A group of Cambodian monks and environmental activists entered their second day of a nine-day march on Wednesday to the coastal city of Sihanoukville to demand the demolition of a shuttered Chinese-owned casino accused of polluting a local beach.
Cambodian activists have long called for the demolition of the Jin Ding Casino and hotel on Koh Rong Samloem Island, a popular tourist destination, saying that if the structure is not torn down it will likely be reopened at a later date.
The casino was ordered to close in May because it was operating without a license, promoting illegal online betting games, and releasing untreated sewage directly into the sea, but Cambodian authorities have delayed repeatedly fulfilling promises to tear it down.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, Buddhist monk Keut Saray said that authorities in Kompong Speu province, which lies along the protesters’ route of march to the coast, had ordered local monasteries to refuse shelter to the group.
“Senior monks at two of those monasteries told me that officials from the Provincial Department of Cults and Religions had ordered them not to provide us with places to sleep,” he said.
Members of the group, which started from the capital Phnom Penh on Oct. 15 with two activists and three monks and now numbers ten, have vowed to continue with their march regardless, insisting that authorities now move ahead to demolish Jin Ding.
Also speaking to RFA, Thun Ratha—an activist with the environmental advocacy group Mother Nature—said that after the monasteries turned them away, the group had slept in tents in an open field.
“We will keep going to fulfill our goal,” he said. “We urge provincial authorities to follow through with what they said they are going to do after ordering the owner of the Jin Ding casino [to tear the facility down].”
After leaving Phnom Penh, participants in the march were followed closely by police who monitored their progress and took photos, but police turned back as the march crossed into Kandal province, group members said, adding that the group’s size has been kept small to avoid attracting troublemakers.
Crime rises despite departures
Chinese investment has flowed into Sihanoukville in recent years, but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen and residents.
A report by the AFP news agency in January on how Sihanoukville had become a “sizeable gambling playground” for Chinese tourists said at least 50 Chinese-owned casinos were operating in the province
Speaking to RFA this week, Preah Sihanouk provincial deputy police chief Kol Phally said that the presence of Chinese nationals in Sihanoukville has meanwhile declined, with numbers going down by about half.
“We don’t know exactly how many Chinese nationals have returned [to China], but we know that a lot of them are leaving. The numbers are not the same as they were before,” he said.
Sreng Vanny—a provincial coordinator for the Cambodian human rights group Licadho—said however that crime in Sihanoukville continues to rise in spite of the departures of Chinese following a government crackdown in September on online gambling.
“In fact, things are worse, with growing numbers of killings, mutilations of corpses, and shooting in the streets,” he said.
Last month Cambodian authorities deported 142 Chinese nationals to China at the weekend for involvement in telecommunications fraud scams, loading them on two charter planes from Phnom Penh.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pheap Aun and Neang Ieng. Written in English by Richard Finney.