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Fire Destroys Hundreds of Slum Homes

A seven-hour fire burned down several hundred homes on the outskirts of Phnom Penh early Monday, and residents say the fire department did little to stop it.

The fire started around 5 am Monday and continued burning until around noon, destroying an entire village of makeshift homes.

Residents said the fire department refused to put out the flames because the people couldn't pay them bribes.

"I asked the firemen to extinguish my house, but the firemen said they did not have water," Chhen Saray, said as she wept. "The firemen extinguished only the houses of the rich, not the poor."

The fire comes just days before the start of Khmer New Year, a traditional time of nationwide celebration. No casualties were reported, and the cause is under investigation.

A fire department official denied claims of negligence, saying his men were hard-pressed to stop the fire in an area with streets too narrow for his trucks.

"The firemen had difficulty extinguishing the fire, because the roads leading the slum were too small," said Sok Vannra, first deputy chief of the Phnom Penh fire department. "We were fighting the fire from 5:30 am, and we almost had no water to drink, but we are still criticized by the residents."

A second resident said her house was saved by firemen only after her uncle, who knew some other firemen, convinced them to put out the flames. Her uncle later paid five men $10, she said.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mab Sarin said Friday the city had no plans to develop the area.

"The Phnom Penh municipality has instructed district governors and deputy governors to consider finding a proper place for victims to stay," he said.