Displaced Fire Victims Worry About Returning

Victims of a fire in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district Friday that left more than 500 families homeless expressed concern Monday that they may not be able to return to the site of their homes where the municipality plans to build a road.

“I’m concerned. All the people are worried about that,” said Hak Chetra, a 45-year-old tuk-tuk driver who had lived in the community in Toek Thla commune for four years. He, like several other villagers, says he has a land title.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Monday by telephone that a road will be constructed through the site of the destroyed homes. Phnom Penh needs more and wider streets because of heavy traffic, he said.

Mann Chhoeun declined, however, to say when the city had decided that such a road was needed, referring questions to Mu­nicipal Public Works Director Nhem Saran, who could not be reached for comment.

Fire officials have cited a lack of road access as a major obstacle to battling Friday’s blaze.

Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said his group is investigating to determine whether the fire was arson.

“When a fire destroys a lot of houses like this we have to investigate,” he said Monday, but added that his group has not received any complaints about land disputes nor has it found reason to suspect the fire was intentional.

Municipal fire department deputy chief Sok Vannara said by telephone Monday that investigators haven’t determined the cause of the fire, but said it started at a massage parlor.

On Monday, more than 270 families raised tarpaulin shelters in a field not far from their former homes.

Resident Chou Pov, 28, said he worried about not being able to return to his land, adding that a road might help the city’s traffic problems but that proper compensation is needed for those who have lost their land.

Still, that wasn’t Chou Pov’s main worry Monday.

“I’m concerned about my family having a safe place to live right now,” he said.

  (Additional reporting by Yun Samean)

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