Two beach vendors, soon to be evicted, sleep while waiting for customers on Independence Beach.
Sihanoukville – Independence Beach is scheduled for a makeover on February 11 by local investment company Sean Heng, but first the company needs to get more than two dozen beach vendors to agree to move out.
So far only five of the 32 families that make a living selling food and other goods on the shore have accepted the company’s offer of $2,500 to leave. The vendors are asking for either $10,000 or enough land to relocate and rebuild their homes and businesses.
“If we leave here we have no other place to stay and no job prospects,” said Choun Heang, a vendor who has lived at Independence Beach with his family for more than 10 years. “This is our rice pot. Without it we have nothing.”
Heang said the compensation offered is about what he makes in a year and is not enough to give up his business.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia granted a 99-year lease to Sean Heng Investment Company on Dec 31.
According to Sihanoukville Tourism Director Som Chenda, the company plans to build a hotel and restaurant for foreign tourists with parking, outdoor toilet areas and beach cabanas.
The five-hectare beach property – known locally as Sunset Beach – is located between the privatized beaches of Sokha Beach Resort and the Independence Hotel.
“The $2,500 from the company is an incentive for the vendors to move. I think it is enough for them,” said Chenda.
“The beach belongs to the state and the government has allowed this private company to develop the area,” he said.
Chenda said the law does not require companies granted a license by the government to compensate anyone who has to move out.
Some vendors said they doubt they will ever be allowed back to the beach, despite promises that they would be offered spots to rent.
“Once we go we will not be allowed to come back to visit,” said Kom Pheak, 23, who lives and works at Independence Beach with his sister. He said he believes once the area is vacated it will be privatized like the two beaches surrounding it.
“Nowadays the beaches are only for the rich. Soon there will be no more beaches for Cambodian people to enjoy. Even the water is privatized,” he said, pointing at the Independence Beach barriers that stretch out into the sea.
Chin Mony, a LICADHO human rights official who is overseeing the negotiations between Sean Heng Investment and the vendors, said the Sihanoukville-based company has offered to rent the site back to the vendors for $50 to $100 per month. Mony said he thought an agreement could be reached if the company lowered that to less than $50.