New Governor Pledges Tough Action in Troubled S’Ville

3 min read
Sihanoukville Bay View. Image: Vann Vichar

Kouch Chamroeun, transferred to head the troubled Preah Sihanouk province after an unlicensed Chinese construction collapsed and killed 28 there last week, vowed to eliminate the inattention of authorities and protect “the beauty of the coastal city.”

At a ceremony marking his appointment as provincial governor on Saturday, Chamroeun acknowledged that people were unhappy due to the injustices caused by the lack of action by those in charge.

He said he would toughen up law enforcement in order to restore the image of Preah Sihanouk, which has seen a huge Chinese-driven gambling boom and a perceived rise in lawlessness. Illegal constructions, sewage discharges at public beaches, and even murder have tarnished the reputation of the once-pristine coastline.

He would “eliminate all inactivity, and pay attention to the development of all sectors, especially to improve the beauty of the coastal city and the downtown,” Chamroeun said. He would also “clean up the city, guarantee a good environment with socioeconomic potential, improve livelihoods … and the well-being of people throughout the province.”

Chamroeun, a former member of the ruling Cambodian People Party’s (CPP) youth wing, was transferred from his role as governor of Kompong Cham province in the wake of last week’s incident.

He previously worked as the district governor of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey, Chbar Ampov and Daun Penh districts.

At the ceremony, Interior Minister Sar Kheng urged Chamroeun to focus on five issues: resolving land disputes, enforcing building standards, preventing disorder in Koh Rong and other islands in the province, improving infrastructure, and fixing Sihanoukville’s inadequate sewage system.

“All related parties must participate in assisting the new governor to improve the image of Preah Sihanouk and attract tourism from all nations to visit,” Kheng said, referencing the increasing predominance of Chinese gambling tourism to the coastal area. “Preah Sihanouk is not for any single nation. It is for everyone who wants to come.”

Four Chinese nationals have been arrested and charged for the building collapse in Sihanoukville — the owners of the building and construction firm, as well as the site supervisor and plastering contractor. Former provincial governor Yun Min also resigned and National Committee for Disaster Management first vice president Nhim Vanda removed from his post, but critics have questioned the lack of legal action against complicit local officials.

Min, who was quickly promoted to a four-star general after his resignation, publicly apologized on Friday and asked for understanding.

“Some inactivity happened” on the part of his officials, Min said, acknowledging the unlicensed construction taking place across Sihanoukville. “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all people and to please be understanding and tolerant because all these issued happened because of my unintentional mistake.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, meanwhile, has discouraged a focus on the Chinese-driven development of the coast in the wake of the incident.

“Other foreigners come to rape Cambodian kids and are put in prison. Why don’t you talk about that?” he said last week.

The 28 deaths in last week’s building collapse marks one of the biggest public tragedies in Cambodia since more than 350 people died in a stampede during Phnom Penh’s Water Festival in 2010. At the time, Hun Sen rejected calls for officials’ resignations, saying “nobody should be blamed for an unexpected stampede.”

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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