A man stood near the wall of the Renakse Hotel Sunday urinating—watering the recently smoothed land where public toilets once stood.
Public toilets donated by First Prime Minister Ung Huot in June were demolished Friday, upon the suggestion of King Norodom Sihanouk, said Mann Chhoeurn, the municipality’s Cabinet chief.
At least two families who lived in the building across the street from the Royal Palace were displaced as a bulldozer plowed over what was to be the “first step” in Ung Huot’s anti-public urination campaign. The first prime minister proposed the national campaign in September 1997, saying that the widespread habit was bad for Cambodia’s international image.
Mann Chhoeurn said on the King’s suggestion, the city is now looking for another location for the public bathrooms.
“We know that the King is not satisfied with this project having been built here. So we followed his words and removed it,” Mann Chhoeurn said. Last week, the city also removed from the same site several huts being built to sell gifts during the Water Festival.
A Royal Palace spokeswoman said Sunday that the King didn’t request the city to remove the toilets. But she didn’t elaborate.
Suy Meng Lieng, an official in Ung Huot’s Cabinet, expressed surprise Sunday when told that the toilets had been removed.
But after checking with Ung Huot, he said: “Prime Minister Ung Huot was aware of it. It was an order from the King. Nobody is bigger than the King.”
Suy Meng Lieng also noted that Ung Huot had given the toilets to the municipality, “to do what it wanted.”
Mann Chhoeurn said the municipality plans a garden for the site, essentially returning the space back to the condition it was in before the city started work there last June.
It is unclear how much the municipality has spent on the ill-fated site. On Thursday, Chea Sophara explained a “barter” scheme where builders were given the huts and told they could keep sales revenues in exchange for cleaning up other parts of the city.
Now all that is left is a small temporary tent in the park. Several handicapped soldiers sat near it Sunday drinking traditional wine and more than 100 poor farmers milled about hoping for handouts from the King.
“I saw other people [going to the bathroom] here,” said Chom Theurn, the farmer who was seen Sunday relieving himself outdoors. “If it was a clean garden, I would not [urinate] here.”
Tep Ry, the toilet’s former cleaner and occupant, said she now lives under one of the park’s trees and sells drinks.
“This is not a proper place to make this sort of building here,” Tep Ry said of the public toilets.
(Additional reporting by Rachel Watson)