Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities have given a group of business owners on the popular, and largely undeveloped, O’Tres Beach one month to pack up and leave.
At a meeting in Preah Sihanouk city on Monday, provincial authorities announced their plans to evict from the beach some 30 local and foreign business owners who have in recent years set up small restaurants and guesthouses on the lower half of the 3km beach, a 20 minute drive from the increasingly overcrowded Ochheuteal Beach.
Claiming concern about small-scale development spreading across the less-touristy beach, provincial deputy governor Phay Phan said yesterday that authorities are giving 1,500 meters of the soon-to-be cleared O’Tres beach to the Lou Sokun construction company to build a “park.”
“I just informed them about the notice of the Council of Ministers about the development plan approved by the [Council for the Development of Cambodia],” Mr Phan said. “The government plans to build a park and does not allow the people to build kiosks and guest houses on the beach.”
According to a Sept 2 repot to Prime Minister Hun Sen, signed by CDC Vice President and Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, there are plans to build “parks” along both Prek Treng beach in Stung Hav district and O’Tres.
“These two beaches are state-owned public parks and they are important beaches for Preah Sihanouk province and we must necessarily organize them into proper parks as a potential resource to attract more tourists and also save the reputation of Preah Sihanouk province by not allowing it to be illegally owned,” the CDC report states.
It adds, “we cannot delay any longer for vendors to continue doing their business on the beaches, which are public parks. Otherwise, this activity will become anarchic and hard to solve.”
Mr Phan, the deputy governor, said the parks would at the same time somehow help the beaches accommodate the growing crowds.
“The beaches in the provinces are not big enough for the tourists so we plan to enlarge them by developing [O’Tres] beach,” he said.
Mr Phan said the project would affect some 30 vendors.
Uk Sokhon, who represents some of the O’Tres business owners, said entrepreneurs-mostly foreigners-have built some 70 small businesses in total, mostly restaurants and bungalows, along O’Tres since 2001.
“We do not agree with the government plan because it affects our daily lives,” Mr Sokhon said. “We do not oppose development projects, but we just want to continue our business here. Here is our main income to support our living,” he said.
Rainer Deyhle, a lawyer from Germany, said he leased a plot on O’Tres beach in 2009. Several months of work and $40,000 invested, Mr Deyhle had a beachside restaurant and eight rooms for rent. He opened just a month ago.
Mr Deyhle said he knew he was building on government land, and suspected that some day he’d be asked to leave. But with only one month’s notice and no promise of compensation, the eviction feels more like theft, particularly after many local officials signed off on the establishment of his beach-side business, he said.
“Only in a totalitarian regime could you go to a meeting about a garden to be evicted within one month,” Mr Deyhle said. “Basically we have been robbed,” he said by telephone.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)