Officials are investigating whether a fire that destroyed warehouses, government and police offices, and left more than a hundred families homeless in Sihanoukville Sunday, was deliberately set.
The fire, at Tomnoup Rorouk Port, began between 1 am and 2 am, authorities said. Although witnesses reported seeing four men run from the scene, no arrests have been made.
No one was hurt in the blaze, which destroyed 172 houses, three warehouses, and the local bureaus of Camcontrol, Customs, and the border police.
The port buildings “were 100 percent destroyed,’’ said Por Leang Kong, director of the Camcontrol bureau in Sihanoukville.
Each month, he said, officials based at the port collect between 800 million and 1 billion riel in import taxes ($210,000 to $263,000). Shippers pay another 6 million to 7 million riel ($1,500-$1,840) in port taxes.
Businessmen complain privately that substantial additional sums are paid as bribes to various officials.
According to Por Leang Kong, goods belonging to about 60 different owners were destroyed. He said port and city officials are working together to provide temporary space for the business and government operations disrupted, as well as shelter for the people.
One reason authorities suspect arson is because they are planning to shift the port facilities to a yet-undetermined location north of Sihanoukville this fall. Some of the soon-to-be displaced families had been resisting the move, and demanding to be compensated, local officials said.
Ith Detola, governor of Sihanoukville, said the government wants to put something else on the site.
“The government needs this place to develop something in the near future,’’ Ith Detola said. “But [the government] has no clear plans about this land yet.’’
Hundreds burned out of their homes were being housed at a nearby school, police said.