sheeting and torn tarpaulins.
“We have to negotiate with the government,” he said, noting that representatives from rights groups Licadho and Adhoc were working with families to ensure they would receive compensation.
“First we need somewhere we can work, then we will accept money,” he said, adding that his family had already rejected a $3,500 payout offer from provincial authorities.
“This place is the best, because the people here can earn money from the tourists. If they give us other land in another place, it won’t be as good.”
Boun Narith, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said on Sunday that he was concerned by the speed with which authorities had arrived and begun the demolitions, adding that he would meet with vendors after Khmer New Year to discuss what to do next.
Asked when authorities would evict businesses on O’Tres Beach, as they have repeatedly threatened to do, Mr. Seng Nguon, the deputy provincial governor, said action would be taken after this week’s holiday.
“We will work everywhere after Khmer New Year. We will continue the work that we started,” he said.
Dani, owner of the eponymous Dani Beach Coffee on O’Tres, was watching the demolitions on Saturday. Although authorities showed they were serious about clearing the beaches, she said business owners on O’Tres were hunkering down.
“We aren’t moving anything. If we can’t live on the beach, and if the government comes down here, we will burn everything down.”