|Written by Cheang Sokha and Thomas Gam Nielsen|
|Wednesday, 01 October 2008|
Kep governor says the tiny island will become Cambodia’s next big tourism destination, but local residents insist they will not leave unless the government offers fair compensation
A FIVE-STAR resort and golf course is slated for the idyllic 600-hectare Koh Tunsay, or Rabbit Island, off the coast of Kampot province’s sleepy seaside town of Kep. Construction is slated to begin early next year, officials say.
Kep Municipality Governor Has Sareth told the Post on Tuesday the Council for the Development of Cambodia has granted permission to the Pol Cham Group.
“I think this project is good, as it will provide jobs and income to local people, and it will make Kep one of the most attractive tourist destinations,” he said.
Pol Cham Group representatives were unavailable for comment on Tuesday, but Has Sareth said construction will begin early next year.
Currently, visitors to Koh Tunsay can reach the island only by a 40-minute boat ride with local fishermen. It is home to just 14 families who run small restaurants and bungalow guesthouses that lack running water, steady electricity supplies and proper sewage systems.
The principal trade of Rabbit Island residents is fishing and farming, as it was when the first families took up residence in 1954. The island, like all islands in Cambodia, technically belongs to the state, and none of the islanders have papers to show ownership of their land.
One resident, 29-year-old Kensi Mach, told the Post that nine families were moved from the island in 2006 after only a brief residence. They were given less than US$900 in compensation.
…IT WILL MAKE KEP ONE OF THE MOST ATTRACTIVE TOURIST DESTINATIONS.
Another resident, Chea Om wants much higher compensation than the families that have already been relocated.
“I do not object to the development project, but if they offer only a small compensation, I don’t know how I will survive,” she said.
The 65-year-old has lived on the island for more than 20 years and does not want to leave. “I live here in happiness,” she said. “And I run a good business.”
All families that remain say they will demand significant sums to leave their homes.
A man from one of the island’s oldest families, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his family would demand $20,000 in compensation.
Has Sareth acknowledged that the remaining families have lived for years on the island and that the municipality and the Pol Cham Group would need to resettle them with a fair compensation agreement.
“We are looking at the price of the land,” he said, adding that “the villagers will agree, as we are developing [the island] for their benefit.”