SIHANOUKVILLE, Preah Sihanouk — The owner of a concrete-and-brick wall being built directly on Sihanoukville’s O’Chheuteal beach in recent weeks remains a mystery, with authorities and workers alike refusing to say who is cordoning off the public beach.
Provincial and local authorities couldn’t answer questions of who owns the home behind the fence, which now runs along a section of the popular tourist beach just a dozen meters from the water.
VOD reporters visited Preah Sihanouk’s cadastral department in early February after photos of the fence were widely shared on social media, but officials would not answer questions. Land Minister Chea Sophara did not pick up multiple phone calls.
Construction workers putting up the fence have almost finished the job, they told VOD.
“This is not easy,” one said. “Maybe by Khmer New Year, we will be finished. I don’t know after the fence is finished they will continue to build a house, or just the fence.”
Still, they would not say who owns the fence, while a man taking care of a child inside the house behind the fence said he was not a relative nor the house’s owner and that he didn’t know who the owner was.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I came to visit only from O’Char. I know someone here who will come to visit until the evening, when I will come back. There’s a reaction to all this. I just came to visit.”
The fence appears to be built of cement and is about 5 meters wide, located 12 meters from the ocean and not far from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house.
Long Dimanche, Preah Sihanouk’s deputy governor, said he would not share the identity of the fence owner as it would impact their privacy, but said it was their legal property and therefore their right to build a fence.
“This land already had a land title owned by a company. I can’t clarify this, because … they don’t want us to reveal the name in public.”
Dimanche told local news outlets that the site was 8,000 square meters and was the old location of a naval base before it was privatized in 2007 and 2008. At that time, Preah Sihanouk was overseen by former provincial governors Sbong Sarath and Say Hak.
Sbong Sarath, who is now head of the CPP in Prey Veng and was governor between 2008 and 2014, declined to answer questions about the situation and said the location had been privatized before his mandate.
“This case, I don’t know. When I was there I already saw it. I don’t know,” he said.
Former governor Say Hak said the case was from a long time ago and he could no longer recall the associated documents or clarify the owner.
“I can’t remember, it was a long time ago,” he said, adding an apology. “I left there a long time ago. I can’t find where the document would be.”
Others living nearby said they likewise didn’t know.
“We don’t know, we can’t speak,” one person said. “If we knew about the information we would say it — I live here. But I don’t know. I saw this fence like this. Normally, when you see such a beach, it is wide and beautiful. But when it closes, it looks bad.”
Since January 2019, Land Minister Chea Sophara encouraged authorities in Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kep and Koh Rong to prevent encroachment on public land, coastal land, rivers, streams and waterways connected to the sea in accordance with regulations on the development of coastal areas. That document, first issued in February 2012, included policies around coastal, shoreline and beach measurements.
Cheap Sotheary, Preah Sihanouk coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said many of the province’s beaches are private property.
“We want to see that the natural beach can benefit the people,” she said. “But if it’s for private property like this, we feel so sorry.”