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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Massive fire sparks suspicions in capital

Massive fire sparks suspicions in capital


Though authorities say a fire that left more than 228 families homeless was caused by a single man, residents suspect more people could be involved.

Photo by:
CHRISTOPHER SHAY

A resident of Tomnup Toek commune in Phnom Penh looks on in the charred remains of her house. Many residents say the authorities have not allowed them to reconstruct their homes, but only put up temporary shelters.

AT least 228 Phnom Penh families living near Sovanna market watched their homes burn to the ground in less than  half an hour during the Khmer New Year, according to Chor Heng, the Tomnup Toek commune chief. While authorities place the blame squarely on one broke drug user, many residents say responsibility for the fire that killed a 4-year-old girl may run much deeper.

Kim Chhun Ou, deputy governor of Chamkarmon district, said, "Mr Ros Sophan, 29 years old, became angry with his family because they didn't give him money. That's what caused the fire."

Ros Sophan's mother-in-law, Eung Sibonary, confirmed that her son had asked her for 1,000 riels (US$0.24) and his sister-in-law for 5,000 riels, and that they both refused to give him money. She also said that the fire started from Ros Sophan's room, but nonetheless, she refused to believe that he had worked alone.

Shortly after Ros Sophan asked for the money, he somehow acquired a large amount of gasoline, Eung Sibonary pointed out.

"Maybe somebody else hired him to burn the area because he did not have the money to buy the gasoline that he used to burn the house.

He had a lot of gasoline during that time," she said.

She also said she saw another person with her son-in-law as the fire engulfed perhaps as many as 147 houses.

"During the fire, one man accompanied him as he ran away, and then later, he [Ros Sophan] came back and sat in front of the house. He said he was waiting to get money."

My son should confess ... He should not stay in prison alone.

Eung Sibonary said she wants to see everybody involved in the arson that killed her granddaughter behind bars, and in her opinion that  includes more than just Ros Sophan.
"My son should confess to the police who was behind his actions. He should not stay in prison alone," she said.

Photo by:
Tim Francis

A group tries to put out a fire that was lit with large amounts of gasoline on Thursday in Phnom Penh near Sovanna market.  

The families, which do not have legal land titles but claim to have been on the land since 1996, have been repeatedly told by the police that they would be forcibly evicted, say residents. Toch Sophan, a community representative, said, "The fire might have something to do with the authorities because they have told us many times already that we will be moved."

Now the authorities will not let them rebuild their houses, only put up temporary shelters, according to resident So Vor.

Chor Heng, chief of Tomnup Toek commune, said that he did not know what would happen with the families and that he was waiting for a decision from the Phnom Penh Municipality, and Mann Chhoeun, the deputy governor of the city, said he also did not know how he would deal with the situation. He said he was waiting on a report from Chamkarmon district.

Lo Yuy, Chamkarmon's district governor, refused to comment, telling the Post, "If you bring me a gift, then fine. But if you don't, I am busy in a meeting."

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