About 20 military police and police, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles, entered Phnom Penh’s disputed Renakse Hotel Monday morning in preparation for a four-day building inspection.
The presence of armed authorities is the latest development in the efforts by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, who own the building, to remove the hotel manager and lease holder who is resisting eviction, which she claims is illegal.
CPP attorney Khiev Sepphan said at the hotel Tuesday that the fire power was necessary to protect eight officials who will carry out an inspection of the hotel’s structural integrity, which was ordered by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema at the urging of CPP Minister of Cults and Religion Min Khin.
“The inspection did not impact the guests who stayed in the hotel,” Khiev Sepphan said.
“Police did not threaten the guests or the hotel manager. They came to keep security in the compound of the hotel,” he said, adding that the inspection will take four days, and the results could force officials to close the hotel on the grounds that it’s dangerous.
Kem Chantha, the Renakse’s manager who holds a 48-year lease on the building, said she fled the hotel Tuesday out of fear that the officers would arrest her. She described the police operation as the “kidnapping” of her business.
“It’s obvious the rule of law does not matter here; they are going to do whatever it takes to get me from my hotel,” Kem Chantha said by telephone Tuesday.
“[The police] arrived in the morning without telling me they were coming…. They just want to take the guests away to close the hotel and force me away,” she said.
Despite having armed police officers at the hotel’s gates and in the grounds, foreign guests continued to come and go from the Renakse throughout the day Tuesday. The officers, however, barred journalists from entering the premises, saying they had orders from their superiors to keep reporters out.
Kem Chantha said nearly half her guests had checked out of the hotel, and that the police officers would not allow new guests to enter or check-in. Kem Chantha said she was now allowing her current guests to stay for free.
Two Italian travelers seen leaving the hotel described the situation as tense, but said they would stay in the hotel for the remainder of their five-day stay in Phnom Penh.
“It was very weird: In the morning, the police came and told us we were free to leave and come back, but that they would be here because it was a very old building and they need to do some inspections,” said Alberto Landucci, one of the travelers. “It was quite shocking to see the police there.”
Municipality police chief Touch Naruth said there were no plans to remove the hotel’s guests during the inspection.