Sixteen bars and restaurants have been closed on Sihanoukville's Ocheteal beach after
the title to the land they occupied was transferred from military police ownership
to private hands.
The military police ordered the bar owners to vacate by June 10, and the popular
establishments were dismantled without confrontation in the days before the deadline.
A member of the Sihanoukville municipality's Planning Department told the Post that
ownership of the beach front property had been transferred to Cambodian businessman
Kith Meng, head of The Royal Group, which owns Mobitel and is a partner in ANZ Royal
Bank, which will open branches next month.
"The Council of the Ministry requested that we develop the location of the military
headquarters by investing in a tourist area," said the officer in the Planning
Department on condition of anonymity. "The investment company is Kith Meng's."
Numerous other small business owners on the beach and in Sihanoukville town also
cited Kith Meng or one of his companies as the owner of land.
The Royal Group, however, has been reluctant to discuss the deal, and Chor Marith,
the assistant to vice chairman Okhna Kith Thieng said, "I think we are not involved
in this yet".
Kith Meng was not available for comment on the land deal, nor were other senior company
Bar owners have known for years that the land could be taken back by the military
police but have rented out plots regardless, making money from the mostly foreign
tourists who drink and eat there.
The owners of Le Rouseau, one of the restaurants evicted, said they had previously
paid $350 per month to the military police, who had returned their six-month deposit
after breaking a one-year contract.
"We go, take care of the land, the price increases and they take the place,"
said Paula Y, whose brother owned Le Rouseau.
She said four of the businesses paid high rental prices, while the other 14 bars
had relatives in the military police force and paid smaller rents. One bar owner
confirmed that his monthly rent was $20.
"Since I started doing business on the beach, my standard of living is much
better," said a 46-year-old military police officer who ran a bar on the beach
and asked not to be named. "In the past, I would live on a small salary, about
100,000 riel per month. But now I can earn at least $80 per day in the dry season."
He said that his contract with the military police commander was the same as with
all the other military families. During the tourist season, from April to October,
each family paid $20 a month in rent, with no monthly charge for the rest of the
Military police commander Han Min was contacted for comment but refused to speak
by phone to the Post.
On May 7 military police and municipal officials surveyed the beach front land said
several bar owners and the official at the Planning Department.
The official in the Planning Department said the plot of land will be bigger than
the old title granted to the military police.
The government gave the title for the land to the military police in 1994. In 1997
the commander divided the beach among 17 military families. Each family was granted
a 9-meter plot of land just meters from the ocean.
Several restaurant owners being forced to move said they heard a resort would be
built on the land.
"I do not know for sure what will be developed on the land, but I just heard
someone say that a five-star hotel will be established, while others say that another
CTN station will be built," said the 46-year-old military officer.
Some people said they would be disappointed if an area that catered mostly to budget
travelers was developed into a luxury resort.
"This is the heart of Ocheteal beach, with family-owned restaurants where the
tourists can choose their favorite atmosphere," said Craig Warren, who owns
Mick and Craig's restaurant. "Now it is being made into a resort. To watch it
all cleared out is very sad."