Garbage Mounts at Freedom Park Ahead of Rainsy’s Return

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) plans to give its leader, Sam Rainsy, a hero’s welcome when he returns to the country on Friday after nearly four years in self-imposed exile.

But unless action is taken quickly, Mr. Rainsy will be forced to deliver his first speech on Cambodian soil for this month’s election among the piles of trash that have built up at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park since the campaign season began late last month.

A pile of trash is seen Tuesday afternoon at Phnom Penh's Freedom Park. (Siv Channa)
A pile of trash is seen Tuesday afternoon at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. (Siv Channa)

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann claimed Tuesday that the park has purposefully been neglected by City Hall and garbage collection company Cintri.

“It is the duty of the municipality and cleaning company [Cintri] to clean the area but they don’t do it, so [the CNRP] pays the company $10 to clean up every time we have a gathering,” he said. “Even still, much of the garbage remains and the road is in complete disrepair.”

“I can’t help but think it is political discrimination,” Mr. Sovann continued. “We have to pay the company to clean up, even though that is the municipality’s responsibility, while other parks in the city are litter-free.”

At Freedom Park on Tuesday, plastic bags drifted around in the breeze and the untarred Street 106 played home to a makeshift garbage dump—all within meters of where Mr. Rainsy is expected to deliver his return address.

The scene at Freedom Park was very different last month when Tuol Sleng prison survivor Chum Mey led a 2,000-strong protest against the CNRP’s acting president Kem Sokha after he allegedly claimed that Vietnam fabricated the crimes that took place at the jail.

During the protest, the streets were spotless and portable toilets were even brought in for demonstrators.

Cintri deputy director Seng Chamroeun said Tuesday he had no knowledge of his staff taking money from the CNRP and deflected responsibility for the state of the park to City Hall.

“The CNRP may have made donations to our staff, and we would thank them for this,” he said, “but City Hall is in charge of Freedom Park, and all parks, while Cintri is only in charge of cleaning the streets.”

Mr. Chamroeun added that the election reduced the size of his workforce, with staff skipping work to campaign, leading to the buildup of garbage around the park.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipality’s responsibility in the matter ends where the park meets the road, and that Cintri has a mandate to give particular attention to Freedom Park and the CPP rally point at Wat Botum park as they are so heavily populated in the lead-up to the election.

“City Hall collects the trash from the park and puts it in the bin for Cintri to take away,” he said. “We demand that the people and the political parties [who use Freedom Park] help keep it clean.”

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

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