Princess Recalls Childhood on Lost Palace Plot

For Princess Norodom Vach­eara, the land inside the Royal Pal­ace’s city block now being swap­ped by the government to a private investor brings back happy memories of her childhood.

She remembers playing hide-and-seek there with the children of palace guards in the mid-1950s, sharing soup and rice cooked outdoors in that southwest corner of the palace compound.

At the time, Princess Vacheara and her brother Prince Norodom Sirivudh lived with their mother Kim An Yeap in a small home be­hind the palace of their father, King Norodom Suramarit, while their old­er half-brother, then-Prince No-ro­dom Sihanouk, headed the government.

The parcel of land, where palace guards and their families also lived, was requisitioned by the government in 1979. The Ministry of In­terior, for which Prince Sirivudh now serves as co-minister, has been using the 14,170-square-me­ter lot for its Logistics Depart­ment.

On July 6, the ministry signed over the lot, located at the corner of streets 19 and 240, to Phanimex Co Ltd in exchange for new purpose-built facilities in Meanchey district on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

“I don’t understand why my bro­ther signed this swap deal,” Prin­cess Vacheara said last week. “May­be he does not remember all the good times and the serenity we enjoyed there,” she said, referring to Prince Sirivudh, who was a child in the mid-1950s while she was a teen­ager.

Prince Sirivudh could not be contacted on Tuesday.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay on Tuesday accused the government of swapping the plot at the Royal Palace out of greed, and asked for the deal to be revoked.

Swapping the land is an insult to retired King Norodom Sihanouk, he said. “We cannot trade royal properties while the [retired] King is still alive,” Son Chhay said.

National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh told reporters on Monday that he was concerned the new owner might build a skyscraper on the lot.

He called on Phnom Penh Mun­icipality and the Ministry of Land Management to carefully con­trol construction projects around the Royal Palace.

Prince Ranariddh said Cambo­dia might consider following the example of Malaysia and relocate all government services to one site, and away from Phnom Penh’s old sections of town.

On Tuesday, the Prince said he had heard that the Phanimex company was planning to cancel the deal and return the land. But company chairwoman Suy Sophan later said no one had contacted her about this issue.

“I’m busy building $4.5-million worth of buildings for the Ministry of Interior,” as part of the palace land swap agreement, she said.

The deal was negotiated about a year ago and agreed upon by Prime Minister Hun Sen and co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and Prince Sirivudh, Suy Sophan said.

She said this agreement was her way of helping the cash-strapped government. “We Cambodians have money for all this, so we don’t need money from foreigners.”

In addition, Suy Sophan said, “If we did not move out the arms stockpiled [in the facilities on that lot], what would happen if there were explosions—that would damage the Royal Palace.”

But for Leang Mengho, Prin­cess Vacheara’s French teacher of the 1950s, the loss of this Royal Palace’s corner means the end of an era.

Royal children used to play with ordinary children there, she said. “It makes me feel as if I had lost a chapter of my life,” said the 73-year-old former teacher.

 

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