Senator’s Death Clouds Future of $1.5B Kampot Beach Development

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Prek Tnoat fishing community in Kampot province’s Toek Chhou district in 2020.
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A Kampot province port and seaside sand-filling project has gone quiet after the senator leading the project died amid disputes with two marine fishing communities, though the late politician’s assistant says the development has not been abandoned.

Ouk Sovannarith, president of the Prek Tnoat fishing community in Kampot’s Toek Chhou district, said it would be a lucky break for fishers who rely on Kampot’s seaside if the Ching Kor port and special economic zone project was truly on the rocks. He said the project appeared inactive since the death of Ching Kor’s chairwoman Keo Maly in October.

More than 1,000 families in Sovannarith’s community and the Trapaing Ropov fishing community depend on some 2,400 hectares of sea for fishing and making a livelihood, but they were threatened by the sand-filling done by the company, he said.

“[Citizens] borrowed money from others and paid installments through a bank, like borrowing money to build a house,” Sovannarith said, adding that if the development is stopped “they can earn money to pay off the bank, can earn money for their children to go to school, can support the family. I think there is no problem if there is no development in that area.”

Sim Sophea, the late politician’s assistant, said the special economic zone, resort and port project developed by Ching Kor was not abandoned even if it appeared inactive since the death of the former ruling party senator.

The company is currently conducting an environmental impact assessment, he said.

Sophea added that any disputes with fishing communities who share the sea would be handled by someone at a higher level than him.

“It seems that there is no dissatisfaction from the people,” he said.

People in Trapaing Ropov fishing community, one of five communities in Kampot province’s Prek Tnoat commune in 2020.
People in Trapaing Ropov fishing community, one of five communities in Kampot province’s Prek Tnoat commune in 2020.

According to the company’s investment report, Ching Kor was granted the right to fill 640 hectares of Kampot province by the Commerce Ministry, Council of Ministers and Council for the Development of Cambodia in 2019. Last September, the company also requested permission from the Land Ministry to fill sand into an additional 1,000 hectares off the coast of Kampot province.

Before her death, Maly told VOD in October 2019 that the area would be called the “Kampot Tourism Ocean” project, and include a special economic zone, port, resort and condominiums. She said at the time that the company would invest $1.5 billion over 50 years.

When asked about the project, Prek Tnoat commune chief Kong Bunrea said developments inevitably have consequences, so the solution is to look at the real needs of the people, without elaborating.

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon previously said in 2019 that his ministry had no right to block the development, and could only endorse it.

A Land Ministry official refused to comment, an Environment Ministry official could not be reached, and the Council for the Development of Cambodia said it does not do interviews with journalists, and they must submit a formal letter and wait for a response.

In its 2012 demarcation of coasts, Cambodia banned investments, including possession and construction, along coastal borders, but the government has proceeded to flout this rule for large-scale developments.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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