Cham Muslims Homeless After Fire

A fire in Cambodia's capital leaves hundreds of ethnic Muslims homeless.
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Firefighters race to put out flames in the Reussey Keo district of Phnom Penh, Nov. 19, 2009.
Firefighters race to put out flames in the Reussey Keo district of Phnom Penh, Nov. 19, 2009.

PHNOM PENH—Hundreds of ethnic Cham Muslims are now homeless after a fire razed their crowded section of the Cambodian capital.

The blaze erupted early on Nov. 19 in an area dominated by the city's Muslim Cham minority, local police chief Som Bunny said.

Some 300 houses were destroyed in Reussey Keo district, Ly Rossamy, deputy district chief, said.

It lasted from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., she said, adding that an explosion of a cooking gas or electricity in the area may start the fire.

"No one was killed or injured. They all were evacuated," she said. An investigation into the cause is under way.

"Some removed their belongings and went by boat to the other side of the river.  Some others moved to the main road."

A map displays Reussey Keo district in Phnom Penh. Credit RFA

Although large neighborhood fires are increasingly rare in Phnom Penh, a series of suspicious blazes several years ago destroyed a number of slum areas, forcing tens of thousands to flee.

"Each of us has [lost] hundreds of thousands of dollars," one resident said.

"We lost everything... The firefighters didn't even try to stop it."

Under Secretary of State for Vocational Training Okgna Ousman Hassan, who was at the scene, said fire trucks didn't have sufficient road access to put out the blaze.

Some 240,000 Cham Muslims live in Cambodia, making them about 1.6 percent of the population in the predominantly Buddhist country, according to a recent survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center.

Original reporting by Sek Bandith for RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Comments (6)

Anonymous Reader

I agree with P. They always ask for the money. It's usually USD40,000-60,000 for one appartment or one house. If they can't get the money, they let the fire covers the house.

Nov 30, 2009 12:54 PM

Anonymous Reader

I agree with everything Mr. Chendra said. This regime that we are having right now is not just similar, but it is exactly the same process of Khmer Rough. We just don't see it, it is invisible. This cruel regime is on its way now if we all just keep abandon it. This fire story happens all the time. If the people from the fire department really want to put out the fire, they can do it. They need money before they do it. Think about this, how come they let the fire spread since the morning untill 1pm or 2pm at noon, which means they didn't do nothing.Now, imagine if those houses are their houses, and those people are their relatives, are they still going to need money first to put out the fire? See we are losing consciousness, people stop loving each other no more, people stop helping each other no more, all they think about is corruption and all of this because of who? Government is corrupted, government is cruel, government is communist.

Nov 24, 2009 07:34 AM

Anonymous Reader

Thank you so much for RFA to let us express our comment here, in Cambodia only facade in true sense, we Khmer people cannot say what's wrongdoing of the present regime. If anyone dare to talk the truth, the consequences, they are rewarded is facing jail or assassination. The system of Hun Sen government is closely similar to Khmer Rough and Communists.

Nov 23, 2009 03:05 AM

Anonymous Reader

I do not like some Hun Sen actions ,but go straight to blame Hun Sen is not right either because the people themselves do not commit themselves to safety regardless the warning of the local authorities.

Nov 22, 2009 11:19 AM

Anonymous Reader

Hun Sen also has a hand in this traaagedy which Khmerr-Cham not ruled out his involvement to torch the house of the people in order to clear the land so he could sell to Youn compaaany for the so-called development land. The world will see whether true or not.

Nov 21, 2009 11:31 PM

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