Floating Gas Stations, Garages Ordered to Close in K’Chhnang

Police in Kompong Chhnang province are renewing efforts to get families living in floating villages along the Tonle Sap to move their gas stations and garages onto dry land in a bid to keep the river clean.

Provincial governor Chhuor Chandoeun said on Tuesday that the floating shops run by the communities’ predominantly ethnic Vietnamese residents were forced onto land last year, but most have since returned.

“We want to keep the water clean because everybody uses the river water every day,” he said. “They affect the water, the environment, the fisheries and the biodiversity.”

Chin Sophath, who heads the province’s economic crime bureau, said he and his officers started targeting gas stations as well as machine and battery shops on Tuesday morning and had already shut down seven. He said all other shops would be allowed to stay.

“The gas that spills into the river can harm the environment,” Mr. Sophath said. “People, fish and other animals will be harmed by the oil that spills out.”

Nguyen Yon Mas, who lives on the river, said the changes will make life harder for him and the other fishermen living on the river, since they’ll have to go on land every time they need to fill up or fix the motors on their boats. He said the shop owners will also have a hard time finding and affording space on land to rent or buy.

“We’re not happy with the ban, but we have no choice,” he said.

Mr. Sophath showed little sympathy.

“I have no idea about that; it’s their problem,” he said. “They should find a place to set up their businesses themselves.”

Late last year, local authorities began what they said would be a five-year process of moving the roughly 1,000 families living in the floating villages, which they consider an eyesore, away from the provincial capital to a spot about 3 km upriver.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sophath said the move had already been finished.

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