Sunday, 25 May 2008

Siem Reap port rehab plows ahead

Lionel Courty Bringing down the house! Houses are being dismantled as part of the road upgrade

Written by Cheang Sokha

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

Chong Khneas Boat Association in Siem Reap says it plans to hold a demonstration unless provincial authorities do something about South Korean port investor Sou Ching Investment Co.'s collecting of money from tourists without ongoing development of the area.

Association chairman Roeun Thoeun said Sou Ching is taking $1 from each foreign tourist at the port south of Siem Reap city but is not upholding its part of an agreement to provide the community with proper roads, parking and toilets.
The problem has been occurring since the company started the project. So far the problem between villagers and Sou Ching has not been resolved.
Minh Bunly FACT

"I see the company has lived up to about 20 percent of the agreement," Thoeun said. "We want to take that money (provided by tourists) and develop the infrastructure in the area ourselves."

Thoeun said some 220 locally owned boats take tourists from Chong Khneas to visit the Tonle Sap and many boat owners have complained that the construction activities of Sou Ching Investment are disrupting their livelihoods.

"Since the company arrived (in May 2007), there have been a lot of problems for villagers in the community," Thoeun said, pointing to environmental concerns arising from pollution caused by the port's development.

On January 2, the Boat Association of Chong Khneas, together with the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), wrote a letter to Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin requesting provincial authorities stop Sou Ching from collecting money from foreign tourists as of January 15.

So far the company has not stopped.Thoeun said the association's next step would be to organize a demonstration targeting local authorities for their perceived lack of support for boat owners and the Chong Khneas community. A date for the protest has not been set.

Meanwhile, Siem Reap district authorities on January 21 dismantled about 300 homes, moving them back five meters to allow Sou Ching Investment to widen a road.

CATA president Ho Vandy said Sou Ching has a contractual obligation with the local authorities to develop the area, first by building roads, parking lots and public latrines.

The provision of infrastructure would then justify collecting fees from tourists, he said."Chong Khneas area is very messy; a bad environment with a lot of beggars disturbing tourists," Vandy said.

"We do not oppose the company's development but the company wants to make cake without flour."

Vandy estimated that each day Sou Ching collects $1,500 to $1,800 from tourists to clean the area but said many tourists continue to complain about the cleanliness.

"We want to keep the area's future potential as tourist attraction," Vandy said.

In May 2007, the Council for the Development of Cambodia granted a license to SouthKorean firm Sou Ching Investment Co. Ltd to invest $2 million in a project to build a port at Chong Khneas, but the project was stalled by villagers' protests.

Sou Ching representative Var Chhoudeth said there was only a small core of protestors and they had been inciting unrest in the wider community.Chhoudeth said his company has been developing the area with a canal for the boats, expanded roads and a car park, and was also cleaning the area.

"The boat association wants to take the money themselves but they cannot develop the area," Chhoudeth said.

"What our company is doing is based on the agreement with the provincial authority."

Minh Bunly, project officer for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, a local NGO working with the fishing community at Chong Khneas, said the company had provided the community with little infrastructure.

"The problem has been occurring since the company started the project," Bunly said. "So far the problem between villagers and Sou Ching has not been resolved."

Siem Reap Deputy Governor Chan Sophal, who is in charge of overseeing the port development at Chong Khneas, said he was too busy to comment on the project when contacted by the Post.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, about two million foreign tourists visited Cambodia in 2007. Chong Khneas is one of the best-known destinations in Siem Reap.

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