Authorities in Sihanoukville have ordered 26 vendors on O’chheuteal Beach to move their stalls away from the popular stretch of sand by Saturday next week in the interest of “aesthetic beauty” or face eviction.
O’chheuteal fronts one of the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World” and draws more than 1 million tourists per year, yet travel websites regularly highlight the beach’s disorderliness, with Travelfish.com saying that it has a “caravan-park feel.”
According to a letter signed by Sihanoukville governor Chin Sarin and dated Wednesday, the vendors must move to “maintain the order and aesthetic beauty of the beach—ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful.”
“In case you still refuse to leave by the deadline, the city’s authorities will take action to move you without consideration for the loss and destruction of your property,” the letter warned.
Contacted Thursday, Mr. Sarin declined to comment and referred questions to provincial governor Chhit Sokhon, who could not be reached.
In May, Mr. Sokhon announced the inspection of hundreds of hotels and guesthouses for compliance with environmental regulations. In December, Sihanoukville’s beachfront bars and restaurants were prohibited from placing tables and chairs on the sand.
Rights group Adhoc said the latest order was simply a ruse to clear the area for development by the Sokha Beach Resort, owned by tycoon Sok Kong.
“It’s not the authority’s first attempt to get rid of the vendors,” said Cheap Sotheary, the group’s provincial coordinator, noting that vendors were forced to move by the Sokha Group before.
“If the government can grant public beach property to private companies to develop, why can’t we let ordinary people invest and make their businesses there instead?” she said.
You Veasna, a representative of the vendors, recalled how the Sokha Group demolished their stalls in 2006 without compensating them. But they returned, he said, when it became clear that development was not forthcoming.
But this time, Mr. Veasna said, the company was offering them $3,500 each in compensation—a proposal that six vendors had already accepted. He said Wednesday’s order was directed at the 26 vendors who declined the offer.
“We would definitely prefer to make our living here than to leave with $3,500 in compensation and nowhere to go.”