Assembly Sets Stage for Move to Theater

A landmark theater partially destroyed by fire five years ago has been given to the National Assembly to be the parliament’s new home, government officials said Wednesday.

Heng Samrin, the Assembly’s first vice president, said the de­cision to move the nation’s primary law-making body to the site of the Tonle Bassac Theater was necessary because the National Assembly’s building is too crowded.

But the apparent handover has angered Culture Ministry officials, who argue that demolishing the historic theater signals the destruction of Cambodia’s culture and arts.

“Please don’t destroy the national spirit,” said Heng Soth, director of the Culture Ministry’s culture and fine arts department. “How and where can Cambodian culture and arts resurface or take refuge if their place is occupied?”

The deal was made final by Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An on Aug 31, according to Heng Soth and Heng Samrin.

Heng Samrin, a CPP lawmaker, said that the parliament had been looking for a new location since the Senate was created and moved in Chamkarmon Palace, where Assembly officials had previously been able to hold meetings and host visiting dignitaries.

The Assembly had requested Government Palace— where the Council for the Devel­op­ment of Cambodia is housed—for its reception area and offices for the Assembly’s nine commissions and top officials, said Heng Samrin. The request was denied, however, and officials began looking at other possible sites. It settled on the 33-year-old riverside performance house.

Once renovated or rebuilt, the new Assembly building will be large enough for convening the body’s 122 parliamentarians as well as for offices and reception areas, said Heng Samrin.

He did not know whether the theater would be rehabilitated or torn down or when the move might be made. He estimated it would cost about $1 million to repair. The Assembly will seek the funds from foreign donors. It is also unclear what will happen to the current Assembly building, adjacent to the Royal Palace.

While the decision solves the Assembly’s crowding, Heng Soth says the country’s dancers will be homeless.

The riverside theater has been used for rehearsals and dance classes since it was ravaged by fire in February 1994. Perfor­mances, once held there, are held in Chaktomuk Theater.

Heng Soth believes the government’s decision sends a bad message to the country’s artists, still trying to recover from the devastation wreaked on the arts by decades of civil war.

“The government should give encouragement to Cambodia culture and arts performers, rather than stand in their way,” said Heng Soth.

The Culture Ministry had been trying to raise money to fix the theater, said Heng Soth. He did not know how much money would be needed to repair the theater, which had already fallen into disrepair when the fire occurred.


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