Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prime Minister: Take back islands from inactive developers



Prime Minister: Take back islands from inactive developers

Beachgoers relax on Koh Tonsay in 2015. On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the island was among 30 that the government would "take back" from private companies that had not made progress on planned developments.
Beachgoers relax on Koh Tonsay in 2015. On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the island was among 30 that the government would "take back" from private companies that had not made progress on planned developments. Charlotte Pert

Prime Minister: Take back islands from inactive developers

The government will “take back” land on roughly 30 islands from private companies that have not made progress on planned developments, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Monday that also targeted land-grabbing villagers and idle provincial governors.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Royal Sands hotel on Koh Rong, the premier directed the Council for the Development of Cambodia to start the land reclamation with Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island.

“It is still Koh Tonsay. Nothing has been completed,” Hun Sen said. “Take it all back, and the deposit money will not be returned.”

“We need to take them back because they have not developed anything,” he added.
Aggressive island development plans have worried rights groups and conservationists in Cambodia for years.

According to documents compiled by Adhoc, more than 180,000 hectares of land on 28 of Cambodia’s 64 islands were reclassified as state private property for companies seeking land concessions between 2008 and 2010. The islands in question included Koh Tonsay, Koh Russey, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, with most of the projects overseen by the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

Cheang Sam Um, a manager at a small resort on Koh Tonsay, said several companies owned by tycoons Try Pheap and Wing Hour had started construction on the opposite side of the island several years ago but had since abandoned it.

Sam Um raised concerns that future development could result in the eviction of villagers who had occupied the land for years.

“I want it to stay the same here,” he said. “I do not want it to be sold.”

On Koh Rong, rapid development has already led to land disputes with more than 100 families. In his speech, however, Hun Sen raised suspicions that government officials and wealthy investors were paying villagers to grab land.

“Honestly, before 2008, how many people were there?” he asked. “They use the name of villagers living on Koh Rong, but they live in Phnom Penh and other places and they just invest through this.”

The prime minister also blamed unidentified officials and provincial governors for sending disputes to him to solve and being too lax on illegal logging on the islands, threatening to fire officials who punt problems to him.

“[The law] should not be implemented based on my orders,” Hun Sen said. “Otherwise, everything will be waiting on an order from the prime minister. You became ministers and provincial governors for what?”

Chap Sotheary, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the group has received at least 30 complaints from villagers on Koh Rong over the last two years.

“Officials from multiple institutions have land in the area,” she said. “Sometimes, there is the systemic collusion as well. Public officials usually have more chance to get the land than the normal people. Normal villagers are afraid of the law, so they rarely dare to,” she said.

Deputy Provincial Governor Chhin Seng Nguon refused to comment beyond insisting that his administration regularly cracks down on illegal logging.

Thida Ann, director of real estate firm CBRE Cambodia, said she is in favour of finding “real investors to develop the island to bring Cambodia to the world”.

“Some people just want to take benefits from concession land . . . They just want to reinvest or transfer to other investors for the appreciation,” she said.

But Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of the local environmental movement Mother Nature, said he fears that environmental degradation awaits the islands.

“Either that, or they are kept as private fiefdoms for the benefit of the super rich and Cambodia’s elite, as we are already seeing with some of the smaller islands off Sihanoukville,” he said in a message.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from