The municipality has ordered more than 100 trees along Phnom Penh’s boulevards trimmed in an effort to improve safety.
Some residents criticized the move, saying the trees are being hacked down rather than trimmed, and this is destroying a rare vestige of beauty in the city.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said only dead or sick trees are cut because they could fall and hurt anyone passing underneath.
Wood that can be salvaged will be turned into benches for the city’s parks, he said before rejecting claims that the city does not properly care for the trees by trimming them regularly.
“We have limited money,” he said. “When we have money, we hire workers to cut the ruined trees.”
One man died last week when a tree collapsed on him as he was driving along Kampuchea Krom boulevard.
Nhem Saran, director of the municipal Public Works and Transportation Department, said the trees are cut during the rainy season because it gives the branches a chance to grow back quickly, adding that technical staff monitors all cutting to ensure the trees are not killed.
“There are strong winds during the rainy season so we need to do it for fear of future accidental collapse,” he said.
Workers cutting trees on Street 240 on Wednesday said the branches are taken to the riverfront where people collect the wood for fuel or to make cutting boards.
Residents at the riverfront collecting the wood Wednesday morning said they could sell their cutting boards for a profit.
But several residents said the municipality rarely plants trees to replace the ones cut.
“Trees provide shade for travelers and residents but these trees were cut even though they were of good quality,” resident Vuth Visal said as he watched workers cut trees along Street 240. “Wat Phnom is the only green place in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Pen Chin Narath, who owns a souvenir shop on Street 240, said that only the tops of trees should be trimmed, and not the entire tops cut off.