Officials Investigate Alleged Food Shortages

Officials from the World Food Program and the government’s National Committee for Disaster Management are looking into allegations that Cambodians living along the Thai border are facing a food shortage.

WFP Country Director Rebec­ca Hansen on Sunday said that WFP staff were in northwest Cam­bodia over the weekend to assess the extent of the food crisis there.

“They will be reporting on the situation there [on Monday], and from there we will make our as­sessment based on strictly hu­man­itarian grounds,” Hansen said.

The National Committee for Disaster Management is also due to visit Poipet to offer food aid, local officials said Sunday.

Saying up to 700 hungry residents have approached local officials for food since the Thai border was closed on March 5, officials in Poipet commune called attention to the plight of Cambo­dians whose incomes depend on cross-border trade with Thailand.

Kim Suor Phirith, a Sam Rainsy Party member of parliament for Banteay Meanchey province, wrote on Saturday to the World Food Program on behalf of Poi­pet commune chief Sok Sovann, re­questing immediate food aid for the estimated 3,000 families whose livelihoods have been put on hold by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to close the border.

“Small traders, street vendors, porters, cart pullers, construction workers and other labor­ers…de­pend solely on border-crossing to earn and provide for their day-to-day living necessities,” Kim Suor Phirith wrote. “They are facing starvation.”

Sok Sovann called on the central government to ease the shortages in his commune.

The prime minister ordered the border closed in what he described at the time as an act of retaliation for Thailand’s continued ban on the immigration of Cambodian citizens, and for the reported deaths of Cambodians caught up in the Thai government’s “war on drugs.”

Meanwhile, Banteay Mean­chey Deputy Judicial Police Chief Chhoeung Sokhom accused Sok Sovann—a Sam Rainsy Party member—last week of inciting a disturbance in order to draw attention to the situation on the border.

Chhoeung Sokhom, a supporter of the CPP, said on Friday that Sok Sovann circulated the rumor that the border crossing had re­opened.

“When a lot of people gathered at the checkpoint to in­vestigate, [Sok Sovann] an­nounced publicly that people were conducting a demonstration” against the border closure, Chhoeung Sokhom said.

Sok Sovann declined to comment on the allegations.

Differences between police and local government accounts of the situation on the border also materialized on the subject of crime. Sok Sovann said that robberies have been taking place with in­creasing frequency in his commune, and that crime rates in general have risen since the border closure.

Chhoeung Sokhom, however, denied that crime rates have in­creased in the area, saying just three robberies have been reported since the border closure, and that arrests have been made in all cases.

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