Hungry Farmers Take Protest From Park to Gates of NGOs

A furious Sam Rainsy led hundreds of hungry provincial farmers to the front gates of international NGOs to demand aid Tues­day, after police ordered them out of the park in front of the National Assembly, where they had been petitioning for food.

About 600 farmers suffering from the twin curses of flood and drought have been camping out in the park for as long as a week.

In a surprising departure from a national tradition, the Royal Palace on Tuesday turned down the villagers’ requests, and asked them to return to their homes.

Khek Sysoda, a Royal Palace representative, said King Noro­dom Sihanouk “never turns away those in need” but that this time, he said, palace staff would visit the farmers in their villages to “as­sess their sit­uations” and provide assistance later.

Instead, Sam Rainsy marched out of a National As­sembly meeting and led them to the offices of the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Red Cross. Representatives at the first two organizations said they could not offer immediate aid. Red Cross representatives, however, refused to meet with Sam Rainsy and told him to come back in the afternoon, without the farmers.

That inspired an angry speech by the opposition leader.

“The mission of the Red Cross is to help people, not to stay in air-conditioned rooms, with your large salaries of thousands of dollars a month, and not to look out the gate,” he said.

Some of the farmers agreed.

“We want the ADB and the World Bank to manage the direction of the assistance and make sure that it reaches poor people’s hands,” said Sao Sangom, 53, of Kampot province.

But no clear solution was in sight, and Tuesday evening most of the farmers were preparing to spend another night in the park.

Farmers from several pro­vinces have been huddled on dir­ty mats and sleeping under make­shift tents. (Additional re­porting by The Associated Press)

“Our rice seedlings were destroyed by flood and we have no food,” said Soy Sam Oeun, who said that 152 villagers from his province of Koh Kong were in the park.

The rains came too late in Samrong Tong district of Kompong Speu province, said Em Han, 54. Months of drought had already destroyed the rice seedlings, said Em Han, who said 175 district residents had come to the park.

(Additional reporting by the Associated Press)

 

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