Hungry Villagers Travel to Capital Despite Ban

Two hundred hungry villagers from drought-stricken Takeo prov­ince traveled to Phnom Penh on Thursday to beg King Noro­dom Si­hamoni for food, despite the misgivings of the province’s pol­i­ticians.

Samraong district Governor Kong Soeurn confirmed Thurs­day that the villagers traveled to Phnom Penh without his consent or that of Takeo Governor Lay Sok­­ha. ­“The governor phoned me this morning to prohibit the villagers from going to Phnom Penh,” Kong Soeurn said.

“We did not allow them to go to Phnom Penh to beg for food be­cause they do not face any starvation problems,” he said, adding that it was “shameful” that the villagers still begged even after officials had banned them.

Under Article 40 of the Consti­tu­tion, citizens have the right to tra­vel freely.

Lay Sokha could not be reached for comment.

Mol Seng, 56, said the 200 villagers, representing 200 families in Samraong and Bati districts, had approached commune authorities asking them to sign a letter asking the King to donate food. Without the signatures, the villagers had been told members of the Royal Pa­lace Cabinet would not forward the appeal to the King. “They do not want to be ashamed that the commune is facing starvation,” said villager Mol Seng from Cheung Kuon commune in Sam­raong district. “They want to hide in­formation about the drought.”

Sok Bo, a villager from Bati district who led a group of amputees to Phnom Penh, said she had al­ready visited the capital twice but failed to receive any aid.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, ad­viser to retired King Norodom Siha­nouk, said villagers do not need local authorities to sign their pa­perwork to ask for aid from the King. “If the King finds out that the [Royal Palace] Cabinet does not allow his children to sign the petition, he will be concerned,” the prince said.

On Tuesday, the Royal Palace, on behalf of the King, Norodom Si­­hanouk and Queen Norodom Mo­nineath, distributed 20 kg of rice and 20,000 riel to 203 families in Takeo’s Rovieng commune, Sam­raong district.

Last week, more than 750 villagers from Samraong traveled to Phnom Penh in two separate in­stances to beg for food while the province’s First Deputy Governor, Kuch Chantha, said there was no drought.

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