The beach looks idyllic with its white sand and seagulls but soon it will be populated with high-end resorts. Sophal, who requested his family name not be revealed, does not know what will happen to his home once the evictions begin.
“This entire area will be cleared out,” he said. “I don't know when, or why. They [the government] don't tell us anything. Just that a big buyer came and bought it.”
“Some powerful people in the government are taking all the land ... and soon we'll have nothing left,” he said.
Those 192 hectares of land were allegedly ceded to high ranking military officer Sar Soeung, who uses the space as private property, a report by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission revealed.
According to Cambodian officials, Sihanoukville, one of Southeast Asia's popular backpacker resorts, is poised to become the region's next big tourist destination.
To expedite the process, the government regularly hands land concessions to government-tied elites at the expense of poor residents, claims Cambodian human rights watchdog Adhoc.
“These concessions and evictions are mostly a problem of corruption,” Cherp Sotheary, Sihanoukville coordinator for Adhoc, told IRIN. “Most of the private investors who got concessions are affiliated with the ruling party, coming in the form of joint ventures with foreign companies.”
The Sihanoukville governor's office was not available for comment.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) announced on 13 September it had granted permission to the Cambodian Pol Cham Group to develop a five-star resort and golf course on Koh Tunsay, or Rabbit Island, reported the Cambodian English daily, the Phnom Penh Post.
But that project will require the eviction of 14 families, who claim they were compensated only US$900 when they demanded $20,000.
“In Sihanoukville, the fishermen and their communities depend on the environment to earn their living, usually by farming vegetables,” Sotheary told IRIN. “When the investments come, they clear the land and locals lose their income.”
Other islands have been ceded to British, French, Chinese and Russian investors, but residents claim the government did not inform or consult them about the purchases.
Sihanoukville governor Say Hak, however, guaranteed residents the right to stay with legal documentation under Cambodia's 2001 land law. The central Cambodian government also declared the coast and islands public property that could not be developed.
According to a 2008 report by Yash Ghai, the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, land laws are “regularly” violated “with impunity by influential individuals, companies and government entities”.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions