Fourteen business owners from Ochheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville plan to file official complaints after provincial joint forces pulled down their stores over the weekend as authorities finally began the long-planned – and controversial – eviction of beachside businesses.
On Saturday, 100 personnel led by the deputy governor of Sihanoukville used excavators to destroy the 14 beachfront stores, each belonging to a local family. The operation finally made good on the government’s warning last month that it will demolish more than 100 businesses located on Ochheuteal, Otres and Royal beaches if they don’t clear out by March 13.
Despite having advance notice, Phoeuk Sokhen, the representative of the beach’s small business community, said that authorities ploughed ahead without allowing the business owners a chance to reach an agreement with the local government.
“It is unfair. They used forces to intimidate and insult people, to send them to jail and they wanted to burn down the properties,” said Sokhen. “We will not leave the land; we will sleep under the trees since we have not received any solution.”
The 14 owners and their families plan to deliver petitions to the prime minister and the Ministry of Land Management after Khmer New Year. According to Sokhen, authorities offered compensation of $3,500 per store, which he said would not be enough to set up business elsewhere.
Provincial Governor Yun Min said removing the stores will improve the public beach before the holiday and the operation was approved by a national committee. “This beach has been banned from selling for years,” said Min. “Previously, we have provided [the holdouts] with [compensation] policies and some of them agreed to take it, but others did not.”
Businesses on Royal and Otres will be pulled down later, he said, but did not say when.
Douglas McColl, the vice president of Sihanoukville Tourism Association said that the demolition finally drove home the point that the government is serious about clearing the beaches of businesses. “The real question is what they are going to do later – can you re-lease on the waterfront, and under what conditions?”
Provincial officials did not comment on future leasing terms yesterday.
Buon Narith, the provincial coordinator of Licadho, said he was disappointed in the authorities’ rush to pull down the stores, saying it was motivated by the desire to rent out the location to a Thai concert company.
“The authorities should understand [the business owners] and let them run their businesses during Khmer New Year,” he said. “They should let them pull down their stores by themselves.”
He added that if the authorities force the vendors to move out, the tourism service for international visitors could suffer.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov