Final White Building Deal Leaves Residents Defiant or Resigned

Time may be running out for the residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building after the government warned there was no more room for negotiation beyond its final compensation offer.

On Friday, the nearly 500 families living in the iconic housing complex were told by the Land Management Ministry to accept the $1,400 per square meter deal from Japanese developer Arakawa.

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Phnom Penh’s White Building in 2014. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Residents who accept Arakawa’s and the ministry’s offer could receive their checks as early as June 6—two days after commune elections—according to attendees of a Friday meeting between residents and ministry officials.

However, many with smaller houses on the ground floor insist they will stay, potentially jeopardizing Arakawa’s plan to demolish the block and build a 21-story complex. Previously, people had spoken of holding out for $2,000 per square meter.

Others believe there is no option but to take the money now.

“[Residents] have no choice,” said Ayouwath, whose mother-in-law owns a home in the compound and who declined to give his full name. “They heard if they don’t get this money, they will have problems.”

Pen Rainsey, a 27-year-old English teacher who owns a 34-square-meter house on the White Building’s third floor, agreed. He and his family rent a space on the ground floor that they’ve built into a chess parlor, coffee shop and lunch spot.

“If we don’t agree, we can end up like people in Boeng Kak or Borei Keila,” he said, referring to past eviction sites which have turned violent, with residents accusing the government of excessive force and unfair compensation.

But Sreng Pov, 40, and Kem Srey Pov, 43, who both own houses of about 20 square meters on the ground floor of the building, said the final offer fell short.

“If my house was 50 square meters, like those on [higher floors], I would leave too,” Ms. Srey Pov said. But her compensation wouldn’t be enough to buy another house in the city.

“Most people on the lower level didn’t agree” to Friday’s offer, Ms. Sreng Pov said.

Asked what she would do if the government did not negotiate further, she said: “We will stay.”

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