Hun Sen Pushes for Skyscrapers

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday argued for the construction of skyscrapers in Phnom Penh, despite limits imposed by the municipality on building heights around the city.

Speaking at the Council of Ministers, Hun Sen criticized the efforts of conservationists, saying they were hindering the city’s expansion.

“We have too many old houses for conservation, so we find it difficult to develop the city. So let’s make a new policy,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen said skyscrapers should be allowed to be erected anywhere in Phnom Penh, regardless of the city’s four-story limit for buildings around the Royal Palace. The municipality has a similar limit for buildings around Wat Phnom.

“From today on, we have to competitively run up to the sky. Whoever will build taller buildings, we will give a medal,” Hun Sen said, adding that other countries around the world pride themselves for building tall structures.

He challenged businessmen here to construct the tallest building in Southeast Asia, saying: “Uncontrolled development is better than uncontrolled destruction during the Khmer Rouge.”

The tallest buildings in Southeast Asia are the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The two buildings rise 88 stories above the Malaysian capital. The tallest building in Phnom Penh is the 15-story Hotel Inter-Continental.

But, he said, the city should preserve some of its old structures, including some of the foreign embassies and government and private buildings. For example, he said, the former Japanese Embassy building and the Customs office, both located on Norodom Boulevard, should be kept.

In recent years, politicians and architects have criticized the construction of a number of tall buildings that have cropped up in Phnom Penh.

In 2002, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap and opposition lawmaker Keo Remy expressed concern over the Naga casino, as well as the Hotel Cambodiana and Micasa apartments, which are all taller than the city’s building limits.

In a book released last year by renowned architect Vann Molyvann entitled “Modern Khmer Cities,” the country’s former urban-planning director warned Phnom Penh was expanding haphazardly. He said he was pessimistic that zoning laws would be enforced.

The city’s population, which was estimated at 765,000 in 1970, could surge to about 2 million by 2005, Vann Molyvann wrote.

On Tuesday, Keo Remy rejected Hun Sen’s proposal to promote skyscrapers in the city.

“Leave Phnom Penh city alone and manage the city better,” Keo Remy said. “The government should encourage construction in the suburban areas to satisfy the population growth and alleviate traffic problems [instead].”

During his speech on Tuesday, Hun Sen also lashed out at Funcinpec, saying the royalist party dropped in popularity during the July national election because its president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, had been too critical of the premier ahead of the vote.

“As Funcinpec campaigned in the election, Prince Norodom Ranariddh attacked [me], so it forced me to reveal all the relevant documents” against the royalist party, Hun Sen said.

“Revealing the documents was like a big slap in the face of the prince, while he was undressing his pants,” he said, though he did not specify which documents to which he was referring.

In the 2003 election, the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party both picked up nine additional seats in the National Assembly, while Funcinpec lost 17. The CPP won 73 of the 123 seats up for election. Funcinpec won 26 and the Sam Rainsy Party won 24. There were only 122 seats in the Assembly in 1998.

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