US Security Concerns See Work Stop at Street 240 Site

Construction on a seven-story apartment complex overlooking the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Phnom Penh has been halted by authorities at the behest of the U.S. Embassy amid security concerns ahead of next month’s Asean and East Asia summits, officials said yesterday.

Though located on Street 240, the top floors of the high-end apartment project overlook U.S. Ambassador William Todd’s residence on Norodom Boulevard, creating what U.S. officials consider a security threat, Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said.

Construction on the 29-unit project, called 240 Phnom Penh, began in 2009 and is now nearing completion.

“The apartment building is high and the balcony and windows are turned directly toward the U.S. ambassador’s residence, creating both security and safety concerns,” Mr. Dimanche said.

He said that municipal authorities received a request earlier this month from the U.S. government to halt construction on the property.

“In accordance with the order of Phnom Penh Governor [Kep Chuktema], construction is stopped indefinitely,” Mr. Dimanche said.

The U.S. Embassy yesterday declined to comment on its request to stop construction, but the call comes amid tough questions in Washington, and heightened security measures overseas, following the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff dead.

“In keeping with our longstanding policy, we do not comment on matters related to U.S. mission security,” said Michelle Bennett, deputy public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

About a dozen police and municipal officials, including Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema, entered the apartment complex building site on Wednesday afternoon demanding that construction shut down immediately.

Police officers remained stationed at the entrance to the 240 complex yesterday.

Elain Younn, the owner of the complex and several other well-known businesses in Phnom Penh, said that she was first told that her building was a threat to U.S. security earlier this month.

“We were aware of the issue early this month and we agreed to temporarily suspend construction as we also feel that security issues are imperative,” Ms. Younn said.

“There are ongoing meetings with the U.S. Embassy and their regional security officer to address the issue, and we all hope to reach a resolution soon,” she said.

The closure of the 240 apartment block is the second time that security measures for next month’s summits in Phnom Penh have been referenced by Phnom Penh municipal officials. Nearly 400 families living adjacent to Phnom Penh International Airport have been served with eviction notices by government officials who say that security for visiting world leaders requires their permanent removal.

Among the delegates expected to arrive in Phnom Penh for the summits are U.S. President Barack Obama, China’s Wen Jiabao, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Manmohan Singh.

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