REPRESENTATIVES of 70 business owners and landless vendors slated for eviction from Sihanoukville’s Otres beach rejected an offer of cash “gifts” made by Preah Sihanouk provincial officials at a meeting yesterday.
Eng Phanith, one of the representatives, said authorities proposed giving lump-sum payments of US$3,500 to business owners and $1,000 to landless vendors if they were to voluntarily vacate a 1.5-kilometre stretch of the beach.
He said the group rejected the offer because it would not cover the cost of renting comparable land elsewhere.
“I won’t accept that compensation because it is too small. I can’t buy another place to make a business like my current one,” he said. Instead, he proposed a sum of $5,000 for business owners and $2,500 for vendors.
He added that he had been told by officials that they would take the counter-offer into consideration.
Preah Sihanouk provincial officials scheduled yesterday’s meeting after the business owners and vendors refused to comply with a June 30 eviction deadline. Officials have said they want to develop a municipal garden on the land.
Preah Sihanouk deputy governor Sok Phorn confirmed yesterday that he would take the group’s request to his superiors for consideration. He also emphasised that the money offered yesterday was not compensation.
“It is a gift or present for the vendors because those people live on a public beach and the state needs the beach to develop it,” he said.
“It is a strategy of the government because they don’t want to move, but these plans have been in place for a long time.”
He added that he could not make a decision on the counteroffer before obtaining the approval of his superiors, and that he expected to have a response within a week.
Ahead of the eviction deadline last week, provincial officials ruled out any form of compensation for the vendors and business owners, citing the fact that the stretch of beach was state-owned. Chan Chamroeun, provincial monitor for human rights group Adhoc, which is mediating
negotiations along with members of Licadho, another rights group, praised the provincial government’s willingness to compromise at yesterday’s meeting.
“Before, authorities had no intention of discussing this face to face with the business owners and vendors. But now authorities have changed their attitude,” he said, and added that he was optimistic that the negotiations would succeed.
Sor Kem, owner of Sunshine Cafe, a small bar and restaurant on the beach, said yesterday that he hoped officials also considered another solution the group suggested: moving the affected business owners and vendors to another beach.
“They’re thinking about it. This is another option, but it’s going to take a long time,” he said. “They said if they can find [the land], they can give it to us – they will let us know.”