kien svay district, Kandal province – Angry villagers stood outside the Viel Sbov communal office building Monday demanding that the CPP hand control of the building over to the commune council rather than keep it as the commune’s CPP headquarters.
The dispute has grown since the Feb 3 commune council elections, in which three CPP, two Funcinpec and two Sam Rainsy Party candidates were elected to lead the commune, thus loosening a long-standing CPP grip on local politics.
District CPP officials continue to claim the building as their own. The officials have told villagers they should pay rent to the CPP if they want to use the building, or find another one on their own.
“Keep the commune here for the people,” said Pheut Van, a resident of Viel Sbov village in Viel Sbov commune. “We absolutely will not allow the commune offices to be moved to somewhere else.”
The building, easily the most substantial in the commune, is a two-story concrete structure with a 10-meter bridge connecting it to National Route 1 near the countryside home of Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The building has a large patio for gatherings in front and a row of colorful flags lining the entrance.
Built in the early 1960s for Mao Chay, an adviser to King Norodom Sihanouk, the building has served as a government office in some form for 40 years. War-weary returnees used it as a communal house after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It was converted into a community health care center in 1982 and then claimed as party property by the CPP in 1993.
CPP commune Chief Uy Sath says he would be happy to turn the building over to the newly elected commune council. He said higher officials within the CPP are preventing that.
“I will be very happy if the Ministry of Interior chooses to keep this for the people,” Uy Sath said.
The non-CPP members of the commune council sent a petition with 765 thumbprints to the Ministry of Interior on March 23, claiming the CPP commune council chief had banned them from working in the office.
On April 23, CPP deputy district governor Chea Bun Thoeurn inspected the building and decided the commune council should either rent an office in the building or move, according to Uy Sath. Chea Bun Thoeurn gave the commune council one week to make a decision.
No price was suggested, and the members of the commune council and local residents objected to the rent proposal, saying that since 1979 the building has belonged to the commune and not to the CPP.
The CPP suggested the council ren t another building, but the only one available in the commune would rent for 100,000 riel (about $25) per month, and the commune council cannot afford it, said First Deputy Chief Chhim Yean.