Officials deny formally postponing eviction, but owners still hope for a change of plan
PREAH SIHANOUK PROVINCE
BUSINESS owners occupying a 1.5-kilometre stretch of Otres beach in Sihanoukville were given a brief reprieve from eviction on Wednesday after police negotiated with local rights activists, but officials said no formal delay had been approved.
Last week, restaurant, bar and guesthouse owners operating on the beach received an eviction notice giving them until Wednesday to vacate the area, which the authorities say will be developed into a municipal garden.
The deadline passed largely without incident on Wednesday after police who arrived at the site avoided confrontation and instead held peaceful talks with business owners.
Oun Socheata, the owner of a restaurant and guesthouse that is slated for removal, said police told the business owners that they would be given another day or two to move their belongings.
But she warned that business owners, many of whom have previously said they will refuse to move, remained defiant even after police offered to give them small sums of money to cover transportation costs. “People will burn down their properties by themselves instead of moving out,” she said.
She repeated complaints previously voiced by business owners that officials had not offered them any compensation for the loss of their establishments.
When contacted on Wednesday, Preah Sihanouk deputy governor Phai Phan emphasised that officials had not agreed to delay the eviction.
“We did not offer to prolong the deadline. Some of them are moving today,” he said.
Chiep Sotheary, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said construction workers on Wednesday attempted to build a fence around the area on behalf a company called Otres Investment, but were stopped when Adhoc staffers intervened to force negotiations with police.
She said she had written to Phai Phan asking him to meet with business owners on July 2 to find a mutually acceptable solution.
The owners have submitted three requests, she added.
“Firstly, let them continue to work in the area for five years and later on move by themselves. Secondly, they will agree to develop the park area by themselves. And thirdly, let them continue to sell things in the unoccupied areas of the beach,” she said.
The guesthouse and restaurant owners have no claim to ownership of the land, but have accused authorities of acting in bad faith by accepting payments for business licences despite knowing they would be evicted.
Rainer Deyhle, owner of Cinderella Dive Resort and Beach Bungalows, said he suspected the land had already been sold to a private company, but held out hope that the eviction could be delayed.
“I think the governor’s office will reconsider and find a solution with the developer that will develop that area over the next three years,” he said.