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Mixed blessings for the White Building

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times Share:
A ceremony is held at the White building as bulldozers move in. KT/Mai Vireak

fence went up around Phnom Penh’s White Building yesterday as the four-month demolition project for the property got underway and the last few families prepared to leave.

The work began with traditional Buddhist ceremonies attended by 50 representatives from the Land Management Ministry, Arakawa Company and construction contractors, alongside former White Building residents.

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, general director of the department of housing at the Land Management Ministry, said all but four or five of 492 families in the White Building had moved out.

The remaining residents are to leave this week, but construction contractors officially started work on demolition yesterday.

Mr Socheat Khemro said contractors would use modern techniques to tear down the building.

“They will work with modern methods to protect the environment and minimise noise and dust, so they don’t disturb people living around the building. The demolition will take a total of about four months,” he said.

Heng Bunny, an assistant at Pisnoka, the contractor responsible for demolishing the building, said 50 to 60 workers would spray

KT/Mai Vireak

“We have put a fence around the building and will set up a security system to protect it before the actual demolition begins,” he said.

Chhum Sakorn, a White Building resident who was still packing up her belongings yesterday, said she was sad to be leaving after living there for 30 years.

However, she said the government had managed the handover of the property better than similar cases.

“I am happy with the peaceful resolution provided by the Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara. He has made sure everything has gone smoothly, but it is still sad to be moving and losing touch with relatives and friends. We will have to build new friends and a new life,” she said.

Sia Phearum, executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said the approach used with the White Building redevelopment should be replicated elsewhere.

“This is a good model. I would like to appeal to the authorities and other companies to replicate it, so we will no longer see protests about this kind of thing on the streets,” he said.   

The White Building was constructed in 1963, as one of the country’s first social housing experiments, and later became a hub for artists.

The redevelopment of the property will cost $70 to $80 million. Arakawa plans to make the building 21 floors, with three floors of parking, one floor for stores and five floors for accommodation.

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