Hundreds of vendors at Tuol Tompoung Market, better known to foreigners as Russian Market, in the south of Phnom Penh went on strike Friday, protesting plans put forward by City Hall to rebuild the marketplace, vendors said.
According to vendors at Tuol Tompoung, dozens of invitations dated June 11 and signed by Lim Chandavuth, the market’s committee chief, had invited 50 stallholders to a meeting on Friday morning presided over by Municipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, to announce the rebuilding plan.
“We are afraid that the authorities will threaten us to agree with the project and then claim that they are representing our voice,” said Neou Chanthy, 53, a vendor at the market since 1981. “We don’t agree with this project. We want to keep our image the same,” she said of the stifling hot, single story market.
Despite the general consensus among market vendors that City Hall is pressing ahead with the building project, officials at the Phnom Penh Municipality were reluctant to talk about their plans, and according to vendors, canceled yesterday morning’s meeting.
“I have not had a meeting with the market sellers,” the deputy governor said Friday. “Nor have I planned to meet them.”
However, Pa Socheatvong, also a municipal deputy governor, admitted that plans were afoot to develop the market but declined to provide any further details. Likewise, the market’s committee chief, Mr Chandavuth, also refused to answer questions and referred all questions back to the vendors.
Vendor Mrs Narin, who refused to give her surname for fear of being targeted by authorities, said Tuol Tompoung market was extremely popular among tourists and she is scared that if the market changes its image, foreign visitors will stop shopping there.
Moreover, she fears that her stall will be shut down when the rebuilding work starts.
“My life depends on this stall. I will have no money to buy things if they develop,” she said.
Chan Soveth, an investigator for local human rights group Adhoc, said he supported the rebuilding project in principle, but waged some caution.
“I am concerned that the development project will affect the vendors because they are not rich people,” he said. “They need to sell every day for their families.”
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)