sihanoukville – The Port Authority of Sihanoukville is planning to build a brand new town in a seashore forest for thousands of squatter families currently occupying land reserved for the port, in hopes of paving the way for the development of a free-trade zone.
Port Director-General Lou Kim Chhun said last week that Math Peam, a forestry area between Ochateal beach and Ream National Park, is likely to be developed to house more than 2,300 families who now illegally live on state land adjacent to the cargo port.
The port authority has studied the area, also known as Man Chaouv, which is now covered with coconut trees and bushes, and concluded it has great potential to be a new town, Lou Kim Chhun said.
“The port wants to develop a residential area for the people,” he said. “This is for the people. If they don’t like the place, we would not proceed with the plan.
“If we can develop the new town there, we can extend the port and develop a free trade zone,” he said. “That will ultimately create more jobs for our people.”
Since the early 1990s, the government has been drawing a master plan and has reserved more than 50 hectares of land for the development of a free-trade zone.
Relocating squatters, however, has been an obstacle to the free-trade zone development project for years. The Math Peam development proposal needs to get approval from the squatter families as well as the national government, and details of the proposal need to be worked out, officials said.
Legal Aid of Cambodia, which has been helping the squatter families, said almost all of them are reluctant to relocate.
“They are aware that they will have to move out,” said Am Sokha, LAC’s legal investigator who is visiting Sihanoukville this week. “They say they will only agree to relocate if [local authorities] provide them the same things that they have now—a hospital, market, school for children, electricity, water and roads.”
The port authority plans to build a 14 km coastline road connecting Route 45 next to the national park and Ochheuteal beach, construct three bridges along the way, and develop a 150-hectare residential town with seashore garden parks and a seafood market. The project is estimated to cost $3.5 million, and the port authority will finance $3 million, Lou Kim Chhun said.
He said the area is ideal for fishermen because the location is close to fishing points. He added the new town could become a day-trip picnic area from Sihanoukville town. And the coastline driveway will provide an alternative road for travelers between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.
Developing a free-trade zone in Sihanoukville is a key strategy for the country to boost its sluggish economy and compete with other Asean countries. International economic observers also have recommended the creation of a tax-free industrial and commercial zone in Sihanoukville, which would bring more labor-intensive manufacturing to Cambodia and encourage more imports and exports.
The free trade zone would allow imports of raw materials to come into Sihanoukville port without being taxed. In return, the raw materials would be used to build products in the industrial and commercial zone.
Officials said the port area would become a commercial and recreational hub for citizens and foreign visitors when the project is done.
“The project is very important for the city because it would attract more tourists,” said Sihanoukville Governor Ith Detola. “Sihanoukville wants tourists to visit the city by boat from neighboring countries.”
An unauthorized transfer of land titles on the port’s reserved land had hindered the project until Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered in late 1999 that private businesses claiming land titles give the land back to the state. Three owners are refusing to give the land up without compensation, said Ith Detola.
The international cargo port is now undergoing a major facelift, with the help of a $39-million loan from Japan to improve and expand the facility to handle larger container ships.
Traffic through Sihanoukville’s cargo port is rising every year, according to the port authority. Trade volume last year topped 1.6 million tons, a 44 percent increase from 1999 and twice the amount of previous years. The increased traffic generated $17.7 million for the port authority in 2000, $3.7 million up from 1999.
“Our loan is given only for expansion of the container terminal facility, not for development of the free-trade industrial zone,” said Yuji Watanabe, economic attaché with the Japanese Embassy. “[But] we would like to monitor the relocation of squatter families because it is important for the future development of the port to build the industrial zone there.”
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)
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