Once again, Ochheuteal beach vendors have been asked to remove their stalls or face forced eviction, according to a notice issued by Sihanoukville Governor Chin Sarin on Wednesday.
The 26 merchants and their families are left with a little over a week to clear out, with August 7 marked as the deadline.
Citing the need to “beautify” the beach for domestic and international tourists, the notice warned that refusal to comply would lead to authorities dismantling the structures without any liability for damaged property.
Phoeuk Sokhen, an Ochheuteal beach community representative and former vendor, said the merchants understand the need for development but also deserve adequate compensation.
Sokhen said vendors had rebuilt their stalls on the beach as an act of protest to seek compensation for the 32 stalls the government destroyed in 2006 in a previous round of evictions, purportedly worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“We are not against development, but they evicted us 10 years ago, dismantling the stalls without compensation,” she said.
“We spent at least $10,000 on our stalls. Some of us spent as much as $50,000.”
“Nearly 10 years have passed without any development, so we demand compensation,” she added.
Sarin said he did not know what development was planned for Ochheuteal beach.
“I just issued the notice, as instructed by the provincial government”, he added.
Provincial governor Chhit Sokhon could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Human rights organisations say the development rights on the land belong to tycoon Sok Kong, whose company also built the coastal Sokha Hotel in Preah Sihanouk province.
Khun Savoeun, investigators from rights group Licadho, said it is the government’s right to develop the beach, but to evict citizens without compensation is “injurious” and a human rights violation.
“If authorities want to end this, a representative from [Sok Kong’s] company should negotiate with them.
It cannot only be the government that negotiates. Otherwise, protests will only increase,” Savoeun said.
After years of protest without results, the merchants decided to re-occupy the beach in late 2014 and began re-building their tents.
In response, authorities offered $2,000 compensation per family in April.
This month, the figure was upped to $3,500.
Six families with relatives employed as civil servants accepted, allegedly under government pressure, Sokhen said.
The remaining 26 families have refused.
This is the “last notice” for the vendors, according to the document released by the town governor’s office.