The Tourism Ministry said Tuesday that it is planning to hold a public bidding on 53 hectares of Sihanoukville land, formerly controlled by the Ariston company, that officials said has been claimed by powerful land-grabbers.
No date has been set for the sale, which government officials hope will attract buyers seeking to develop the area into a resort hotel.
The dispute over ownership of the property began when Malaysian developer Ariston last month pulled out of the MEGA development plan, Thong Khon, secretary of state for tourism, said Tuesday.
He said that according to the plan the firm had been given the land by the Ministry of Tourism in exchange for developing a resort, power plant and golf course as well as refurbishing the Sihanoukville airport.
The government on July 20 issued a notice that the land would be returned to the Ministry of Tourism, but the land had already been staked out by anonymous and allegedly powerful land-grabbers who had built a fence around the property, Thong Khon said.
Thong Khon in late July called National Police Chief Hok Lundy, Military Police Commander Sao Sokha and RCAF Commander Ke Kim Yan to help protect the land, said Tourism Minister Lay Prohas.
“Now we have police, military police and municipal authorities to guard the land,” Thong Khon said.
Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas said at a Council of Ministers meeting Monday that the land grabbers were “big, powerful people.”
A Ministry of Tourism official in Sihanoukville who asked not to be named said that eight police and military police officers were protecting the land.
“Now there is no problem. No one will show up to grab this land again,” he said. “Maybe they are afraid of losing a star.”
Thong Kong also said Tuesday that whoever purchases the property would not have to develop the airport because French developer Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports will do so.
“I know for sure that the government has already handed over the airport to French developer SCA,” he said, adding that he did not know when renovations would begin.