In a spontaneous executive directive, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered fences be taken down around a construction site at Sihanoukville’s Ochheuteal Beach as he strolled along the seafront, with local authorities later saying the project had not received the prerequisite permissions.
The premier, who was in the beachside town for the weekend, directed local officials on Friday to tear down metal fences surrounding a plot of land along Ochheuteal Beach, with authorities duly complying a day later.
The coastal town is seeing a sea-change resulting from a massive influx of investment and workers from China, with large sections of Ochheuteal Beach cleared of vendors and fenced off for a massive development project headed by tycoon Kith Meng of Royal Group and an unnamed Chinese partner.
Provincial and local authorities have been reluctant to name the Chinese firm involved in the project or to even provide additional details about the project’s scope.
Following the premier’s annoyance at the barricades, a letter was sent to a Mr Ly Lay on Friday informing him that construction for a planned seven-storey hotel at the site had yet to be approved and that prior permission was needed before putting up the fences, said Sihanoukville Town Governor Y Sokleng.
“Coincidentally, Prime Minister Hun Sen came there and he saw it. He saw the occupation of the area with the fence and he did not approve it,” Sokleng said yesterday.
Sokleng claimed that the construction firm had fenced off the land a month ago and that the project was now cancelled. He refused to clarify who Ly Lay was or who the land belonged to, instead pointing to his Friday letter.
Provincial Governor Yun Min, however, confirmed that the land belonged to Royal Group’s Meng and said that the hotel project was proceeding.
“But even though it is private land, you cannot build anything you like. When it is on the beach, you cannot build something to block it so that you can hardly see the sea,” he said.
Meng could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Adhoc coordinator Sreng Vanly said the land formerly belonged to the Military Police and was now in Meng’s control. He said the move to destroy the fence was a good one, given that the firm had yet to receive permission.
“I appeal to the government to rescue the other beaches, which other powerful businessmen have taken advantage of. People cannot enjoy the beach and see the beach clearly,” he said.
Amid the development at Ochheuteal, rumours have swirled at nearby Otres I beach, where vendors say they are concerned they will be asked to move as well.
Taing Socheat Kroesna, director of the provincial Tourism Department, said that vendors at Otres will not have to move but will have to standardise their establishments to fit a master plan.
Fatima Yousif, a manager at Papa Pippo Bar on Otres, said there has been no clear indication if they will be evicted but that some vendors, closer to Ochheuteal, had been asked to clear out.
“Vendors at the start of the beach were asked to leave by February, but they haven’t left yet,” she said, adding that eviction rumours had been around for years but took on more substance with Ochheuteal’s clearing.