Opponents of Stadium Renovations Gather

Nearly 100 people gathered Thursday to vent their frustrations over the government’s handling of the renovation of the Olympic Stadium sports complex and its surrounding development project.

Speaking at an open forum held by the Center for Social Development, participants branded the project a money-making scheme, despite comments from Education Minister Tol Lah on Wednesday justifying the work. The Ministry of Education is the ward of the stadium land.

Tol Lah defended the project, saying the contract was legal and the new structures will enhance the prestige of the city.

The project has repeatedly come under fire from activists who say the commercial and residential buildings surrounding the stadium have destroyed one of Phnom Penh’s landmarks. The Taiwanese Yuanta construction group has said that their contract, signed by Minister of Education Tol Lah and overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is legal.

The approximately 100 people at the forum lambasted the project, calling it a money making scheme.

“I have been to the stadium every morning for the last nine years, and there was always a track and a sports field,” said Jerry Walter, a Phnom Penh businessman.

“Tol Lah was kind enough to let us know that…$2 million was spent on sewage and drainage [systems]. Then why two days ago was there [eight centimeters] of water on what used to be the running track?”

CSD Director Chea Vannath said the Yuanta Group had been invited to the forum, but no representatives were present.

Law student Nou Veng said that the construction company did not renovate the stadium, but had only painted it, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Thursday that if he won the up­coming national election, he would destroy the residential and commercial structures being built on the complex grounds.

Sam Rainsy Party Parlia­ment­arian Yim Sovann and Funcinpec lawmakers Keo Remy and Sam Ramsek were also at the forum.

Destruction of the commercial and residential buildings “has to happen,” Sam Ramsek said. He claimed the lack of access to emergency exits and a lack of drainage will cause the foundation to weaken. “No insurance company in the world will cover that complex,” Sam Ramsek said.

However, Keo Remy said the government should reimburse the Yuanta group if construction is halted, otherwise investors will be discouraged from doing business in Cambodia. Keo Remy was careful not to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Tol Lah. He said that many ministries have participated in the plan.

Sam Ramsek said that if in­vestors are continually allowed to develop on heritage sites, he is worried that the government will sell the Independence Monument.

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