STAY OFF THE GRASS
An asphalt square will be added to the park across the street from the National Assembly to keep a new lawn and flower garden from being trampled by future demonstrations.
THE TENT city dubbed 'Democracy Square' is history, but the Phnom Penh municipality
has accepted that demonstrations will no doubt be staged at the park near the National
Assembly in the future.
To accommodate future protests, Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said
an asphalt-surfaced square is being constructed as part of the municipality's $40,000
renovation of the park, which was hastily begun the day after Democracy Square was
demolished by riot police on Sept 8.
The park's facelift, said to be planned for months, also includes a row of street
lamps, a new lawn, and a garden that Chea Sophara is not keen to see trampled in
a swell of public expression.
"They cannot come on the garden," he said of future demonstrations. "If
some party is unhappy about something and wants to demonstrate, we are preparing
a square for them."
Sophara said the construction would begin on the square in a few days, but from the
looks of things at the park, it will most likely be placed some distance from the
Public toilets were initially to be included, but Sophara said he was having trouble
getting help from outgoing First Prime Minister Ung Huot, who made the addition of
public toilets to the capital one of his first and only civil initiatives since he
took the job last year.
Sophara said the city may attempt to pay for the renovation through promotions and
advertising in the park during the 1999 Khmer New Year celebrations next April. Previous
upgrades to public places, such as Wat Phnom and Psar Thmei, have been paid for with
ads and contributions from the business community.
Funding for the beutification effort has fallen short of the costs, according to
a municipal spokesman, but he denied any of the money was stolen, as had been previously
The CPP deputy governor, who is in de facto control of the capital although he is
officially under a Funcinpec governor, said it would only be fair to ask the opposition
to pay for the park's renovation because of damage he said occurred during the 17-day
Democracy Square protest.
"We hope that one day we will go and see [opposition leaders] Prince Norodom
Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy and say 'Please give us the $40,000.' But not now, after
the formation of the Royal Government," Sophara said.
Asked if the city would file charges of destruction of public property against the
opposition at the municipal court, the governor said it was too early to tell. "Not
yet now, but after the government forms we will ask [the opposition for the money].
I hope they will not refuse."
A spokesman from the Sam Rainsy Party said he doubted the party would agree to pay
for a renovation of a public place after exercising a Constitutionally protected
right of public expression.
"It seems like a legal use of the park and naturally there is going to be some
wear and tear done to a public place that was used legally," Rich Garella said.
"The park was pretty run down anyway... I'm not even sure what they would ask
us to pay for."
Asked if the opposition should be held responsible for the damage done to the Cambodia-Vietnam
Friendship Monument - bashed Aug 30 by hammer-wielding demonstrators and then set
ablaze - Garella said the attack on the statue was neither led nor condoned by the
"That had nothing to do with us," he said. "I don't see why we would
pay for it."
Sophara said he doubted the damage done to the monument during the sit-in protest
- which often included anti-Vietnamese speeches by opposition leaders - would be
repaired soon because architects were having trouble locating the correct type of
"It is very difficult to find the stone because it was first taken from near
Angkor Wat in 1984," he said.