On 22nd April 2019 the Cambodian government unveiled a project for construction of as airport in the Mondulkiri province, to boost tourism development, agro-tourism and agro-industry. The project aims to provide air links between the north-eastern region of the country and other provinces. Ministry of Tourism spokesperson Mr. Chuk Chumnor said that the project masterplan, including a feasibility study, would be wrapped up by the end of the year, and that the ministry would discuss the matter with civil aviation and local authorities. Mondulkiri provincial governor Mr. Svay Sam Eang said: “The province has land space for constructing it already and it is located in Ou Reang district and the expenditure of construction would depend on the national level.” He also said construction of the new airport would help development in the tourism sector in particular due to the area’s eco-tourism potential. In March, Prime Minister Samdech Techno Hun Sen said there was a need to construct an airport in the area because it would become a major economic hub in the northeast of the country. There is a disused airport in the Mondulkiri province which is being redeveloped into a park.
The airport plan had been approved the previous week by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Tourism. Chuk Chumnor said that after conclusion of the feasibility study by the end of the year opportunities for investment in the project would be generated. Cambodia Association of
Travel Agents president Chhay Silvin said the Ministry of Tourism should focus on other tourism facilities to boost the sector: “The government should focus on … shortages of hotels, restaurants and lack of entertainment infrastructure while they are studying the airport plan. If we acquire an airport while tourism facilities continue to be lacking, then it will be useless to have the airport”. Speaking again about the airport project Ministry of Tourism spokesperson Chuk Chumnor said the facility would handle domestic an international flights and that the location would be decided in cooperation with local and aviation authorities. Mondulkiri governor Mr. Sam Eang said that provincial authorities had selected a tentative location for the airport: 300 hectares of land in Ou Reang district. But he also said other options were being considered, such as building the new airport in the neighbouring Ratanakkiri province.
On 4th June 2019 the Phnom Penh Post reported that excavation of soil, preparing the ground for construction of the new airport, had already begun, on 2nd June, in the Ou Reang district’s Sen Monorom commune. After witnessing the arrival of machinery to excavate soil several local families claimed that the work was being carried out on private and community land outside the boundaries designated for the airport, expressing concerns that they would lose their plantation and community burial land. A villager, Saroeun Borath, said that a digger had started excavating soil to a depth of approximately 1 meter, over an area beyond the site demarcated by posts for airport construction and encroaching more than 1 kilometer onto villagers’ land. He said soil excavation works had affected about 40 residents’ land spanning an area of approximately 100 hectares. He explained that the land belongs to the community, one part being used for Bunong indigenous community burials and herding cattle, the rest for cashew nut and pepper plantations. One resident, Tap Khveurt, said the excavation had encroached on 10 hectares of land near the boundary posts. The land, used to cultivate cashew nuts and corn, had been left to him and his five children by their ancestors.
Borath said that authorities did not discuss the matter with villages before beginning the works. He also said that a large number of villagers came to ask to see the digger operator’s documentation and enquire who had ordered the work to be carried out. The digger operator then moved to the area within the posts demarcating the project boundary. Borath had asked village and commune chiefs about the soil excavation and they said they were unaware of it.
He then asked O’Raing (Ou Reang) district governor, Siek Mony, who said the location was intended for use as a runway. The residents held a gathering and requested an expansion from authorities as to why soil has been excavated beyond the boundary posts, agreeing unanimously that discussions must be held with them before any construction takes place. They added that the community burial land must be protected as no development of any kind is allowed there. District governor Siek
Mony said that the work was being carried out in the area where airport infrastructure was slated to be built and not, as residents claimed, being carried out in the wrong location. Yet, following the protest, he stated that authorities had ordered a temporary halt to the excavation work. “I am addressing the issue with the residents and I am meeting with provincial-level authorities to resolve the dispute,” he said.