Terrorism Fears Prompt City to Move Garages

Described as a move to protect foreign embassies in Phnom Penh from potential terrorist attacks, the Municipality has approved a pilot zoning plan that will free the areas around em­bassy buildings from vehicle repair shops and other unlicen­sed businesses, municipal officials said Wednesday.

“I have talked to the district governor and told some garage owners near Wat Phnom to relocate their businesses because we believe they could affect our ability to provide effective security for diplomats in the area,” Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said.

He added that the municipality had finished a pilot plan that would provide zoning regulations for garages, restaurants, beer gardens and private residences.

The plan will be sent to the ministries of Interior and Land Man­agement for adoption, and if passed, will provide some sorely needed organization, the governor said. Vehicle repair shops, which might be used to hide a bomb or stage an attack, are the primary target of the plan. Garages in the center of the capital, or the “heritage zone,” have two months to relocate to the outskirts of the city, Kep Chuktema said.

“We cannot allow those to be located near embassies,” he said. “We need them to be based in a proper place where we can organize and be comfortably in control.”

At a news conference last week, Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, warned foreign diplomats that they could be the targets of terrorist attacks, but vowed they would be protected by the government. A diplomat at the event also raised a specific concern about the number of garages in close proximity to his embassy.

Aside from security concerns, a zoning plan is vital to keep track of the capital’s rapidly multiplying businesses, many of which are operating unlicensed, said Oum Sotha, director of the municipal commerce department.

“In any other country I have been to, I’ve noticed that they had city plans and they zone the area for shopping, or any other business activities,” he said. “Those countries had plans first, before they started projects. In our country, everything has already been created in anarchy.”

Oum Sotha said that while ensuring security was a priority, it was also important to avoid upsetting business owners who were being forced to move.

“The pilot plan will be enforced step by step because we need to find a proper place for those garages and restaurants first,” he said. “Otherwise those people will not be satisfied and will be unhappy if they have to relocate.”

That discontent was visible Wednesday among garage owners who worried about losing business, increased competition and higher overheads.

“If all garages are zoned into a region, we have to compete with each other,” said Chan Tha, owner of a garage near Wat Phnom, where the new US Embassy is being constructed.

“I want to run my business in town where I am easy to get to and where my clients expect me to be,” he said.

Chan Tha also questioned the real reason behind the relocation.

“I have never believed that gar­age stations are a place for creating terrorism against Western embassies,” he said.

“It is only an excuse for the Municipality to evict us from the capital and take the land to sell to big and powerful businessmen.”


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