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Officials from the Ministry of Land Management and members of a Japanese delegation inspect the interior of Phnom Penh’s White Building on Friday. Photo supplied
Officials from the Ministry of Land Management and members of a Japanese delegation inspect the interior of Phnom Penh’s White Building on Friday. Photo supplied

Plans to 'reconstruct' White Building discussed

Japanese and Cambodian officials on Friday visited Phnom Penh’s White Building as the first step in a possible pact to “reconstruct” the ailing structure.

The plans, announced via Facebook, did not include any details on what such a project might entail for the iconic complex or residents, who have long feared eviction as part of any redevelopment plan.

According to the social media post, the delegation – comprising members of Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Management and Urban Construction and their counterparts from Japan’s Ministry of Land Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism – visited to “see the attainability of cooperation for the reconstruction of the building”.

“We want to examine the building first to see what’s going on,” spokesman for Cambodia’s Land Management Ministry Seng Loat said yesterday, adding that it was too early to discuss details of the potential project.

“We will study first and then consider what to do next . . . we want the area to be beautiful but our first concern is safety.”

Overcrowding, DIY renovations by residents, intensive nearby construction and years of allegedly government-enforced neglect have left the building, erected in the 1960s, in a worrying state.

Several families temporarily fled their homes in February last year after a large crack appeared in the southern part of the structure, located in the capital’s rapidly developing Chamkarmon district.

“They did not tell us anything about their purpose – whether they want to repair it or reconstruct it, they just came to examine,” said White Building village chief Hun Sarath yesterday, adding that residents, who were “surprised by the visit”, remained concerned about the building’s current state.

“The crack is still the same, the villagers still worry about their safety, but they have no choice [but to stay].”

In August last year, District Deputy Governor Chor Kimsour once again moved to quash rumours of looming evictions.

Yesterday, resident Men Ritny, said that he remained in the dark about his home’s future but stressed that any plans to relocate families would need to provide adequate recompense.

“If we do not get any compensation, we will not move,” the 36-year-old said. “We know it is not safe but we have no choice . . . it’s difficult to find a place like this.”

Since taking over in April, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara has publicised his efforts to address land disputes, which have affected tens of thousands of Cambodians, according to rights groups.

According to the ministry’s Facebook page, Sophara on Friday requested a memorandum of understanding during a meeting with the Japanese delegation’s leader, Parliamentary Vice Minister Hideki Miyauchi.

The agreement, between the ministries, would cover cooperation in land management, urban planning and land title registration, as well as the implementation of a low-income housing project and potential work on the White Building.

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