The infilling of 70 hectares of the Mekong River across from Phnom Penh is nearly complete, residents say, as the Kandal provincial governor touts the “development potential” of the oknha’s project that he says will soon sway any unhappy locals.
The governor, Kong Sophorn, said the satellite city development, by oknha Khun Sea in Lvea Em district’s Akrei Khsat commune, would have a resort, condominiums, shopping center and government buildings.
It will increase government revenue, create jobs and raise local incomes, Sophorn said.
“The development potential is the greater [concern],” he said. “There will be an impact on people’s minds at some point, but after they see the development they will feel happy and support it even more.”
A group of about 100 people living in small huts on both sides of a road along what used to be shore, however, say they are awaiting eviction.
“[We] don’t know what to do. Citizens like me and my group have only tears,” said Touch Kheng, 55, who spoke as a representative of the families.
The landfilling began in December last year, and was now about 80 percent complete, Kheng said. Authorities have already warned the families that their shacks overlap sidewalks on the road, which is due for expansion, he said.
“When the time comes, [there’s] only begging them for any other place to live,” he said. The families had no land or hometowns to return to, he said.
Resident Horn Vat, 57, said she hoped there would be some compensation.
“[I] haven’t been worrying yet because the commune chief told us that [we should] just keep staying here [for now],” Vat said. “[We] heard that there would be alternative land made available to us.”
The development lease was noted in an April 2019 Council of Ministers circular referring to a notice by Prime Minister Hun Sen about the granting of 70 hectares of state property to Khun Sea Import Export for 50 years.
The location is south of the Akrei Khsat ferry terminal, and almost directly opposite the Koh Norea satellite city development, which is also filling in more than 100 hectares of the Mekong River.
Koh Norea, like nearby Koh Pich, is being developed by OCIC, whose board members Sea is in business with through the Eco Megapolis Development Corporation. The Phnom Penh Post reported in 2018 that Eco Megapolis could be involved in Phnom Penh’s new airport in Kandal.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of environmental activist group Mother Nature, said the Mekong was already ailing due to upstream hydropower developments. This year saw the river remain at historically low levels during the rainy season.
Satellite city projects in Phnom Penh as well as sand dredging elsewhere were likely to cause unexpected impacts, he said.
“It isn’t smart. I don’t support it,” Gonzalez-Davidson said. “I’m deeply concerned about this project as well as the other ones emerging along the Mekong River.”
Khun Sea Import Export could not be reached for comment.