Vendors, Fortune Tellers Evicted from Wat Phnom

Nearly 70 small businesses were evicted from near Wat Phnom Feb 15, nearly two years after the municipality told the businesses that their days were numbered.

Armed with hammers, axes and crowbars, municipal workers began tearing down the 54 fortune teller stands and 12 cafe and clothes stands across from Wat Phnom at around 6 am, vendors said.

Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh municipal vice governor, said the area will become a park, replacing what had been an eyesore. “That place was ugly with a bad smell and gambling,” he said.

Bars, restaurants and massage parlors on the northern side of Wat Phnom will have to change to cultural businesses, such as art galleries, said Mann Chhoeun though he didn’t give a deadline.

The evicted fortunetellers will be able to move to an nearby area that will be called “Fortune Teller Street,” he added.

Plans for removing businesses surrounding the city landmark were announced in April 2006 but several evicted vendors said on Friday that they hadn’t received a firm date to move until Feb 14 when a municipal official drove by with a megaphone announcing the eviction.

Chan Soveth, an investigator with rights group Adhoc, said he was concerned by the way the eviction was carried out.

Businesses, he said, should have been given an exact date sooner, and the workers who carried out the eviction had destroyed vendors’ property. Some owners were not allowed to move their property themselves, Chan Soveth said.

Mann Chhoeun said the vendors received proper notice.

On the north side of Wat Phnom, US national Robert Thornton, owner of the Coyote Ugly bar, said he hadn’t heard anything about evictions or having to change to a different type of business in about a year.

“I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation at all,” he said. “I’m not moving unless they compensate me.”


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