Koh Rong Sanloem Businesses Given Until Feb 9 to Leave

Hotel, resort and restaurant owners on Koh Rong Sanloem’s Saracen Bay have been ordered to dismantle their businesses by February 9 to pave the way for development by two private companies
Koh Rong Sanloem. Photo: supplied
Koh Rong Sanloem. Photo: supplied

The government has ordered eight resort, hotel and restaurant owners in Saracen Bay to dismantle their constructions from a stretch of concession land slated for development by two private companies on Koh Rong Sanloem before February 9.

In response, impacted business owners - which so far are reported to have been limited to the Saracen Bay area and parts of Lazy Beach, with the rest of the island, including Ma’Pai Bay unaffected - have lashed out. They claim the move is unfair. Now, they are actively pursuing suitable compensation for the “urgent dismantlement announcement”.

Earlier, the government had ordered hotels and resorts owners running hospitality businesses in the impacted area of Koh Rong Sanloeum to dismantle their beachside businesses from January 26 to 31.

However, according to residents, the deadline has now been extended to February 9. Any remaining structures after that date will be destroyed by authorities.

A resident of Saracen Bay, who has run a resort on the island since 2018, asked to be not named for fear of reprisal. He told Kiripost on Monday that his resort and restaurant has been covered in red spray paint by authorities, stating, “ Dismantle before January 31, 2023”.

In December, the governor of Sihanoukville issued notices to the governor of Koh Rong Municipality regarding measures to stop all clearing, encroachment, construction and demolition of buildings and other works on “unlicensed land” in the Saracen bay area.

It stated that 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 Sanleum Island Resort Co., Ltd.

However, the Saracen Bay business owner said they only recently received an official letter demanding they vacate the area in less than three months, without compensation. He added he has invested about $20,000 in his resort, including construction and staff.

“I want to have compensation because I have spent money on construction and I have met a three year crisis due to Covid. Then I have just started to run my business within one to two months and now they asked me to dismantle it without compensation,” he said.

He said in December, his landlord informed him about the imminent land evictions. In January and February, provincial authorities provided businesses with official documents dating back to 2021 about the area’s development project.

“If we don’t follow them [to dismantle], they will use machines, trucks and anything to destroy [constructions]. But if we self-dismantle, at least we can get some stuff back,” he added.

Landlords receive between 10 and 20 percent of their total land on island for land exchange area compensation. Subtenants also face uncertainty regarding their next move if they have to leave.

“They only exchange [land] for the landlords, and they agree since both sides agreed to issue land title deeds. The landlords gain benefits from both sides. Landlords say they cannot rent the land for us anymore since the size of land they get [from compensation] is already small and they have given the land to the government already. But authorities say if we want to request something, we have to negotiate with the landlord, ” he said.

There are eight resort and restaurant owners who have been evicted. They have filed letters with the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Governor to facilitate negotiations between the two companies planning to develop the area to find a solution.

Long Dimanche, Deputy Governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, told Kiripost on Friday that in the last few days, the government visited Koh Rong Sanloem to announce to the residents that owners must vacate the island due to development by private companies.

“A few days ago, there was an inter-ministerial meeting between the Ministry of Land Management, Ministry of Environment, CDC and the companies that have received approval from the government to develop some parts in Koh Rong Saloem island,” he said.

The government approved concession rights to a private company to develop in 2008, according to the Deputy Governor of Sihanoukville Province. However, when Kiripost asked for details on the private companies and the duration that the government approved for concession, the deputy governor of Preah Sihanouk province​ declined to answer and referred Kiripost to CDC.

“Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration has found that people who claim to occupy the land on Koh Rong Samloem continue to clear land, feed the coast, fill in sand, break the sea into plots and build bungalows, guesthouses, restaurants, ports, which are unregulated” the notice, signed on 29 September, said.

“And there is no permit or title deed recognized by the competent authority yet. In addition, the occupation and use of those lands has affected the state's natural resources and coastal forage. Even though the company got the rights for development here, they still cannot do it."

"Because there are citizens, claiming that they have been living here, but actually for the citizens [that live here] we cannot acknowledge them [living here as legal] because of Koh Rong Sanloem, especially for island, according to the law, islands are the property of state that have never issued a title deed. However, we still can see they are occupied areas,” the deputy governor said.

He added that some citizens have subleased land to private companies to build resorts and hotels. However, now it is the time to collect about 1,200 hectares of land that has been given the rights from the government for development.

The government has put in place plans with landlords to compensate them with new land that will be found by the private companies that gained the concession rights. The provincial spokesman claimed that all the landlords have agreed to the compensation, it is subtenants who refuse to accept it.

He added, “Most of the landlords agreed with the exchange land condition except for the subtenants. We think they can continue their contract with the same landlord but with new land areas that are going to be exchanged.”

Cheab Sopheary, Provincial Coordinator of ADHOC in Sihanoukville, said she does not know anything regarding the eviction of residents in Koh Rong Sanloeum and asked not to comment.

Soeung Sen Karuna, a spokesman at rights group Adhoc, urged the government to try to find better solutions with suitable compensation, if subtenants have a legal contract.

“We are not sure how the citizens are living and occupying the land. But as long as the land occupiers are legal, before the government starts to dismantle development​s, they have to consider solutions like compensation in advance. We cannot evict them without any compensation,” he said.

In 2018, the Royal Government decided to establish Koh Rong Marine National Park, with an area of ​​5,015.84 hectares and a water area of ​​39,900 hectares in Preah Sihanouk Province. It covers the four islands of Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Touch and Koh Kon to protect marine natural resources sustainably, according to the notice.