The government has signed a $1 billion investment contract with the Sokha hotel group to redevelop the long-abandoned French resort atop Bokor mountain, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced over the weekend.
A wide range of projects planned by Sokha group, which is owned by Sokimex petroleum tycoon Sok Kong, are expected on Bokor within 15 years, Hun Sen said during an inauguration ceremony for a new $20 million road from the foot to the top of the mountain.
Hun Sen said the contract was signed with Sokha because the company, which has long and close ties with his ruling CPP, had agreed to build the 32-km road, while the other two interested companies could not afford to do so.
“This is an area that can attract tourists,” Hun Sen said, adding that the contract for Bokor had been transparently awarded to Sokha.
A company statement said the 99-year lease, signed in May of last year, stipulated that as well as the new road, Sokha would renovate the Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, as well as building several new casinos and hotels along with villas, parks, restaurants, a shopping center, a flower and vegetable farm, a hospital and a school.
The Bokor resort was originally developed by the French colonial government in 1922, but abandoned during the 1970s when it became the backdrop for fierce fighting.
“Though Kampot to date is not well-developed, Sokha Hotel Company has decided to invest in Bokor National Park with the expectation that tourism elsewhere in this region is improving,” the statement said.
An official from the Sokha hotel group, who asked not to be named, said that none of the projects on the mountain can proceed until the new access road is completed, which will take about two and a half years. The rest of the infrastructure would be built in stages, he said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy was critical of the plan for Bokor, describing it as investment that would only benefit the rich.
“More investment should be aimed at the poor, who do not have enough houses to live in,” he said.