City Didn’t Start Squatter Fires, Hun Sen Says

Prime Minister Hun Sen Tues­day denied that Phnom Penh’s government was behind three spectacular fires that left thousands of squatters homeless.

“I am hurt on behalf of His Ex­cellency Chea Sophara [the governor of Phnom Penh],” Hun Sen said in a broadcast Tuesday at the dedication of a new school for the fire victims in Phnom Penh.

Two fires within about 48 hours ravaged two separate squatter communities in Phnom Penh, leaving thousands of people homeless in Chamka Mon and Meanchey districts. The UN has estimated that more than 3,000 families, many of them ethnic Vietnamese, lost their homes in the fires.

Some victims have claimed the fires were motivated by anti-Viet­na­mese racism, and the question was raised at a news conference held by Peter Leuprecht, the UN’s top human rights monitor for Cambodia.

Other victims of the fire immediately blamed the municipality for starting the blaze. No public officials have made the charge publicly.

Hun Sen did not say Tuesday where he had heard the allegations, or why he was addressing them several weeks after the fact.

Such allegations have been common after big fires dating back to the 1960s, when then-governor Tep Phon was accused of torching people’s homes.

Chea Sophara not only could not have been behind the blazes, but the governor has done everything he could to help the victims of the blazes, Hun Sen said. He called Chea Sophara a man of integrity, immune to such slanders.

“Pure gold is not afraid of fire,” Hun Sen said.

 

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