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Construction ends, resumes near White Building

A resident of the White Building inspects the construction site from the roof yesterday in Phnom Penh.
A resident of the White Building inspects the construction site from the roof yesterday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Construction ends, resumes near White Building

The “temporary suspension” of construction works widely believed to have damaged Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building was officially lifted on the same day it was announced, according to a government notice.

Large cracks appeared across the southern part of the historic apartment block on Sunday evening, leading residents to flee their homes. The next day, officials announced that the nearby construction of an 11-storey hotel had been suspended pending investigation into the damage.

“We need to wait for the authorities and experts to examine [the cracks],” City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said at the time.

But a notice, signed the very same day by Chea Srun, the head of Phnom Penh’s Department of Land Management, and obtained yesterday, gives developers Rithy Samnang and To Chhean Lin the green light to continue building.

White Building residents say the notice appeared on the wall of the construction site on Wednesday evening.

At the apartment block yesterday morning, the notice was met with confusion and anger.

“It just happened that the building cracked and construction was suspended, so why does the letter allow them to restart construction? Where is the inspection of the crack?” said Neang Tha.

One resident, who gave her name only as Srey, threatened protests if construction began.

“From now on, we are watching their activity,” she said. “If they dare to do any building work, we will protest to stop them, because the authority and the company did not explain how the crack was caused, but we think it was caused by the construction site.”

Construction workers, employed by Malaysian company Biaxis, refused to speak to a reporter yesterday, referring questions to management.

They would not give any contact details for their bosses, and Biaxis’ office in Malaysia could not be reached.

City Hall spokesman Dimanche declined to comment on the notice. Multiple attempts to reach Srun, the chief of the Land Management Department, were unsuccessful.

Ee Sarom, executive director of urban housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said he was surprised by the notice, which he said “could put the community at risk”. Sarom added that he still believed the construction was being used as a “pretext” to ultimately evict the residents and demolish the structure.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY

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