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Cambodian islands to be developed into new tourist spot

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia’s pristine islands are to be the focus of a new government push to attract developers and broaden the base of the country’s growing tourism market, local media reported Sunday.

The English-language Cambodia Weekly quoted Tourism Ministry secretary of state Thon Khon as saying the 61 mostly untouched islands had been identified by the government as ideal development and investment opportunities.

The government is keen to develop its booming but narrow-based tourism industry beyond the temples of Angkor Wat in the country’s north in order to create a more robust tourism economy.

‘We need to link the Angkor temples to the beaches ... Although we have many tourism sites, our two biggest potential draws are the Angkor Wat temples and the beaches,’ the newspaper quoted Khon as saying.

The paper also quoted investment chief for the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Sourn Sothy, as saying that there were a number of bids on the table centered around Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

Sothy said the government was keen for rapid development in the area, and was demanding earnest money of 1,000 dollars per hectare from investors which would be forfeited by those who sat on land and failed to develop it within six months.

Last September the government announced it had signed an agreement to allow a Russian company to develop a coastal island into a tourist resort with an initial investment of up to 300 million dollars.

The Ministry of Tourism annual report released last week recorded 1.7 million visitors to Cambodia in 2006, up by nearly 20 percent. The country registered 1 billion dollars in tourism revenue in 2006, up from $832 million in 2005.

However these figures were highly dependent on visitors to Angkor Wat, the gateway of which, Siem Reap, has an international airport.

Earlier this year Sihanoukville Airport also reopened, and the Tourism Ministry has said it is keen to attract tourists from Angkor to its stunning white sand beaches and islands in the south-west of the country, around 240 kilometers from the capital.

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