Koh Rong Sanleoum business owners in Saracen Bay who are being evicted from the island to pave the way for two resorts have raised fears about the compensation they will receive from private companies and government.
The deadline has now been extended to February 16, with those impacted claiming the red spray paint sprawled on their businesses is threatening both tourists and staff.
The owner of Sky Beach resort, who asked to remain anonymous, told Kiripost on Thursday that authorities continue to spray red paint on his buildings, stating, “The third notice, dismantle before February 16, 2023”.
“They still keep saying the same words like they used to. If we still don’t move out from here, they will get things to demolish the buildings,” he said.
He added that his buildings have been spray painted three times and he considers this to be behaviour that threatens his business and the island’s tourists.
“Recently, I am not able to do business while they are spraying paint all over the place many times, and some tourists have to sleep here for a week but they slept only one to two nights then they left because after they have seen that [spraying] they are scared,” he mentioned.
He is refusing to leave the island until he is offered suitable compensation as he has invested a lot of money in the hospitality business.
“My construction cost and business spend approximately $200,000. But now, due to my business problems, and I cannot live here, I leave here without anything [compensation] I cannot accept it,” the resort owner said.
The businessman is requesting $70,000 compensation for leaving the current resort on Koh Rong Sanleoum to restart another business.
“That’s why I would like to request authorities to tell the companies that I won’t demand much, because I realize that if I ask for too much, they won’t give me either. So, I would like to request only $70,000 so I can have some capital to find a new place and restart my business again,” he added.
Another resort owner of Sol Beach resort said authorities also sprayed his business with paint for the third time, threatening they will continue until the end of February if they refuse to move out.
“They still don’t have any measures to solve this issue for business owners on Saracen Bay, they just come here and give notice again and again. They said they will spray [red paint] until the end of this month and they will spray all over my place, including my bungalow, and they said how can my guests stay here anymore,” he told Kiripost on Friday after a day of paint being sprayed at his resort.
The action of authorities spraying red paint on the resort also threaten staff working in this area, he added. Some have resigned from their jobs and others are seeking new employment through fear.
“Even so, my staff don’t have motivation to work. Now they are afraid of losing their jobs. Some are attempting to find a new workplace and some have prepared their clothes already,” he said.
Both local and international tourists who have already booked rooms are continually cancelling, with many foreign tourists inquiring about their situations after hearing the news. While other international tourists continue to stay at his resort as they want to visit the island.
“Some tourists have asked us about how our resorts are going on and getting affected? Some other tourists have emailed us like from France, England, America, Italy, Spain and so many more. But some are still willing to visit and stay here since they want to visit the island and trust us,” he said.
He would like to request the two private companies that are going to develop the area to be responsible for subtenants, as landlords are able to get compensation through land exchange schemes. In the meanwhile, subtenants paid full rent during the Covid-19 crisis.
“I think it is unfair and not appropriate. I can say this because some landlords spent only between $200,000 to $300,000 to buy land and business owners like us have invested $700,000 to $800,000, which is equivalent to two to three times the value of the land,” he said.
“But when there is a problem they only solve it with the landlord. They don’t solve the problem with business owners [subtenants]. While business owners have tried to work and advertise to the world to let them know about Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanleoum.”
During the Covid-19 outbreak, resorts, hotels and restaurants on Koh Rong Sanleoum, like other tourism sites, faced crisis, with no tourists visiting the island. Landlords did not offer a discount on rent and they paid about $2,000 per month. Some business owners continued paying staff.
“During Covid we didn’t close our resort, we kept our staff. For long-term staff, we still paid 60 to 70 percent of their total salary. We had cut down a little of their salary since we know that they need to support their family livelihood,” he added.
He said he cannot leave without any appropriate compensation as the business has only started making money since the pandemic. He added that November to April is the best season for hospitality businesses to earn more profits as there are more tourists.
He said, “After Khmer New Year, the number of tourists will drop down. We earned money for six months to cover the cost of the next six months.”
Sol Beach resort opened eight years ago, taking about 16 months to construct, at a cost of $1 million for the whole investment and to cope with the Covid-19 challenges.
He urged the private companies and government to solve the issue with compensation and extend the deadline to move out.
“We constructed the resort in more than one year and they suddenly rush us to leave within seven days. We have spent a lot during Covid for staff and other things to keep our business,” he said.
Initially, the land they rented from the landlord did not have a solid title deed, but later land in this area was given to the developer. Landowners were informed they can get land in a new location, with solid land titles.
However, land tenants with a valid contract have not been offered any compensation. After filing a letter urging the government to facilitate the negotiation between the private companies and the eight resort and restaurant owners for a solution.
Koh Rong Samloem has been leased by the Royal Government to Emario Shonan Marine Corporation Ltd. through the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), with an area of 1,124.35 hectares to invest and develop tourism projects under a contract dated December 19, 2008.
In addition, on October 27, 2006, 1,066 hectares of land was leased to Koh Rong Samloem Island Resort Co., Ltd.
Long Dimanche, Deputy Governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, told Kiripost that there are two choices for business owners. They can get new land in a different area or can ask the two private companies slated to develop the area to rent on the same land.
“There are two main choices. One, if they still stay at the same place, they will not be able to have the rights to get the land prepared for them near the same area. For those who already got new land, like foreigner business owners, can rent other land in this area. If they still want to rent in the previous land [the developing area], they can ask the new companies that have already gotten the rights to develop from the government since 2008,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, operations director of Licadho, said the business owners are not going to run operations without official permission and there should be appropriate reasons with a peaceful legal agreement.
“Dismantle cannot be forced, because when forced displacement equals forced eviction. So, there must be a peaceful settlement to be acceptable to all. The principle of development is for all, so development should not be biased on either side, it must be transparent,” he said.