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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King urges $12m theater cash to farms

King urges $12m theater cash to farms

Irrigation rehab said more important than fine

arts

Culture Minister Nouth Narang

has launched a $12 million appeal to rebuild the Bassac Theater which was gutted

by fire last month.

But His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk says that if

the money is collected, it should go to irrigation projects to help re-develop

the Kingdom's agriculturally-based economy which sustains the bulk of the

population.

Narang and Pich Tum Kravel, director of the resident

National Theatre Company, hope that international aid, especially from France

and Japan, might be donated.

King Sihanouk expressed his sympathy over

the "misfortune" in a letter to the co-premiers, HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh

and HE Samdech Hun Sen. However, he suggested reconstruction be delayed.

"It is true that our arts and classical dance are part of the grandeur

of Kampuchea," he said. "But if noble Japan and other wealthy powers, friends of

the Cambodian people, would like to help our people, of whom 90% are poverty

stricken peasants, dramatically short of rice to feed themselves, these friends

from wealthy countries could give absolute priority to the rehabilitation of our

agriculture ..."

Irrigation, water reservoirs and bulldozers would be

more useful, he believes, than the prestigious National Theatre, built during

the 1960s, when Cambodia "could pay for luxuries".

Since 1970, he

continues, Cambodia has become an "international beggar in matters of rice". The

King went on to suggest that plans for embellishing the city's gardens and

sculptures are less important than cleanliness and hygiene.

Until funds

are found, the future of the Bassac Theater is uncertain. Pich Tum Kravel says

that $12 million is only an estimate. "We do not know exactly how much the work

will cost, or who will pay for it," he admitted.

Narang said he hoped

France and Japan would help, but added: "We are studying various possibilities,

but it is too early to say what will happen. Different estimates for repairs are

being examined, some more greedy than others."

The Japanese government

was poised to donate new sound and lighting equipment to the theatre in March,

valued at $400,000. However, in view of the tragedy, they have cancelled their

project. "We are not sure what we will do with regards to reconstruction," said

Masaki Kawaguchi, attache and secretary to the ambassador.

Pich Tum

Kravel said that some crates of costumes, musical instruments and shadow puppets

had been destroyed by the fire, and that replacing them would cost about

$800,000. "That is the price of materials, but does not include the labour

involved," Kravel said.

In the meanwhile, actors, musicians and dancers

attended a meeting outside the charred theatre. Ieng Si Tol, head of the

folk-dancing troupe, told them about plans to start rehearsing in the Chatomukh

Theatre the next day. Kravel said that the classical dancers have been offered

use of the Chanchaya pavillion and the Phochani hall inside the Royal Palace for

rehearsals. Actors will be using the Cinelux cinema on Norodom boulevard, which

has a stage.

One of the classical dancers, Thong Kim Ieng, commented on

the disaster: "We are all very sad."

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