White Building Demolition Begins as Holdouts Move Out

Two excavators turned bricks to rubble with ease on Monday as walls jutting out from the ground floor of Phnom Penh’s dilapidated White Building slowly tumbled to the ground.

While the building’s main structure still towered above a small cluster of construction workers, demolition of structures attached to the 1963 low-income block continued throughout the day, clearing the way for the construction of an $80 million, 21-story multi-use complex.

Villagers take part in a Buddhist blessing ceremony before the start of the demolition of Phnom Penh’s White Building on Monday morning. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Arakawa, the site’s Japanese developer, hired construction company Pisnoka International to demolish the building over the next three months, Khou Soklay, Pisnoka’s general manager, said on Monday. The structure will be razed slowly “to minimize the effect to the next building and the public,” he said.

“We will use heavy equipment and some parts we’ll have to use manpower because some parts are very near other buildings,” Mr. Soklay said. “We need some time to set up protective walls to avoid public effects.”

The cost of the long-awaited demolition had not been confirmed, as it would depend on “environmental impacts” and other issues the company tackled during the process, he said.

He said demolition of the main building would likely begin next week as a handful of residents had asked the Land Management Ministry for extra time to arrange new housing.

He said Pisnoka hoped to work on the new development as well, but that it was too early to talk about the construction.

Following monthslong negotiations, the final seven holdout families of the 492 living in the block—which was condemned by City Hall in 2014—on Saturday accepted a compensation offer of $1,400 per square meter after the ministry and Arakawa inflated the size of their units, the families said.

Kim Sreypov, 43, one of the holdouts, said she would clear the premises today.

“I decided on Saturday, because I received additional [square meters] to what I own,” she said, adding that she was granted an additional $5,000.

Arakawa’s project director Heng Thay Ly on Monday denied the company had inflated the size of the holdouts units, declining further comment. Ministry officials either declined to comment or could not be reached.

“I regret losing the house,” Ms. Sreypov said. But “I won’t be staying longer to oppose the machines.”

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