Gov’t Says Begging Villagers Should Go Home

Villagers who traveled from drought-stricken areas to beg in the capital last week are persona non grata and should return to their homes, officials said Sunday.

“They need to ask their [provincial] governors, their district gov­ern­ors for help,” Phnom Penh Gov­ernor Kep Chuktema said. “Don’t all go to the capital. Stay in the village and try to find another job.”

Though an exact figure is un­known, at least scores of farmers left thirsty rice fields in Prey Veng and Kompong Speu provinces last week to panhandle during the Wa­ter Festival.

“All of our rice has died,” said one beggar, Ros Sre, 53, squatting outside the National Assembly. She and nine others from Prey Veng’s Ba Phnom and Mesang dis­tricts were camped in the wet dirt under a banyan tree on Sun­day morning.

“It is only this year that I have come here to beg. It’s very shameful, but we still don’t have any mon­ey, so we will have to stay here a few days longer,” she said.

As drought pushes destitute vil­lagers to the capital’s sidewalks, officials are pleading with people in affected provinces to stay put.

The homeless and poor will not be allowed to camp in public parks, Kep Chuktema said. “We need to keep the capital quiet and beautiful,” he said.

The governor said the munici­pal­ity has no strategy to keep rural people from entering the city, though beggars and recently emi­grat­ed day laborers say police threaten them with arrest or beatings for loitering.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said villagers who face possible food shortages shouldn’t waste money on a fare to Phnom Penh. “This is a ridiculous problem. It is better that they stay at home,” he said.

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