Rights Official Voices Concerns Over Housing Construction ‘For Chinese’ in Cambodian SEZ

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cambodia-chinese-gamblers-sihanoukville-dec-2018.jpg A still photo from a video grab taken on Dec. 13, 2018 shows Chinese customers gambling inside a Chinese-run casino in Sihanoukville, the coastal capital of Preah Sihanouk province.

A human rights official in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province has expressed concerns over new apartment blocks he says are being built specifically for Chinese nationals, amid reports of the migrants committing criminal activities in other parts of the country.

The apartments are being built in and around the Cham Yeam Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Koh Kong’s Mondul Seima district by ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) lawmaker and casino tycoon Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group, provincial spokesperson Sok Sothy said recently, adding that they will be used to house workers from joint ventures with “foreign companies.”

Hour In, a coordinator for local rights group Licadho in Koh Kong province, told RFA’s Khmer Service he expects that the new apartments will attract large numbers of Chinese nationals once they are completed, and that the new migrants will “bring insecurity and crime” to the area.

He noted that Chinese investment has flowed into neighboring Preah Sihanouk province in recent years, but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they say are unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese residents.

Yun Min, the former governor of Preah Sihanouk, submitted a report in January this year to Interior Minister Sar Kheng in which he raised strong concerns over the negative perception of the growing Chinese population in the province.

In his report, Yun Min said that while some Chinese nationals were involved in organized crime and extortion, much of the conflict between Cambodians and Chinese immigrants to the region stemmed from petty disputes.

Hour In told RFA that during recent visits to Cham Yeam he had seen new buildings in the SEZ “leased to Chinese,” as well as Chinese restaurants and other services—including karaoke parlors and prostitution dens—marketed towards Chinese nationals.

However, he said that it is unclear what the Chinese migrants living in the area are doing to support themselves, and whether the work they do is legitimate, as they are mostly “sitting in front of computers and using phones.”

“We don't understand and are wondering why so many Chinese people come to stay at the border, because we don't know what work they are doing,” Hour In said.

“I think that if there are more Chinese nationals coming to the area and staying illegally, they will engage in many kinds of business activities such as online gambling … and sex work.”

Drawing investment

Provincial spokesperson Sok Sothy told RFA there are “many structures under construction” in and around the SEZ, and that they are not exclusively for rent to Chinese nationals.

“They are for [the purpose of drawing] investment—the construction will create rental units for not only Chinese people, but for all nationalities, including people from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S.,” he said.

Sok Sothy could not provide figures for how many Chinese nationals are working in the SEZ or how many plan to live in the area after the construction is ready built, and referred additional questions to tycoon Ly Yong Phat.

Repeated calls to Ly Yong Phat for comment on the development went unanswered.

A recent report by the National Police, under the Interior Ministry, said that there are some 250,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia, including around 100,000 each in the capital Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.

On Aug. 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a ban on online gambling, putting an end to the issuance of new licenses and forcing all related businesses to close operations by the end of 2019. The announcement came days after Cambodian police arrested 127 Chinese nationals in the seat of Preah Sihanouk who were suspected of involvement in an internet scam used to extort funds from Chinese citizens in China.

In the weeks that followed, at least 6,000 Chinese nationals left Cambodia each day for a total of around 120,000 departures, according to the Interior Ministry, which said the exodus was likely linked to the new measure.

Cambodian authorities have arrested and deported 385 Chinese nationals after finding them linked to crimes committed in Cambodia, including some based on warrants issued by China.

Reported and translated by Pheap Aun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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