Kampong Chhnang provincial authorities have removed 611 Vietnamese-owned floating houses from the Tonle Sap River near Kampong Chhnang town on June 30, along with 372 fishing cages.

Provincial administration spokesman Sron Rithy said authorities had ordered them to relocate to the land along the shore in order to make the river beautiful and clean up the local environment.

They will be permitted to continue raising fish in the river for now, but with just one or two people serving as caretakers on their fish farms.

He said a total of 231 families with 372 fishing cages had agreed to dismantle their dwellings as of June 30.

“Because of the way they raise farmed fish it is impossible to ask them to stop now. We have to give them some time to raise these fish until they are ready for market or until they can shift their operations to another form of aquaculture,” he said.

“We are doing this to ensure a clean water environment along the river, as well as enhanced natural beauty to attract tourists passing through the province,” he said.

Provincial governor Yin Saven said some Vietnamese people who were on the water and had relocated to the mainland were staying on 40ha of land provided by the Vietnamese Association of Cambodia, while others who did not want to go on the association’s land rented land about 50m to 100m away from the river.

“We asked them to relocate from the water to the land and found locations for them where they can rent land to stay on. We cannot give or buy land for them to own, because we cannot even find land to distribute to Cambodian people,” he said.

Saven said 611 houses had been moved onto land, with 242 houses moved onto the 40ha of Vietnamese association land.

As for the riverside land, there are five owners renting land there: Ke Ron’s land has 203 houses; a Christian organisation’s land has 90 houses; Som Somaly’s land has 16 houses; Hong Socheat’s land has seven houses and the land behind the new Kampong Chhnang market has 53 houses.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said that in the past the local authorities did not seem to have any solutions.

“Overall, the number of floating homes and hundreds of temporary settlements could affect security, safety and the environment along the river, which has become a problem that requires a lot of law enforcement attention,” he said.

Governor Saven said the relocation of the houses was done in an orderly manner and in the future they will not allow fish farming in the river.