Tourists began leaving Koh Rong Sanloem and canceling their bookings as authorities extended Thursday’s eviction deadline for businesses and resorts in the island’s Saracen Bay area, spray-painting resorts with new messages to demolish their businesses.
Authorities had initially told some businesses and resorts to vacate their properties by January 31, which was later extended to February 9. After construction work and excavators took over the island last weekend ahead of the second deadline, it was pushed forward again to February 16, resort owners said Thursday.
But pressure hasn’t let up: The owner of Sky Beach Resort in Saracen Bay, who asked to go by his first name Toch, told VOD Thursday that authorities had not attempted to remove or destroy bungalows themselves, but that they had traveled resort to resort tagging the buildings with red paint and driving out tourists.
“Third notification to finish demolition on February 16, 2023,” the spray-paint on Toch’s property reads.
While his 10 bungalows had initially been fully booked from February to May, cancellations had started rolling in as word of the island’s potential evictions had spread. Those who had bookings this week have either canceled them or left shortly after arriving, he added.
“My client was supposed to stay for a week, but they saw the messy spray like this, so they only stayed one day and left,” Toch said. “Because they’re scared of their security.”
Although the authorities haven’t forced anyone to leave, the situation has put pressure on Toch and his business. When they visited this week, authorities asked what he would want to request during ongoing negotiations with the government, and he said he’d like at least $70,000 in compensation after investing more than $200,000 to build the resort.
“From my perspective, they won’t force us or anything, but this is a psychological threat to my business. I can’t do my business with all that messy spray,” Toch said.
Leng Meng, the owner of a restaurant by the same name, said that authorities had not visited her restaurant again since they came to spray her property last week, but that excavators had continued to operate behind her shop and near the beach.
“Recently they made a road to the beach near the Moonlight Resort,” she said. “Now they’re clearing over there and turning everything to red soil.”
Preah Sihanouk deputy provincial governor Long Dimanche told VOD Thursday that a working group was “compromising and collecting the information to give to superiors to work on the decision,” but would not elaborate on what that could entail.
Y Sokleng, another deputy provincial governor, referred to spokesperson Kheang Phearun, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
A September 2021 letter from the provincial administration listed two companies as taking over the island: Emario Shonan Marine Corporation, which claims 1,124 hectares; and Koh Rong Sanloem Resort, with 1,066 hectares. The letter says both contracts date back to 2008.
Authorities have refused to share information about what the developments could ultimately entail or even which companies have claimed which parts of the island. Earlier this week, some business owners said they had entered discussions with the government, prompting them to retract their comments to the media.