Some 200 hungry villagers from a Hun Sen development area in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district were stopped several times Thursday by police, who attempted to prevent the group from entering Phnom Penh to beg NGOs and King Norodom Sihamoni for food.
Traffic police officers stopped three trucks carrying the villagers at around 10 am just south of the Monivong Bridge in Chamkar Mon district and told them they could not proceed without authorization, villagers said.
“Traffic police asked for an official letter from the commune chief or other authority” in order to enter the city, said Chea Phal, a resident of Kompong Pou village in Kraing Yov commune—an area Prime Minister Hun Sen designated a development zone in the 1990s as a model in his campaign to fight poverty.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Chrea Sochenda tried to help the villagers gain passage, but police stopped the trucks again north of Monivong bridge, saying they had orders to prevent the villagers from entering the city.
After negotiations, police said villagers could proceed only on foot ,but when they began walking, the police relented and allowed them back on the trucks.
Uch Sokhon, deputy police chief for Chamkar Mon district, said he had not heard of the incident and could not comment. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he would look into the reports.
Kandal province Governor Tep Nannory said Thursday that the villagers had traveled to Phnom Penh to beg out of greed. “You can see they wear earrings, rings and necklaces to beg rice from NGOs and the King,” he said.
Villager Chea Phal responded: “Officials always claim the people are rich, but…the people are poor.”
Kek Galabru, founder of human rights NGO Licadho, which gave the group food and money for their return trip, also attested to their poverty. “They are really in need, they are hungry,” she said.
She said Licadho workers have been barred entrance to villages in Kraing Yov commune before, when they tried to deliver food. Officials claimed then to have the problem under control, she said.