T he Government has given the go ahead to Malaysia's Ariston for an airport expansion
and power station project in Sihanoukville, plus a $100 million casino hotel on nearby
Naga Island, all to be built by 1997.
The approvals given by the Council of Ministers on Oct. 13 cover only about $160
million worth of development, not the whole $1.3 billion mega residential, commercial,
industrial project announced in January. Ariston is the same company that owns the
floating casino on the river behind the Cambodiana Hotel, and the Cambodia Times
and Cambodia Asia Bank.
Ariston officials who had arrived in Phnom Penh for the meeting declined to comment
on the project or what was approved or not approved. Iain Gray, chief general manager
of Ariston SDN BHD, would say only that he was in meetings and that he expected to
return to Malaysia soon.
Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth said following the Council of Ministers meeting
that "generally we approved the concept, but further discussion is needed on
the land titles." He didn't elaborate.
Foreign companies aren't allowed to own land in Cambodia, but businesses routinely
get around the restriction with a long term land lease.
Later Veng Sereyvuth said at a news conference that approving the airport, power
station and hotel was a sign of "positive news" for Cambodia, and that
when those approvals were combined with upcoming approvals expected for hotel expansion
in Siem Reap, the country would be in a better position to achieve its goal of attracting
a million tourists a year by the year 2000.
With tourism, he said, "you're selling choices. You're selling variety, Phnom
Penh, the river, the Royal Palace... Siem Reap with the famous Angkor Wat, and Sihanoukville...
with sand and beaches."
The airport expansion would mean that international flights would be able to land
in Sihanoukville by 1997, he said.
The Council of Ministers also created a Sihanoukville Development Authority (SDA)
to oversee the development projects and to be led by Cambodia's two prime ministers.
The SDA will consider and decide on the masterplan for a tourism village submitted
by Ariston back in January and a proposal for a 99 year leasehold for foreign investment
In January when the Ariston project was announced in Kuala Lumpur, the company said
that its plans were to "transform the entire Sihanoukville region into a comprehensive
tourism, industrial, commercial, residential and entertainment center."
The project called for a complete "tourist zone" with a golf course and
a cable car linking Sihanoukville to Naga Island, a water theme park and other attractions.
All Veng Sereyvuth would say about the rest of the $1.3 billion development was that
it was a long term plan. "It will be implemented 20 years from today,"
A tourism official said that Ariston had agreed to pay the government a $103 million
"commission" for the rights to develop the project and that the money would
be paid in increments, but he didn't know how much had been paid so far. As of May,
when the $10 million floating casino opened, $3 million had been paid.
He said bids would go out for the airport and power station soon. "The airport
project is basically an expansion of the existing airport," he said. He said
the new airport would be capable of handling 737 aircraft.
He said the size of the power station wasn't known, but it would be between five
and 20 megawatts, at a rough cost of $1 million per megawatt, and an agreement would
be negotiated between the Ministry of Industry and Ariston by Dec. 31 1995.
Few details were announced about the hotel project, other than that it would be a
361 room hotel-casino on the island to be refined "with the relevant authorities."
People living on the island will be moved, he said, because it's state property.
Eventually there would be a marina and other amenities on the 100 hectare island.
The work should begin soon, Sereyvuth said. "Once everything is approved it
should go forward as quickly as possible. If one of us does not do his job, that
is not good."