Around 300 Sihanoukville market vendors, mostly women, gathered outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh on Friday, seeking helop to rebuild their market, which burned to the ground Wednesday evening following a suspicious fire.
The fire burned through Phsar Leu market, destroying all but 10 of the market’s almost 1,400 stalls and wiping out the merchandise and livelihoods of thousands of small vendors.
Police in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district stopped six buses on the outskirts of the capital carrying the vendors to Hun Sen’s house, but the determined protestors piled into tuk-tuks or caught motorcycle taxis into the city.
Gathering in the park opposite the premier’s house, the vendor were told by police to move to nearby Wat Langka.
Vendor Samrith Ek, 60, said at the gathering that she had lost $30,000 worth of merchandise in the fire along with personal belongings kept in the stall that was also her home.
“I have no food to eat,” she said, adding that immediately following the fire, authorities advised vendors to purchase a stall in the newly-built Sihanoukville Trade Center.
With stalls at the new market costing $4,000 to $12,000, Samrith Ek said she wanted Hun Sen to repair the destroyed market.
“I want Samdech [Hun Sen] to help build the roof so I can return to my stall,” she said. “
Phsar Leu market vendor representative Hau Lean, 53, who claimed she lost 50 tons of rice in the fire, said Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak could have prevented the blaze.
Hau Lean said that there were two small fires at the market last year and vendors asked Say Hak to make the market safer.
Hau Lean added that she had no doubt the cause of the latest fire was arson.
“I know someone burned down the market because I smelled kerosene,” she said.
Contacted on Friday afternoon Hau Lean said that she had delivered a request for assistance at Hun Sen’s cabinet and was told by officials that they were taking the market fire seriously.
Say Hak could not be reached for comment Friday. On Thursday, Say Hak blamed the fire on an unnamed vendor who he claimed had not properly extinguished hot coals in a stove.
Sihanoukville Cabinet Chief Sam Sam An declined to comment Friday, but he said that the municipality sent a two-page detailed report to the Ministry of Interior about the matter.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak said the report from Sihanoukville authorities contained little information about the fire.
“It’s very short—a 200 word report,” he said. “It said that they will investigate the case,” he added.