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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vendors' vigil ends in arrests, fear and flight

Vendors' vigil ends in arrests, fear and flight

vigil.jpg
vigil.jpg

A group of market vendors from Banteay Meanchey who kept a daytime vigil last week

outside Prime Minister Hun Sen's Phnom Penh residence have fled or are in hiding

after police arrested two women on March 3.

A bulldozer clears the earth around Chamkar Kor market in Banteay on February 29, despite complaint from some stallholders that a new development will ruin their business.

Around 50 protesters pledged to sit in front of the Prime Minister's house near the

Independence Monument until a solution was found to what they said was an unfair

development at the Chamkar Kor market in Sisophon. But after three days the arrest

of two of the protesters has spooked those involved.

"The police from Banteay Meanchey came to arrest two female sellers, Pen Sokhuong,

48, and Hun Kimya, 55, about 6 pm [in Phnom Penh]," said a protester who asked

not to be named. He said two telephones and some money were lost during the arrest.

Another vendor was arrested in Banteay Meanchey, the man said, but all three people

were released on March 5.

"The sellers broke away. Some have gone back and some escaped because they are

afraid," he said.

In January, Thomak Construction company began clearing the area around the 600-stall

Chamkar Kor market in order to build 96 brick shops or residences. The new structures

are being built around the perimeter of the market in an area formerly used to park

motorcycles and sell goods.

The vendors said the development was unjust because the land had belonged to the

people since the market was built in 1985 but Chuong Prasoeuth, director of cabinet

of the Banteay Meanchey provincial government, said the market was on state-owned

land.

He said that contracts with the stall-holders had expired in March 2001 and that

the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance had approved

the development. On March 4, representatives of the protesting vendors met with officials

at the MoI, but they said the ministry had already signed an agreement with the construction

company.

Prasoeuth told the Post on March 8 that the vendors on the outside of the market,

who would be most affected by the construction, had all agreed to the development

and it was those inside who objected.

Prasoeuth accused the current stall-holders of leaving the market in disrepair and

said Thomak had removed 500 truckloads of rubbish from around the market before beginning

building. After building the new structures, Thomak would install drainage, parking

lots and a rubbish collection area, he said.

Prasoeuth said the company had agreed to pay about $20,000 in compensation to those

affected but had asked that the payment be postponed.

Thach Khorn, governor of Banteay Meanchey, supported Prasoeuth's comments, saying

a deal had been signed with the government and the provincial authorities were assisting.

"My observation is that a large number of people support the flats being constructed

[and] only a small group of people disagree," said Khorn on March 4.

Thomak Construction could not be contacted for comment. In the background of a photograph

taken by vendors on February 29 is a truck bearing the company name Kmeing Wat or

"Pagoda Children," a construction company owned by Mong Riththy and often

used by Prime Minister Hun Sen to build schools, roads and bridges for the government.

The Post could not confirm their role in the project.

As the building continues, the vendors say their future is uncertain.

"They do not provide a solution for the sellers,'" said a stall-holder.

"Now we are hopeless. It is very unjust for the sellers."

"The police are looking to arrest more sellers [and] I'm afraid to go back home.

I have to escape somewhere waiting for the situation calm down," he said.

He said the company had sent people to negotiate an end to the protest, but many

sellers disagreed and would continue demanding that the development be stopped.

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