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Historic house saved … apparently

Dap Chhuon's house as it stood when the company took over.
Dap Chhuon's house as it stood when the company took over. Thik Kaliyann

Historic house saved … apparently

The historic house that belonged to Siem Reap’s infamous former warlord Dap Chhuon has seemingly been saved from demolition, largely due to the intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On May 16, Insider reported that imminent destruction was feared because the house of former war lord Dap Chhuon had earlier passed from government control to ownership by commercial interests.

The land and buildings were sold by the Ministry of Education in March 2010 to the Phnom Penh-based J&R Import Export and Construction Company, and last May, when the new owner had taken over, three buildings on the site were demolished and worries were that Dap Chhoun’s house would be next.

Before the sale, the land on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard was home to the Khmer Art School, which taught traditional Khmer dance skills to more than 300 young students and included a souvenir shop, and to the Cambodian National Youth Centre, based in the Dap Chhuon house. Both organisations had to quit the site. But this week Deputy Governor Bun Tharith informed Insider that the Siem Reap Provincial Authority had been in discussions with J & R Import Export and Construction Company about the future of the house.

The deputy governor said this discussion took place after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh to investigate and “take back the house” to relist as government property.

Bun Tharith said, “We are not yet making an official document about this discussion, but relevant authorities have talked with J & R Import Export and Construction Company about Dap Chhuon’s house and I heard that the company agreed to exchange other land with us. The land that we will exchange with the company is near the roundabout in the Angkor Gjeongyu area.

“The house will soon become the home of the Cambodian National Youth Centre again.”

Thav Than, Cambodian National Youth Centre’s vice-chairman, who has worked at the Centre since 1988, told The Insider that he was told the news by his elder brother because a lot of people in Siem Reap were talking about it.

“I do not know what exactly has happened,” he said. “But if it’s true I will be so happy. All our students have asked me about this, but I do not know what to tell them as I have not yet seen any documents confirming this.”

When the house was still the home of the Cambodian National Youth Centre, there were more than a hundred children attending there and involved in various activities related to their studies. But after the centre was relocated out of town, most students stopped attending because it was too far to travel.

“We really need a suitable place where students can meet, can read, can share information together as before,” Thav Than said.

The sale of the former war lord’s house and land was the subject of controversy in April 2012 when it was alleged in an anonymous letter from members of the Siem Reap community sent to Prime Minister Hun and obtained by the Post, that the ministry had sold the site for $500, 000.

This happened around the same time that Siem Reap provincial departments were moved to the Siem Reap Administrative City, about 20 kilometers from the city.

In ‘exchange’ for the new site and buildings, the provincial government was to hand over to the J & R Import, Export and Construction Company a number of buildings in downtown Siem Reap, many of them on valuable riverfront land.

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