S VAY PAK - the infamous "Regiment 11" or "Kilo 11" brothel-packed village
outside Phnom Penh - virtually burnt to the ground early afternoon of August
According to authorities the fire started by a faulty
air-conditioner. Others in the village blamed a group of drunken men starting a
fire in a brothel for fun, and who later escaped.
About 300 houses were
razed, including a clinic run by Medicines Sans Frontiers for treating sexually
transmitted diseases. More than 260 of the houses destroyed were owned by
Prostitutes crowded around the ashes the next day, organizing
open-air shelters and revamping their quarters with plastic
They said they were waiting for the brothel owners to
"reassemble" their businesses.
One of them said: "We can't find anywhere
to go and any business to do besides waiting to go back to do the same job.
Vietnamese women have never been hired to work on construction."
said: "I don't know what to do because my income is just on a day-by-day basis."
Still others complained that they escaped with only the clothes they were
Hou Samon, deputy chief of the Svay Pak quarter, said the fire
claimed no lives, other than that of one dog.
One local philanthropist -
an electrician, Keo Ly, who has helped victims of big fires many times in the
past - collected 400kg of rice, 200kg of salt and soya sauce from his relatives
to distribute. "I have to help people who are desperately in need, otherwise I
am not satisfied with myself," Keo Ly said.
NGOs Concern and Medicines
Sans Frontiers (MSF) offered help to those most in need.
MSF promised to give
600 plastic sheets, a water tank and promised to rebuild its clinic. Concern was
to give dishware.
Some victims were angry that the fire brigade only
saved houses of those who would pay them.
One woman said: "Fire trucks
arrived before my house was burned down. The drivers asked for money, but I
didn't give them any therefore they passed by."
Rom said one landlord
gave fire fighters two domlung of gold for spraying a house. The owners of 30
houses that stood unburned on one side of the road paid between 30,000 and
100,000 riels for the privilege of having them protected, according to people
However, Samon said fire fighter trucks could not get in to
extinguish the flames because the roads were too narrow. He said that the Sankat
committee was going to discuss letting the home and brothel-owners resettle in
the same area, but first all the roads would have to be widened.