More than 100 vendors from Pursat town protested outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh on Friday seeking an investigation into a massive fire that destroyed their market, and which they believe was deliberate.
Pursat Phsar Thmei was destroyed in a 16-hour-long inferno that began on Monday evening and which destroyed 700 privately owned stalls and stock worth millions.
“The fire was started on purpose, so we would like Samdech Hun Sen to find us justice,” said Un Huong, a representative of the vendors.
Un Huong and at least six other vendors said that the fire occurred amid acrimonious dealings with the market’s operator, Pursat Thmei Investment Company, which had been pressuring the vendors to renegotiate their lease agreements.
“The company asked us to pay the rent for another 10 years, but we still had three years on our lease,” Un Huong said, adding that on the day of the fire, security guards had warned the vendors to clear out of the market early.
“Security guards at 12 [pm] asked us to leave the market,” she said.
Sun Kim Heng, marketing director for Pursat Thmei Investment Company, denied that her company was involved in the fire. She added that her company was negotiating its own lease agreement with the provincial government.
“We are considering suing the people who are responsible for the fire,” Sun Kim Heng said.
Two guards were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly disappearing after locking up the market, which authorities claimed kept fire fighters from putting out the blaze.
Pursat Governor Chhay Sareth said only that the fire was now a matter for the courts. “Now we rely on the court decision,” he said.
Pursat Provincial Court Prosecutor Pok Chan Sereivuth declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Erika Kinetz)