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Thousands homeless after Cambodia fires

Cambodia slum fire
A woman weeps as she watches the squatter community burn  

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless after two fires ripped through slums in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

One person was killed and thousands fled their homes after a fire swept through a slum in the Meanchey district of southeast Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

Nearly 800 wooden shacks were razed, officials told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

The fire was started by people using open flames to keep warm during the cold months of November and December, Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara told Reuters.

The governor says the city is working with the Cambodian Red Cross to feed and provide temporary shelter for these people.

Flimsy huts

Fires are common in Cambodian squatter communities where thousands of people pack together in flimsy wooden huts.

Just one day earlier, up to 10,000 people were left homeless after a fire ripped through an illegal squatter camp along the banks of the Bassac River near the center of the city.

Residents fled as around 2,000 wooden shacks were destroyed.

The governor said former residents would not be allowed to stay in the city and should rebuild their homes on a plot 20 km (12.5 miles) from the capital.

"They cannot rebuild their houses," he told Reuters by telephone. "They must move somewhere else. We must make the capital beautiful."

He said plots would be given to the homeless on agricultural land in two areas southwest and northwest of the city.

Cambodia fire
A district official said more than 2,000 families lost their homes and officials said there were reports of several deaths  

But the former squatters told Reuters they did not want to leave as the plots were too far away from the city and from work.

Three decades of civil war, including the 1970s Khmer Rouge "killing fields" regime, has left much of the capital in serious disrepair, with central parts of the city home to huge squatter villages.

Cambodia has pledged $4 million to rejuvenate Phnom Penh. It plans to spruce up the waterfront, restore old French colonial buildings and encourage a city-wide painting of houses.


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