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Unhappy Hour: Bars, other vendors cleared from Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park

A Daun Penh district security guard seizes umbrella stands left behind by vendors at Wat Botum Park on Tuesday.
A Daun Penh district security guard seizes umbrella stands left behind by vendors at Wat Botum Park on Tuesday. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Unhappy Hour: Bars, other vendors cleared from Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park

Umbrella stands, baskets and signs littered the street running alongside Wat Botum Park on Tuesday, remnants of the popular pop-up bars and restaurants that the city government abruptly forced to close as part of a clean-up campaign.

About 50 Daun Penh district security guards, military police and police on Tuesday afternoon picked up the debris as a group of several dozen sellers and their families gathered to watch under the shade of a tree across the road.

“I’ll have to find another place to sell stuff,” said meatball vendor Hok Sinat, 39. “I’m speechless. I never thought they would do something like that.”

Daun Penh Chief of Administration Chab Dyna said the area would become a parking lot for those who want to exercise or relax in the park just south of the Royal Palace.

“I would like to apologise to all the vendors who used to run business here, but we will no longer allow them to do it,” Dyna said.

District authorities had verbally warned vendors 11 days ago that they would have to leave by May 1 or face eviction. Some 60 vendors had signed a petition delivered to the district and municipality last Friday asking authorities to reconsider the decision to clear the area.

In the past authorities regularly asked vendors to keep the area clean, but they failed to do so, Dyna said. Requests at a town hall meeting held by Chaktomuk commune as well as complaints to the district government on Facebook led Governor Sok Penh Vuth to make the decision to clear the stalls completely, he said.

Dyna said the monkhood had complained about the vendors causing “bad smells and noises” near the Wat Botum pagoda. “Another reason is they caused bad traffic congestion in this area,” said Yos Yuthy, Daun Penh district deputy governor.

According to Yuthy, the district would not push streetside sellers out of other areas unless a complaint was received. “We are following the requests of the people,” he said.

On Monday the Municipality had said the action taken was the enforcement of a city-wide policy banning vendors from parks and sidewalks.

While several vendors on Monday had told The Post that they would defy the orders of police to clear out of the area by May 1, none were seen setting up shop.

“Most of us don’t have the money to rent a stall or house,” said 45-year-old Khieu Chheng Kem who has sold fried rice and noodles by Wat Botum for a decade.

“If we don’t have our businesses we will have to go to work in Thailand or somewhere and foreigners will look down on Cambodia,” she added.

The Daun Penh district deputy chief of administration Chim Vuthy, addresses a crowd of vendors who pleaded with authorities to reconsider clearing the street of their businesses on Tuesday.
Daun Penh district Deputy Chief of Administration Chim Vuthy addresses a crowd of vendors who pleaded with authorities to reconsider clearing the street of their businesses on Tuesday. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Deputy District Administration Chief Chim Vuthy, addressing the crowd, said, “I understand that many of you are poor and need to feed your family, but … you will not get anything standing here, so you should go and find somewhere else to run your business.”

Asked by a woman where locals might now go to eat, Vuthy replied: “They could eat at restaurants.”

Approached by reporters, Vuthy asked, “Can you tell me how to solve it? See, I don’t know what to do either.”

As officials began hosing down the pavement, pointing out to reporters the accumulated black grime from years of cooking oil being dumped on the sidewalk, a policeman over a loudspeaker urged the vendors to go home.

“Please forgive us, go home, find another location,” his voice blared as the crowd slowly dispersed and a rainstorm rolled in.

Video footage by Rinith Taing

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