More than 1,000 villagers in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district have signed a petition protesting the removal of a crematorium that is currently on land slated for a large development project.
According to a letter from the Council of Ministers addressed to the Ministry of Cults and Religion and dated April 25, 2012, the site has been handed over to the Eng Kaing Development Company. But villagers in the area have fought against the crematorium being destroyed for nearly a year, saying that they want the land kept in order to build a new school.
Sao Saroeun, 55, said that 1,002 villagers have now thumb printed a petition opposing the development project.
“All of us are not opposed to the removal but we want to keep the land for the pagoda to build a school for the young generation,” Mr. Saroeun said, adding that the petition had not been sent to the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Cults and Religion as they still wanted to collect more thumbprints.
The crematorium built in 1999 sits across from Khtor pagoda along National Road 6A on a piece of land measuring about 29,442 square meters in Prek Liep commune.
According to the Council of Ministers letter signed by Secretary of State Prak Sokhon, a new crematorium site will be rebuilt about 5 km away from the old site.
“Eng Kaing Development Company must build a crematorium and after the building is completed, we will provide this old location to Eng Kaing Development Company to occupy for commercial development,” the letter says, adding that the company will spend more than $500,000 on the new crematorium.
City Hall has banned cremations from taking place in the center of Phnom Penh due to health concerns and in 2010 ordered the last four traditional temple crematoriums in the central city shut down.
Eng Kaing Development Company could not be reached for comment.
Despite the villagers’ complaints, it seems that work is already underway on the new crematorium.
The new crematorium, which is located west of Bak Kheng pagoda in the same commune, is about 70 percent completed, said commune chief Preap Mony.
“This is the government’s decision because the old crematorium is located too close to the road, and the government granted the old crematorium location to the company for development,” Mr. Mony said.
Nget Chanbo, deputy chief of the Ministry of Cults and Religion’s department of complaints and dissolution, said he had received an order from the Council of Ministers to shut down the crematorium due to the smoke pollution caused from cremations.
“We received the order from the Council of Ministers to remove this crematorium because it would have an environmental impact,” he said.