'Hot battlefield' to become 2,000-hectare industrial zone
Pailin officials are hoping Thai investors will lead an economic revival at the dusty border town (above), though the special economic zone on which the plan hinges is yet to be approved.
A massive special economic zone (SEZ) being carved out of jungle near Pailin on the Thai border will help create jobs for former Khmer Rouge soldiers living at the one-time rebel stronghold, local officials said.
A signboard went up in mid-May on the outskirts of the partially cleared Pailin SEZ, which at 2,000 hectares dwarfs similar zones designed to lure foreign investment in neighboring provinces.
Thai firms are eager to set up at the Pailin zone, about 15 kilometers inland from the border town in Steung Kach commune, Salakrao district, according to Pailin Municipality deputy governor Ich Sarou.
Sarou said he and other local officials have met several times in recent months with a group of about 50 Thai businessmen who are cooperating to open a biodiesel production plant as well as garment and electronics factories at the zone.
"They wanted to launch their operations two months ago by sending machinery in to clear land but we refused their request because it's a big investment worth more than $2 million, which means they have to get permission from the CDC (Council for the Development of Cambodia)," Sarou said.
Keut Sothea, another deputy governor of Pailin Municipality and a former Khmer Rouge commander, said the special economic zone will go a long way to improving the lives of the region's ex-rebels.
"It will encourage investors to open factories here and will provide work for our former Khmer Rouge soldiers and other people," Sothea said, adding that the jungle from which the zone is currently being created used to be "a hot battlefield for the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese soldiers and government forces."
"Before, we used to shoot and shell each other there; now we are fighting to make business and a profit," he said.
"It is good news and it shows that Cambodia is completely peaceful.... We are forgetting the past and turning the land into a developed area for people's wellbeing," he added.
Sarou said the SEZ had been in the pipeline for several years and was part of a plan outlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen to establish five special economic zones in Pailin and Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong, Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces. It is hoped the zones will lure foreign investors through tax breaks and the prospect of cheap Cambodian labor.
"We hope companies and factories will invest here next year," Sarou told the Post in Pailin. "We have a lot of land for their investments."
However, the deputy secretary general of the CDC's Special Economic Zone Board, Chea Vuthy, said on May 20 he had not received any requests from businesses seeking to start operations at the Pailin SEZ.
He also said that while the CDC welcomed foreign investment in the area, the council had not received a request for the Pailin zone to be formed.
"The special economic zone in Pailin has not been officially requested and registered. They (Pailin Municipality officials) should request approval for it from the CDC," he said, indicating that its approval was a mere formality.
Former Khmer Rouge soldiers in the area contacted by the Post welcomed news that work was progressing on the Pailin SEZ.
"I am very happy to hear this special economic zone is being created here. I hope it will help many Cambodian people find work and stop them from having to go to Thailand," said Soeun Say, a farmer who was previously a fighter for the hardline communist movement.
"We need investors to come here - we have a lot of land to produce crops for factories," he said.
Lath Nhoung, another former Khmer Rouge soldier, said the SEZ would benefit the agricultural sector as well as provide industrial jobs.
"When we have more factories we are encouraged to farm because it means we have a market for our crops," he said.