Buildings Up for Demolition Broke Agreement, Not Restrictions

Phnom Penh’s governor on Thursday refused to confirm whether two buildings close to the Royal Palace will be pulled down after local district and commune officials said Wednesday that their demolition due to height violations was imminent.

Governor Pa Socheatvong de­clined to comment on the reports of demolitions, saying instead that a number of consultations were underway.

“I cannot discuss what buildings will be demolished because there is technical work that needs to be discussed with the department of municipal public works about demolishment of illegal buildings—so please, give me more time,” the governor said.

Provisional height restrictions have long been in place to limit the height of buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Royal Palace, though last year Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech that those restrictions no longer existed, and investors could build around the palace if they pleased.

On Thursday, Ministry of Land Management spokesman Beng Hong Socheat Khemro claimed that the two buildings that were supposed to be earmarked for demolition had drawn the attention of authorities not because of their height vis-a-vis the Royal Palace, but simply because they broke the terms of their planning permission.

“The problem now for these two building is not that they are too high, but that when they asked for permission to build they were approved to build at a certain height but they ended up building higher than they were allowed,” he said.

If the two buildings are pulled down, as commune and district officials said on Wednesday, Mr. Socheat Khemro said there is no question of the government offering any compensation to the property owners.

“Why should the government have to pay compensation? The government gave them permission to build their buildings to an agreed height and by going higher they broke the law and when you break the law you must face a fine and part of this fine will be that their buildings are demolished,” he said.

Construction at one of the buildings, owned by Vattanac Properties, has been suspended since before the Pchum Ben holiday according to a security guard inside the padlocked ground-floor entrance, following an order on October 1 by Mr. Socheatvong to halt construction.

At the second condemned building on an alley off Street 19 behind the Royal University of Fine Arts, workers on Thursday remained oblivious to reports that the towering 12-floor apartment block faces demolition, while the businessman who owns the project said he had still only heard about the threat in the local media.

“I have still not seen any notification informing me that my apartments will be demolished so I do not know anything, but the news was a big shock because I got a loan from the bank to build these apartments,” said Sin Kim Heng, who earlier admitted that he had exceeded the approved height of 24.5-meters by 10 meters because Mr. Hun Sen last year appealed for developers to construct higher buildings.

Local conglomerate Sokimex Group has submitted plans to the municipal government to construct a massive 15-story hotel on Street 13 just off Street 178—a few hundred meters from the Royal Palace. But Mr. Socheat Khemro said he ex­pects that building will go ahead.

“I anticipate that the construction will go ahead if the request to build 15 floors is approved and agreed upon,” he said.

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