The dream of running his own business lured Nuon Ath away from his Kandal province cow farm to the market stalls near Pochentong Airport, where he imagined a life of ease selling plastic pots rather than the drudgery of tending livestock.
The dream ended Thursday, just days before he planned to open his doors for business, when police ordered him out of his shop, told him to pack his goods, then tore down his stall.
“I paid $3,100 for my shop,” Nuon Ath said. “I sold everything, my house, my land and my cows to buy my stall. How am I supposed to survive?” he asked.
He was one of 60 vendors left without a shop at Cham Chao market in Dang Kor district after police carried out an order to raze a new section of stalls that they claimed were improperly built.
The stalls were built too close to the road and the contractor who built them never applied for a construction license, said Seang Lorn, an official at the department of Urbanization and Construction.
He said the government sent two warnings to landowner Bun Chan Chroesna before ordering the police to raze the market.
Many of the stall owners paid $4,000 to $5,000 to Bun Chan Chroesna for a five-year lease on their locations. The stalls were built last June, and many vendors were just moving in or had been open for only a few months.
Tong Eamy, who opened his food and drink store three months ago, said he was shown official plans for the new stalls before he agreed to the five-year lease. The plans, which he said were signed by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, showed his stall in the supposedly illegal location.
“They should not have destroyed the shops,” he said. “It’s not fair to the people.”
Mom Soveth, chief of the Dang Kor district police, said Bun Chan Chroesna only had permission to build a parking lot, not buildings.
“The municipal government had banned the construction before but [Bun Chan Chroesna] ignored them and continued with the construction,” he said. “That’s why we destroyed the shops.”
After the stalls were torn down, landowner Bun Chan Chroesna sent his staff to tell vendors they would get new stalls within 45 days, but people say they no longer know whom to believe.
“The people here are very angry because they sold all of their cattle or their land in the countryside to open these shops,” Tong Eamy said.
He said if new stalls are not built, vendors will file a lawsuit to get their money back. So far, 30 vendors have signed onto the idea, claiming they lost $153,150 in all.
Chea Sophara could not be reached for comment.