Stung Hav district governor Chhay Sokunda has told The Post that district and provincial authorities prevented machines from illegally filling land in Preah Sihanouk's coastal O’Touk area on Saturday.

The owner had asked permission to repair the area, Sokunda said, but instead filled a 50m by 60m section of the beach with construction rubble to a depth of 3m.

Last week, the beach continued to be filled and provincial authorities ordered a stop to the activity, telling the owner to seek permission, Sokunda said.

He said while authorities were broadly in favour of development, developers needed to receive approval. Consequently, the authorities had ordered the owner to stop all land-filling activities and wait for permission before developing the land.

He said tractors and excavators were impounded at the district hall.

“We asked them to postpone activities and wait for permission. We confiscated machinery and equipment at the district hall and [instructed the owner] to wait for permission from the provincial authorities before developing the O’Touk area."

“We support development, but we thought there was only small work in progress in the area. We don’t want large-scale construction. [Developers] need to ask permission from provincial authorities if they want to build anything [of that nature],” he stressed.

Preah Sihanouk governor Yun Min said he strongly supported development in Stung Hav's O’Touk's port area. O’Touk is a potentially very import port as thousands of fishing boats dock there every day, he said.

“O’Touk is a place the provincial authorities plan to develop because thousands of fishing boats need to dock there. We are preparing plans and [ask that developers] seek permission,” he said.

Civil society groups and local authorities agreed that the development of O’ Touk port was not legal.

Min told The Post on Sunday: “Provincial authorities have received a request for development but are yet to give approval. Higher authorities have not given permission yet because coastal development is a sensitive issue.

“[Provincial authorities] need permission from the national committee for coastal development before we can approve the development."

“In general, the provincial administration supports the development of O’ Touk. Regarding the actual development and technical issues, we need to consult with experts."

“Technical matters mean that the provincial administration and ministry will discuss measures to prevent the development impacting the environment and the public interest. However, provincial authorities will urge for development very soon,” he said.

'Off limits'

Kem Hak, the chief of Village 1 in Stung Hav district's Tomnup Roloak commune and a community representative, told The Post on Sunday that O’Touk had a new owner who planned to develop the port in order to accommodate more boats.

“O’Touk can accommodate only small boats, while bigger ones need to dock in Thailand, so the new owner wants to [expand] O’Touk port. Some villagers in Stung Hav are happy with the plans because they are fishermen,” he said.

Hak said the new owner of O’Touk port was Cambodian and a Preah Sihanouk province resident.

“Development needs to comply with the regulations and experts will have to inspect it. We want development to comply with the law,” he said.

Cambodian National Research Organisation (CNRO) director Sok Sokhom told The Post on Sunday that he supported development, but he said that state-owned property was off limits.

“The development of O’Touk is being carried out by a private individual. They should not impact state-owned property. We have laws and guidelines for managing state property."

“On December 15, last year, the head of the Koh Kong authorities announced that any development that interfered with state-owned property would not be permitted."

"We need to take legal action against those who illegally fill land near the sea, violating state-owned property."

“I have asked all relevant parties, including national and sub-national authorities, to take legal action against offenders to prevent similar crimes in the future. Despite orders from the government, there are still people who violate the law,” he said.