sihanoukville – Some 1,000 vendors at Sihanoukville’s Phsar Leu market were busy rebuilding stalls Sunday, trying to put back together what last week’s suspicious fire had reduced to ash.
The vendor community’s joint effort to restore the market was given a boost by news that Prime Minister Hun Sen had donated $200,000 towards the construction of a new market roof.
“All the vendors feel happy that Hun Sen is building a roof—now we don’t have to move,” said 36-year-old appliance vendor Sok Chou, as she sat with her merchandise amidst the remains of what used to be her stall. Although somewhat relieved by the news, a visibly upset Sok Chou said that she had lost everything in the fire.
Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak said by telephone Sunday that Hun Sen gave the money to the municipality on Sunday after around 300 market vendors, mostly women, gathered outside the premier’s house in Phnom Penh on Friday to ask for help.
“It’s not money from the government, it is money from Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife,” he said, adding that he did not know when construction would begin.
This is the second time in nine months that Hun Sen has contributed $200,000 of his own money to rebuild the roof of a burned-down market. Construction of the roof of Pursat town’s Phsar Thmei, which was razed in an April inferno, was completed Jan 2 with money from the prime minister.
Suspicions were raised following last week’s market blaze, with some vendors claiming that it was caused by arson in an attempt to pressure vendors into moving into the newly-built Sihanoukville Trade Center, where stalls cost $4,000 to $12,000.
However, Say Hak denied that vendors were ever pressured to move into the new market.
“It’s not true that vendors had to move to a new market,” he said, adding that he will be heading a newly-formed commission to investigate the cause of the fire and to ensure that it does not happen again.
Many vendors on Sunday wore white CPP caps to show their thanks for Hun Sen’s donation, but not everyone felt confident that the worst was behind him.
Mony Ratha, 45, a gold vendor fortunate enough to have stored his merchandise at home the night of the fire, said that everyday he goes without his stall is a day he loses money.
“I’m worried that the commission will delay the construction,” he said. “We want the roof as soon as possible.”