Floating Villages Question Harbor Development

Local NGO officials and residents of Siem Reap’s famous floating villages in Chong Kneas commune have voiced concern regarding the environmental and social impact of a harbor development project by a little-known Cambodian company.

Sou Chin Port Investment Co was granted permission more than a year ago to develop Chong Kneas harbor in the Tonle Sap Lake, an official at the Council for the De­velopment of Cambodia who asked not be named said Wednes­day.

The company’s plans, according to the NGO Fisheries Action Co­alition Team, cover 50 hectares of land—30 hectares of rice field and 20 hectares of precious flooded forest.

FACT project officer Keat Kunthy said Wednesday that the company has already dredged a canal and begun amassing earth to create higher ground prior to constructing a port, shopping area, restaurant and park.

Local government officials say the port will boost tourism and create jobs, but Keat Kunthy, who investigated the site in July, said that Sou Chin has yet to assess the project for damage it may do to the environment or offer adequate compensation to local residents who will be affected.

FACT estimates that more than 1,100 families make up the Chong Kneas community and their livelihoods depend almost entirely on the lake. “Traditionally boats go in and out,” said Keat Kunthy. “But when they build like this they will have nowhere to park their floating houses,” he said.

Siem Reap Deputy Governor Chan Sophal said Wednesday that conflicts with villagers who claim ownership to the land in question have been holding up the building process, but that he is hopeful the project will pick up steam soon.

“The Chong Kneas harbor, if completed, will benefit people and improve the local economy,” he said.

But Thom Lay, head of a tourist boat association in Chong Kneas, said he fears just the opposite will be true. He said Sou Chin has already been charging him fees to keep his boats in the harbor despite having not yet constructed the port.

“They have done nothing, so we want the project scrapped and the association can develop on its own,” he said.


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