Police Close Renakse; Manager, Staff Forced Out

A tearful Kem Chantha on Tues­day left the Renakse Hotel she has managed since 1992, watching as police closed the disputed property following the serving of a court or­der issued Monday evening.

About 50 military police, municipal, district and intervention police arrived at the hotel early Tuesday morning after Kem Chantha says she was served with the court ord­er at about 5:30 pm Monday.

The court document, signed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn, or­dered staff to leave the hotel, re­move all property, tell guests to pack up and leave, and hand the hotel over to municipal authorities for “temporary protection.”

Kem Chantha, whose late husband was an adviser to CPP Presi­dent Chea Sim, called herself a “victim” of fighting within the ruling CPP, but she acknowledged that it was her relationship with the party that put her in a position to obtain a 49-year lease for the hotel in the first place.

“I have supported the CPP, and I helped the CPP during the election July 27, and now the CPP did not help me and I have become the victim of [Minister of Religion] Min Khin,” she told reporters outside the hotel.

Her late husband, Pok Uphea, died about one year ago.

Kem Chantha said he met Chea Sim decades ago through his work helping poor people in Cambodia, and that relationship put her in a position to manage the hotel.

“I became the manager of this hotel because me and my husband worked so hard to help the poor people in this country,” she said by telephone later. “Now, the CPP has made me a victim. This is illegal and an injustice.”

Min Khin, who has handled the CPP’s $3.8-million sale of the hotel to private firm Alexson Inc, filed a lawsuit Friday in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court arguing that Kem Chantha had violated the lease agreement by failing to maintain the safety and beauty of the French colonial-era Renakse Hotel.

Kem Chantha’s lawyer, Chong Iv Heng, said he filed a complaint to the municipal court Tuesday questioning the court’s decision to close the hotel, saying the law required more notice and prevents courts in a civil case from having a negative impact on the parties involved.

“The [order] of the court has seriously impacted and damaged my client and so I, as her lawyer, filed the complaint against this decision,” he said by phone Tuesday.

Sok Sam Oeun, director of the free legal aid Cambodian Defenders Project, said the law appears to support Kem Chantha’s argument, but he said that appears to have had little impact on the court’s actions.

“The temporary order cannot impact the subject of a case,” Sok Sam Oeun said.

“In my opinion, I think what the court has done here is wrong. Unfortunately, it is normal for the courts do take these kinds of actions,” he said.

“It is better to allow the court to hear the case and issue a ruling before taking action,” he said. “But right now, the court is abusing the presumption of…being fair. It is a loss for the country and for the businesses.”

Kem Chantha’s complaint to the court also asked for the Municipal Court’s Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn to be removed from her case, claiming he had been unfair in issuing the court order and could not be objective because Alexson’s owner, Ching Sokuntheavy, is married to the judge’s nephew.

Neither Ke Sakhorn nor Ching Sokuntheavy could be reached for comment Tuesday.

In letters provided by Renakse Hotel staff Tuesday, CPP leaders appeared to be divided over the situation at the hotel. In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen dated Jan 31, 2008, National Assembly President Heng Samrin indicated his approval of Alexson’s proposal to buy the property. In August, Kem Chantha wrote to members of Hun Sen’s cabinet, asking the prime minister to intervene and prevent her from losing her lease to the hotel.

In a letter dated Aug 28, Hun Sen then asked Min Khin and CPP treasurer Chea Soth to find a “reasonable solution,” saying he had already approved of the sale to Alexson because other CPP leaders had agreed to the sale as well.

But on Oct 10, Heng Samrin wrote in a letter to Chea Sim that he no longer supported the sale, saying that he had been denied access to documents he said were necessary to make a decision.

“I have connected with Min Khin about the lease, and he did not let me see any documents at all,” Heng Samrin wrote.

In the latest letter, dated Dec 13, Chea Sim wrote to Hun Sen, asking him to reconsider his decision not to intervene in the sale.

In addition to Kem Chantha and the hotel staff, others booted from the property Tuesday included about 10 guests staying in the Renakse and employees working in a UN Development Program office located on the hotel grounds.

A French man and woman leaving the hotel Tuesday morning said they were leaving on their own accord after the situation at the compound escalated.

“Clearly we have moved on to a different level. Up until now, it was just a sort of surveillance,” the man, who declined to give his name, said of the police presence. “Today, it looks like they’re coming to move out the furniture.”

(Additional reporting by Isabelle Roughol)


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