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Inside the White Building

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:

It was mid-afternoon in Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building, when most of its residents were working and children were running around and playing, while a retired government official was busy sewing clothes and looking forward to being relocated. 
Touch Phoeun, 67, who has lived in a room on the third floor of the White Building since 1980, said she was hoping the promises of compensation being offered to residents was true.
Mrs. Phoeun, who originally came from Kandal province, said she would consider going to live with relatives in Kean Svay district in Kandal province if the compensation offered was only small. 
“I have heard that about $70,000 will be offered to families who own rooms here, but I don’t know if it is true or not. I heard this from others,” Mrs. Phoeun said. 
“I have lived here for decades and I don’t want to leave,” she added. “If they offer me choices, I will choose the money and then find another place on the outskirts of the city for a proper home with land.” 
Sok Sovanny, another resident on the White Building’s second floor, has also agreed to leave.
Sitting on a mat with her neighbors, Ms. Sovanny, said her family was also planning to leave, but only if the compensation was enough. 
“I have heard that the building is to be renovated, but I’m not sure about the plan in detail,” Mrs. Sovanny said. “If multiple choices are properly offered, I will choose the money and agree to leave here.”
However, both are worried about their futures – they saw the prolonged plight of the former Borei Keila residents and those in other areas. 
The plan to renovate the White Building includes offers to residents of compensation and also another plan where they move out while the work is done and then move back in to the new apartments when renovations are finished.
The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has held two meetings with residents to talk about the future development of the building and the demands of the residents. 
According to an announcement by the ministry, a study on developing the While Building showed it will cost up to $70 to $80 million, including temporary accommodation for its residents. 
Under the project, the new building will be 21 floors, with three floors of parking, one floor for shops and five floors for accommodation, which they say will be 10 percent larger than the current rooms. 
Japanese company Arakawa, which will carry out the construction, will own everything from the ninth floor up and it is unclear what they plan to put there. 
Most of the residents prefer to leave, but with proper compensation, which they say should be $70,000 per room. 
Dy Sophannara Many, who represents the residents, said many of the nearly 600 people who live there have been asked to meet Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara recently to talk about the plans to renovate the building. 
Mrs. Many said residents expect the meeting with authorities will discuss compensation and the renovation of the building. 
“Most residents prefer compensation in cash to move,” Mrs. Many said.
Mrs. Phoeun said she worries about the promises made for those who want to return after the renovations.
“I have heard about some cases like the community in Borei Keila and others where problems still remain unsolved,” she said. 
Mrs. Sovanny said she is also worried about returning after the renovations. 
“I don’t feel confident that residents will be allowed to claim ownership after the construction is finished,” she said.

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