sihanoukville – Almost 10 months after a blaze destroyed Sihanoukville’s Phsar Leu market, reconstruction is almost complete, leaving many of the 1,125 vendors who were affected with a tough decision: whether to move back or stay where they are.
On Jan 2, Phsar Leu vendors scrambled to save what merchandise and equipment they could when a suspicious fire tore through the market at nighttime. Questions were raised following witness reports that an unidentified man was seen entering the locked market 10 minutes before the blaze began.
Having lost everything in the fire some 300 vendors traveled to Phnom Penh to ask for the prime minister’s help, which was soon followed by Hun Sen donating $200,000 towards construction of a new market roof.
Sihanoukville Municipal Governor Sboang Sarath said by telephone Wednesday that reconstruction is all but complete and vendors will be able to return to the market in a matter of days.
“Electricity still needs to be installed and cleanup needs to be done,” he said. “They may come in and sell at the end of the month.”
On Tuesday, however, four of five sections built on the Phsar Leu site appeared to be completed with the fifth section still being worked on. Each of the newly completed sections holds 280 stalls.
Chhay Neariroath, 43, a representative of the market vendors, said by telephone that the government had not informed her group of when they would be allowed to move back to Phsar Leu.
“The vendors are just waiting for the authorities to announce that we can go in and sell,” he said, adding that each vendors had paid $1,235 for reconstruction of their stalls.
Next door to Phsar Leu at the Sihanoukville Trade Center, where many of the affected vendors moved, some said they were uncertain as to whether or not they would move back.
“If I stay here, it would be better because I have lots of customers,” said shoe seller Chea Muy, 21, adding that she would likely follow the crowd.
“If all of them go [to Phsar Leu], I will also go,” she said.
Seang Heang, a clothes seller who rents two stalls at the Sihanoukville Trade Center, said she was uncertain if she would move back.
“Here there is a big road and [at Phsar Leu] the road is small and the stall is not big enough,” she said. Seang Heang added that she pays $60 per month for two stalls at the Sihanoukville Trade Center, whereas she would be paying $100 per month for one stall at Phsar Leu.
However, 55-year-old Ai Yo, said she can’t wait to go to Phsar Leu, where the stalls are better organized.
Governor Sboang Sarath said that Sihanoukville is growing fast enough for both markets to prosper and that there are plans in the works for two more markets and a shopping mall.
As for the investigation into what started January’s fire, Sihanoukville municipal police chief Tak Vantha said Wednesday that police have completed their investigation and submitted all documentation, which include interviews with 21 security guards and the Phsar Leu management, to the Sihanoukville Municipal Court.
However, Municipal Court Director Svay Sisarouth and Chief Prosecutor Meas Sopheak both said that they hadn’t received any documents from the police regarding the fire.