Residents Claim Firemen Negligent in Blaze

Residents of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Monday accused firefighters of doing little to prevent the destruction of about 300 homes in a weekend fire at Chak Angre Leu commune.

The fire, which razed the slums along the Bassac river and Na­tional Route 2, began around 12:30 am Sunday and burned for nearly three hours, witnesses and officials said. No one was injured.

Witnesses and officials said they did not know the cause of the fire. Several of the area’s mainly Vietnamese residents on Monday questioned why some surrounding buildings, including a factory belonging to the British American Tobacco company, were spared while their own mo­dest homes were destroyed.

“The fire trucks didn’t come to help us. They just came to the cigarette factory and helped the cigarette factory, but they didn’t help the poor,” said Chea Pros, 26, whose family’s house was leveled in the blaze.

Chen Nary, 38, alleged firefighters discriminated against those who couldn’t pay. “The trucks just come and put out the fire for the homes belonging to the rich,” she said. “We asked them to come, but they would not because we have no money.”

Sok Vannara, first deputy chief for the Municipal Fire Depart­ment, denied his officers asked for bribes before doing their work.

Firefighters could not get close to the flames due to the narrow, winding roads in the squalid neighborhood, he said. “The people do not understand how difficult it is for us,” Sok Vannara said.

He added that the department had dispatched all of its six fire trucks; a few remained at the British American Tobacco company since “it was the only way the trucks could get close.”

Kun Lim, corporate communications manager for the tobacco company, said he did not believe the firefighters asked for money. “I don’t think they officially asked for money,” he said Mon­day. “We were just very, very lucky.”

Commune Chief Keo Savoeun said Monday the municipality has no plans to relocate the residents.


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