At least 15 people were killed and 24 were injured when an under-construction building collapsed on Saturday in the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, officials and state media said, describing the building as an “illegal” structure for which four Chinese and Cambodians were arrested.
Government-affiliated Fresh News quoted the lead rescue team as saying that as of midnight Saturday, 15 bodies were pulled from the rubble of the seven-storey Chinese-owned building, in Sihanoukville, west of the capital Phnom Penh.
Cambodia’s National Police agency said on its website at least a thousand rescue workers and military officers are searching through the debris for trapped people and would need at least two days to clear the rubble.
“Because the rescue is still going we don’t know how many people are being trapped,” the police statement said. Police believe there are more victims, it added.
Reuters news agency quoted spokesman for the local province of Preah Sihanouk as saying that more than 30 people were still missing and feared trapped inside the building.
“The steel structure has collapsed on itself and we don’t dare move it,” spokesman Oar Saroeun, told Reuters. “We can only wait and listen for any signs of life...”
Police said they have arrested four Chinese and Cambodians who were in charge of the construction and were holding them pending investigation.
A statement by the government and local authorities said the construction was illegal and the Chinese owner ignored orders to stop the construction.
“The building did not comply with construction codes and it is an illegal construction because they don’t have a construction permit,” the statement said.
Cheap Sotheary, the provincial coordinator for the domestic human right groups Adhoc told RFA’s Khmer Service that the collapsed building was the latest example of illegal construction enabled by systematic corruption in Cambodia.
“Authorities carelessly allowed Chinese to do unauthorized construction. They don’t take any measures against the Chinese companies, so that creates suspicions of systematic corruption,” she said.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels and real estate in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flash point for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices, gangland violence and unbecoming behavior by growing crowds of Chinese investors drawn to Sihanoukville and a nearby Chinese Special Economic Zone connected to Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
Last month Sihanoukville authorities shut down a Chinese-owned casino accused of polluting an adjacent beach following the casino’s defiance of orders to cease operations.
The Jin Ding Hotel and Casino located on Koh Rong Samloem Island, a popular tourist destination, was ordered to close in March because it was operating without a license and releasing untreated sewage water directly into the sea.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.