Reports that Russian investors are interested in developing island resorts off the coast of Sihanoukville could lead to land speculation on what have been until now largely untouched isles, officials said Thursday.
Sihanoukville Deputy Municipal Governor Sboang Sarath said he was aware that Russian entrepreneurs were looking for an island to invest in, but authorities had not yet met with them to discuss any plans.
So far, he said, “None of the islands have been given to investors.”
An official at the Council for the Development of Cambodia said that no plans for the islands have reached the CDC, but rumors of coming investment could cause problems.
“I worry that people will want to keep islands for speculation,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Currently, only Koh Doung, near the port, has been granted to Sokimex President Sok Kong, the CDC official said.
In January, Russian tycoon Konstantin Kagalovsky met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and expressed interest in developing Koh Rong, a large island to the west of Sihanoukville, into a tourist site and industrial and pharmaceutical complex.
No proposal or deal has yet come out of this discussion, said Eang Sophallet, an assistant to Hun Sen, on Thursday.
Sok Kong confirmed that he built three villas for relaxation on Doung island eight years ago, but said he had only borrowed the half-hectare property from the government.
He added that he does not pay the government for use of the island.
“It’s just for relaxation. It’s too small to develop as a tourist resort,” he added.
Tourism Minister Lay Prohas said that he, too, was concerned that speculation could spread to the islands. “When people hear about the investment, people will try to capture the islands for speculation,” he said. “What we want is real investment.”
Russian investors are interested in a “business complex” on Koh Pos, said Nikolay Dorashenko, the Uzbek owner of a Sihanoukville restaurant, who is currently setting up another restaurant on Koh Dek Korl.
Dorashenko, however, was unable to give details of the project.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that islands are state public property and so cannot be sold or leased, but the government can convert them to state private property, at which point they can be leased.
Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthang and Kampot Governor Thach Khon said they were not aware of any Russian interest in islands off the coast of their provinces, but added that they would welcome such projects if they got approval from the government.
(Additional reporting by Erik Wasson)