The Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities have ordered that construction work by a Chinese company encroaching on Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach be temporarily suspended.
Meanwhile, a civil society organisation official noted that many large projects had encroached on the city’s natural coastal areas.
Several pictures were shared on social media over the last few days showing that a Chinese company had erected a fence on the beach which protruded into the sea.
The company was apparently laying the foundation of a construction site in Village 6 in Mittapheap district’s Commune IV.
Sihanoukville governor Y Sokleng said on Tuesday that he was not aware of the project and referred questions to Provincial Department of Land Management director Cheng Srong. However, Srong could not be reached for comment.
Provincial Department of Environment director Samuth Sothearith was also unaware of the case but said he would launch an investigation to ascertain whether the construction site had received authorisation.
“Let me check the work first. Right now I’m at a pagoda,” he said.
Commune IV chief Seng Ngim said he had seen the pictures on social media but had not yet inspected the site. Instead, he had instructed Village 6 chief Chea Voeng to do so. “I don’t know yet what the situation is because Voeng hasn’t reported back as yet,” he said.
Voeng said he and some provincial hall officials had inspected the beach construction site last week. After speaking to the project owner and checking some documents, he said, it was established that the work had been authorised at the national level.
While he could not remember the name of the company, he said it had erected a 60m fence on the beach to set up a dock for tourist boats.
The provincial hall, he said, had decided to temporarily suspend the project because it had not asked for permission to proceed.
“The construction project lacks the necessary documentation, so the provincial hall and city officials stopped the work,” Voeng said.
Provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun declined to comment, referring questions to the province’s spokesman, but provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phearum could not be reached.
Cheap Sotheary, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said it was not only Otres Beach that had been encroached on by private companies, but all beaches in the province.
International large-scale projects investing in coastal areas are subject to national approval, she said, and neither the government nor provincial authorities had made any public announcement in advance.
“I have never supported construction on the beach. In the past, the authorities have ordered people to dismantle houses and businesses on the beach because of the environmental impact.
“I was very pleased about that because I believe all coastal areas should be designated as public parks catering to tourists.
“But my happiness was short-lived. When Chinese investment companies came in, we saw that the government had handed over public coastal areas to them, and they have constructed a lot of international-size projects,” Sotheary said.
She said high-rise buildings have been constructed in most coastal areas. “They are no longer the pleasant natural beaches to attract tourists that they used to be,” he said.