All bars, restaurants and guesthouses along O’Tres Beach near Sihanoukville, and some on neighboring O’Chheuteal Beach, must close up shop within a month or face forced eviction, local officials confirmed on Tuesday.
According to a statement dated February 12 and signed by Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yon Min, businesses on O’Tres and those on the southern end of O’Chheuteal have until March 13 to move out, citing environmental concerns.
“[A]ll vendors in these…areas must demolish their places of business on these public state beaches between February 13 to March 13. After this date, provincial authorities will take action to clear them by ourselves and will not be responsible for any property destroyed,” the statement said.
“[T]he National Committee for Cambodia Bay Management and Development wants to develop the beaches and wants to improve and take care of the environment,” it added.
Mr. Min on Tuesday blamed the affected businesses for ignoring authorities in the past.
“The authorities have tried to prevent them [from building] for a long time, but they just keep on building,” the governor said. “Now the government wants to implement this measure to make the beaches nice. We have to do it and ask them to move.”
Sihanoukville governor Y Sokleng said only establishments on the beaches would be ordered to close down, and that he was not aware of plans to develop the area once they left.
“Those buildings are close to the sea—the construction should be more than 100 meters away. In fact, when the tide is high, it often touches the buildings,” he said.
“The provincial authorities do not know what will happen after those businesses have gone and whether there will be construction of new hotels. That will be the government’s decision after they decide how many meters from the sea they can build.”
Mr. Sokleng said that although business owners had been asking for monetary compensation in exchange for moving, they were occupying state land and had never paid taxes for the privilege.
Business owners on O’Tres Beach have reacted to the order with a mix of defiance and fear.
“I’ll tell you what my reaction to this is: It’s that I will stay until they f—king shove me off here,” said Joseph McCourt, co-owner of the Sea Garden Bungalows.
“What do these Khmers do now? Take our cooks for instance…three of them have never had a job in their life and they’re well into their 20s. What are they going to do? They’re going to cut thousands [of jobs],” he said.
Koy Chhay, owner of the Bamboo Bistro, said he was mobilizing about 250 locals to protest against the decision in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
“Every place has many workers and we are living on this business—we depend on it. It makes our living. Without this business, all of our community, all of the workers, all will have no jobs and we will be living very poor,” Mr. Chhay said.
“We want our country to be developing, to be clean and nice,” he said. “At the same time, if the people have no jobs, what does that mean for development?”
Deputy provincial governor Chhin Seng Nguon said authorities had considered the economic impact on locals—and decided that the environment took priority.
“The National Committee had concerns about them losing their businesses or jobs,” he said. “But this will have big advantages for everyone in the country.”