S’ville Governor Says O’Tres Businesses Can Stay

Business owners along Sihan­oukville’s O’Tres beach expressed relief Monday following a municipal official’s promise that their businesses are not slated for imminent eviction.

Sihanoukville Municipal Gover­nor Say Hak said last week that some 70 businesses on O’Tres would be removed without compensation because they were ugly and did not fit the municipality’s master plan.

Copies of eviction notices re­ceived by business owners Feb 5 called for the businesses to uproot within seven days. Say Hak signed the notices Jan 30.

Following a small protest Sat­ur­day at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home in Takhmau town, the O’Tres business owners were giv­en a Monday morning meeting with Deputy Sihanoukville Gover­nor Spoang Sarath, who told them they would be able to stay.

Spoang Sarath said by phone later Monday that the businesses, which include food kiosks, res­taurants and boat rentals, will not have to leave the beach, though a handful of guesthouses will still be removed because they are too large for the waterfront and at­tract crime.

“Currently, the beach looks ugly and disorderly with all these un­sanctioned buildings,” Spoang Sar­ath said, adding that some businesses with two stories, concrete foun­dations or roofs without thatching will have to be rebuilt.

He also said there were never plans for evictions and that the notices only demanded businesses on O’Tres to follow municipal building standards.

Spoang Sarath did not explain why his statement about evictions contradicted what Say Hak had said last week.

Though the notices obtained last week mention eviction, Spo­ang Sarath said that the business owners had misunderstood the documents.

“We are hopeful all the vendors agree to improve for beauty of the city, in order to attract more visitors and tourists,” he said, adding that he didn’t know whether the government has plans for other development projects on O’Tres.

Several business owners greeted the news with relief.

“I’m sitting around with a bunch of people, and they have big smiles on their faces,” John Weerth, an American who owns Papa Johns’ restaurant, said by telephone.

Weerth, however, said that he has now decided to leave his business when his lease on O’Tres ends in March 2009.

The recent incident left him with some uncertainty about the beach’s future, he said.

Phea San, who owns several food kiosks on the beach, said she didn’t know what she would have done if she had to leave.

“Our business only makes just enough for my family’s day-to-day needs,” she said.

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