bamboo island, Sihanoukville – Donal Crinigan thought he would be able to operate his small set of beach bungalows on this small tropical island for at least another two years based on agreements he had signed with the military official who held the lease to this small slice of paradise.
Since starting in 2004, Crinigan and more recently his three partners have invested more than $60,000 in their Bamboo Island Bungalows, and have turned what was once a littered peninsula on the island into a tidy business that is solidly booked with foreign visitors through February.
But out of the blue on Dec 23, notice was given by RCAF officials that Bamboo Island’s bungalows would have to be moved or torn down, but it was not until this week that Saturday was given as the deadline. On Tuesday, an official at the Council for the Development of Cambodia said that two multi-million-dollar resort developments will replace the bungalows.
Crinigan, an Irish national, says senior RCAF officials in Sihanoukville have yet to show him any legal documents refuting the conditions of the five-year sublease which RCAF Brigadier General Koy Son, who then controlled one of the more scenic corners on Bamboo Island, drew up with him in 2006.
“I have legal documents. If they want me to go, I will go by the law. Where are their legal documents?” Crinigan asked Tuesday.
Located off the coast of Ream, Bamboo Island is owned by the government though the military at nearby Ream Naval Base have long administered leases there.
Crinigan’s partner, Rob Webster, said that they would agree to remove their bungalows for $140,000, which is the amount required to recuperate initial investments and what the business would have earned in the two years when their lease was set to expire.
Financial compensation, however, was the last thing on the mind of Ream Naval Base Commander Ouk Sey Ha, who said by telephone on Tuesday that the razing of the bungalows will begin Saturday.
Ouk Sey Ha also said he has documentation supporting the government’s action to move swiftly against the Bamboo Island bungalows, claiming that the lease upon which Crinigan’s subleased his spot on the island had expired on Dec 31, 2008.
Ouk Sey Ha said the government chose not to renew its lease to Brigadier General Koy Son, and therefore Crinigan’s lease has also expired.
“We [RCAF officials] have no right to control the island since it belongs to the government,” he added.
However, a copy of the Koy Son agreement provided by Crinigan, states that the five-year lease is in fact not due to expire until the end of 2010.
Contacted by telephone on Tuesday, Koy Son denied that he had ever signed a lease with Crinigan.
According to Crinigan, what he finds particularly frustrating is that he followed the advice of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has recommended that businesses have lawyers review contracts to ensure no one is cheated when a deal, or in this case a lease, goes bad.
“If they force us out-and I don’t know how I’m going to do this-I am going to tell people what happens to investors here: that I followed the advice of the prime minister and they just forced me out,” Crinigan said.
A Council for the Development of Cambodia official said on Tuesday that the French firm Koh Russey Resort company plans to develop a $48-million resort on Bamboo Island and the Australian firm Everspring company will develop a separate $15-million resort. Both firms have 99-year leases signed since last year with the government, he said.
“We have leased this island to these two companies since we want to develop it as an eco-tourism site,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Work on the resorts will begin after the companies submit their development master plans sometime in the middle of the year, the CDC official said.
“Then it will be sent to the [inter-ministerial council] for improvements,” he said.
Any problems with subleases on Bamboo Island are up to the parties involved, the CDC official added.
Contact information for Koh Russey Resort and Everspring was not available on Tuesday.
Several other bungalow operators on Bamboo Island said they were unaware of the threatened eviction.
Kate Fitch, a manager for Koh Ru Bungalows, said that officials from the French company leasing the land where her bungalows sit have said construction is not happening soon and the bungalows can continue operating for the time being.
Another bungalow owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his landlord had told him that evictions would not happen soon.