Members of the Royal Cabinet and Phnom Penh City Hall officials this week deflected questions about the decrepit state of Veal Mean, the ornate site of the cremation in February of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. But since that historic day, Veal Mean has fallen into ruin and is now inhabited by a troop of security guards charged with protecting it.
Ahead of the King Father’s cremation in February 2013, Veal Mean was transformed from a public park to a restricted area, and remains closed to the public to this day.
The very spot where the King Father’s remains were set alight is now covered in weeds and rubble, small shanties have been erected in three separate locations at the memorial cremation site, and tattered clothes hang on crumbling sections of the surrounding fence.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a former adviser to the late King Father, said Wednesday that the current state of the cremation site, which was formerly a public park, brought shame to Cambodia.
“Thousands of tourists walk past the site every day and I feel very uneasy and ashamed about the place where the King Father was cremated,” Prince Thomico said.
“[The current state of the cremation site] may be interpreted as a lack of respect for the King.”
Om Daravuth, a member of the Royal Cabinet, confirmed on Tuesday that the shanties inside the crematorium grounds housed Royal Palace bodyguards, but he referred all further questions to Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol.
“It is Kong Sam Ol who is in charge of this issue, and only he can comment. I know nothing,” Mr. Daravuth said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche and a number of Royal Palace Cabinet members also deferred questions about the poor state of Veal Mean to Mr. Sam Ol.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that the rundown cremation site remained “a symbol” of the Royal Palace and the King Father.
“I have heard that the Royal Palace preserves [the cremation site] so that the people who only saw the cremation on television can still visit the place,” Mr. Siphan said.
The site, however, is locked shut and off limits to the public.
Keo Nara, a 39-year-old Royal Palace security guard stationed in the street between Veal Mean and the palace, said the security guards, who could be seen washing motorcycles and nailing shelving to a wall inside the cremation site, were charged with keeping people out.
“This place is like a mansion for the King,” he said.
“That is why we must have security inside to keep guard,” he said, adding that about 10 guards were living permanently inside the cremation site.