More than 100 families living on the hill above Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach were forced to dismantle their homes on Tuesday under an eviction order from the municipality, while the fate of eight guesthouses on the disputed land remains undecided, officials said.
“[The families’] claim was not recognized by the authorities, and they have no land titles,” Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak said by phone Tuesday.
Say Hak added that he believed the guesthouses had also settled in the area illegally and would eventually be evicted.
“If they have no legal documents, they will be removed,” he said.
A Feb 4 order, signed by Say Hak and authorized by a Sept 23 letter from the Council of Ministers, called for the eviction of 131 families and eight guesthouses —one co-owned by Hun San, a brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But following an appeal last week by guesthouse owners, including strong statements by Hun San, the prime minister’s Cabinet issued a new order on Feb 11 halting the eviction of the guesthouses until the Ministry of Land Management surveys the area.
Tuesday’s removal of the villagers went ahead despite a vow by Hun San to also lobby on behalf of the 131 families.
Hun San said Tuesday that the evicted families must receive proper compensation lest the incident “damaged the government’s image.”
“Don’t let the rich invade the poor,” he said.
Hun San alleged that Oknha Kong Triv, whose Pacific Group has laid claim to the land and is aiming to develop villas and a resort, offered him money and the land title to his guesthouse if he would stop lobbying on behalf of the other guesthouses and families. Hun San said he rejected the offer.
Kong Triv denied on Tuesday ever making such an offer and said that he had compensated the evicted families with $75 and a few bags of rice each.
“I follow the law,” he said, adding that the fate of the guesthouses would depend solely on the Ministry of Land Planning.