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Ministers' offices delayed

Ministers' offices delayed

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090403_03.jpg

PM feels Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building requires a Khmer twin.

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HENG CHIVOAN

The new Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh.  Hun Sen wants a Khmer-style building next door. 

THEY are hardly Byzantine in their complexity, but events surrounding the sleek new Council of Ministers building, generously paid for by China, have managed to keep political tongues wagging in Phnom Penh.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, confirmed Thursday that the inauguration of the Chinese-funded stone and glass edifice, which

stands on Russian Boulevard, has been delayed until November 2010.

The inauguration was reportedly meant to take place this Saturday - the fourth day of the fourth month of the year. Phay Siphan denied that the reason for the delay was to assuage Chinese jitters over the unluckiness of the number four, which in Chinese sounds the same as the word for "death".

Phay Siphan also confirmed that Prime Minister Hun Sen wants a second building - designed by Khmers and built in a Khmer style - to be constructed next door to the muscular Chinese-built structure, and in which he will have his new office.

"Hun Sen wants this to be a Khmer-style building," Phay Siphan said. "There's more work to be done."

The man tasked with delivering the building to Hun Sen's satisfaction is council Secretary of State Prak Sokhon. Phay Siphan told the Post the reason for the extra building was because Hun Sen felt the Chinese-built structure lacked the space to host international conferences.

He added that both buildings would be inaugurated on November 8, 2010.

Khmer design sought

One government source, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Post that the prime minister was in fact not happy with several aspects of the Chinese-designed building, which was why the second building was required.

The source said the land had been bought from a well-known and wealthy Cambodian businesswoman with close connections to senior leaders of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. The previous building, which had housed a pharmaceuticals company, was hastily demolished.

Hun Sen had reportedly pulled out an architectural drawing at a recent Council of Ministers meeting and showed it to the council members, the source said. He emphasised that the new building had been designed by a Khmer architect and would be built by Cambodians.

The source also suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, who is also minister for the National Assembly and Senate relations, would be allocated the seventh-floor office in the council building. That floor was originally slated for Hun Sen. Deputy Prime Minister Sok An is reportedly taking the sixth floor.

All of this has helped fuel speculation of a rift between Hun Sen and Sok An - particularly in light of the jocular statements made by Hun Sen on Tuesday when he declared, with a smile, that if Sok An did not close the cockfighting matches held at his house in Takeo, troops would be sent in to surround them. It is not known whether Sok An has yet complied with the order.

"Hun Sen is a very careful speaker, and he never says anything that is not thought out or that does not have a purpose," said one long-time observer of Cambodian politics concerning the remarks directed at Sok An. A separate source, who also requested anonymity, said it appeared that the original design for the Chinese-funded building may not have been personally approved by Hun Sen. 

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