Deadline Looms for Businesses Around Wat Phnom

With 11 days to go before the municipality’s deadline for businesses around Wat Phnom to relocate, restaurant and shop owners, along with three SRP lawmakers, met Monday morning near the historical site to discuss their options.

In a letter signed March 9, Daun Penh district Governor Sok Sambath ordered all owners of “restaurants, canteens, entertainment clubs, concert halls, massage parlors, etc,” around Wat Phnom to remove their business to an “appropriate” location be­fore April 5.

The municipality will not allow such businesses to remain as it intends to develop the area into a calm, beautiful park to attract tourists, Sok Sambath wrote.

Contacted by telephone on Mon­day, Sok Sambath said that businesses do not have to relocate, they just have to change their business focus.

“I want them to change their careers from selling drinks to selling souvenirs such as silk sa­rongs,” he explained.

Sok Sambath said he was un­certain what will happen when the April 5 deadline is reached.

“They may be invited for a meeting at the district office,” he said, adding that there was no need to compensate the businesses as they are not going to be evicted.

During Monday’s meeting at Le Deauville restaurant, US na­tional Robert Thornton, owner of the three-year-old Coyote Ugly bar next to Wat Phnom, said he will not go quietly. He added that he has sent letters to the municipality, the US Embassy and even US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida to complain about the decision.

“I will not reinvest in Cambodia if they take my investment,” he said, adding that he has invested around $30,000 in his bar.

“There will be an international incident,” Thornton warned.

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Thornton will have to resolve the matter with the Phnom Penh authorities.

Daigle said the embassy, which is located next to Wat Phnom, had nothing to do with the municipality’s plan to evict the businesses.

“Our understanding is that the city’s proposed development plan will be executed in a fair manner and that there won’t be any discrimination against foreign businesses in the area,” Daigle said.

SRP lawmakers Son Chhay, Ho Vann and Sok Soty attended Monday’s meeting.

Son Chhay called on the mu­nicipality to explain how the restaurants and massage parlors are an affront to Wat Phnom, and why the business owners will not be compensated.

“[Wat Phnom] has not been treated as sacred before, so why now?” Son Chhay said. He added that a wide range of businesses have operated around Wat Phnom for years.

A person answering the phone of Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuk­tema said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.



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