Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng has sought to reassure residents of Koh Rong, an island off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province that has been leased to a local tycoon, that they would not be adversely affected by planned development projects.
The popular backpacker destination was granted to Royal Group chairman Kith Meng in 2008 under a 99-year lease. Speaking at the opening of Meng’s five-star Royal Sands hotel on the island, Kheng, who is also the interior minister, said that the roughly 600 Cambodians living on the island had nothing to fear from other planned projects.
“The development will also bring benefits to the villagers,” he said. “The developments will not bring pain to the residents. The government would not allow the company’s developments to bring hurt to the villagers.”
He added that the government was working with Meng to employ the so-called tiger skin policy, whereby villagers living on the sites of planned developments can remain on their land while the developer builds around their property.
Boun Narith, local coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that the island’s inhabitants had campaigned since the lease was granted to be able to remain where they are, so Kheng’s assurances might provide some comfort.
“If the authorities use the tiger skin [policy] for the villagers, they will keep some of the land and not be badly hurt by the development,” he said.
Chan Sanch, 40, a Koh Rong resident, said he did not object outright to Meng’s plans.
“But we also need the authority to think of our farms and homes as well,” he added.