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Coastal airport project gets nod

China’s Union Development Group has confirmed its plans to build a new international airport in the coastal province of Koh Kong.
China’s Union Development Group has confirmed its plans to build a new international airport in the coastal province of Koh Kong. Vireak Mai

Coastal airport project gets nod

The Chinese developer behind a massive $3.8 billion tourism project being built in Koh Kong province has confirmed that it is ready to begin construction on a new international airport to serve the coastal resort and company’s related developments, though declined to reveal the investment capital or project timeline.

A representative of the Chinese-owned firm Tianjin Union Development Group (UDG), which holds a 45,000-hectare land concession in Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts, said yesterday that the project plans had been finalised.

Bella Zhang, a Cambodian-based representative for UDG, said the company has already identified a site selection for the airport. “[We] have conducted a geological survey and initial design work has been concluded for this high-grade international airport,” she wrote in an email. “The construction is ready to go.”

While she declined to expand on specific details or the cost of the project, promotional materials of UDG’s Dara Sakor Seashore Resort in Koh Kong province lays out a plan for an airport that can handle 10 million passengers annually and service planes as large as an Airbus 380.

The company claims it has an exclusive concession on airport operation in Koh Kong province as part of a 99-year lease it signed in 2008. “[The] Cambodian government has committed that during the concession period no new airports will be approved,” the material reads.

Chea Vuthy, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia Investment Board, confirmed that the government granted UDG permission to construct an airport in Koh Kong earlier this year.

Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman at State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said that while the company had a green light to build an airport, it was holding off on construction until it could find a suitable investment partner.

“The company received approval from the government to invest in airport [in its zone,] but it has not started construction activity yet,” the spokesman said.

The zone he referred to, dubbed as a Cambodia-Chinese Investment and Development Zone, envisions the partially completed 6,800-hectare Dara Sakor Seashore Resort, in addition to a free trade zone that would include a port designed to handle 10,000-tonne Chinese container ships.

The mammoth development has come under scrutiny over the years amid repeated accusations of land grabbing and forced evictions.

Bun Leut, governor of Koh Kong province, said he has not received any news of active construction of the airport yet. However, he said once completed, it would be the province’s primary driver of tourism growth.

“Right now tourists only have access by water or land,” he said. “When the airport is completed, it will be much better.”

While officials could not verify if the airport’s construction had begun, a marketing manager for UDG, who declined to be named, said that the company had already cleared the land, levelled the ground and placed a layer of crushed rock in preparation for laying the tarmac.

“Everything has already been cleared and the airport is ready to be fully constructed,” he said. “The golf course is completed and we are working on dredging the port.”

Khek Norinda, spokesman for Cambodia Airports, the French-owned company that holds the concession to operate the Kingdom’s three existing international airports, said his company was “aware of UDG’s development plans in Koh Kong”.

He said if the project is completed according to international specifications it would almost certainly cut into Sihanoukville airport’s flight traffic.

“Therefore, such impact will have to be further assessed with all of our stakeholders,” he said.

Norinda added that in response to projected economic and tourism growth on Cambodia’s southern coast, expansion work on Sihanoukville International Airport was expected to commence by the end of the year.

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