PM Says No Cambodian Has Starved in Years

No Cambodians have died from hunger since the Khmer Rouge era, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech Tuesday, an assertion that was vigorously disputed by an opposition lawmaker.

That assertion was apparently in reference to events dating back to 2005, when rights workers and villagers in Kompong Speu prov-ince reported at least five deaths from lack of food in Ta Moeun village. At the time, Hun Sen said that the deaths were the result of old age, disease or suicide, and on Tuesday, he reiterated his belief that old age was the likely cause of death in at least one case.

“However poor we are, since 1979, no one has died because there was no rice to eat,” the prime minister said in a speech in Phnom Penh at the launch of a new $11 million project targeting bird flu.

“How old was one of those people? 87,” he said, drawing a few laughs from the audience.

In his speech, the prime minister also touched on the issue of riverbank erosion caused by sand dredging. He reminisced about his childhood in Kompong Cham province, where he would swim across the Mekong River to pick watermelons.

“Not anymore,” he said. “My grandparents’ land has collapsed into the river.”

He said that the riverbank’s collapse was caused by sand dredging, and called for a system to alert people about the possibility of extreme bank erosion.

“Don’t wait until the landslide happens to bring them assistance,” he said. “We would be better off explaining to them that the area will collapse into the river and tell them to move.”

Earlier this year, villagers in Kandal province reported illegal dredging in the Tonle Bassac riv-er, and said some of their homes were sliding into the water.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he believed the prime minister was misinformed on the events in Kompong Speu.

“He might not know that people have died of hunger. Maybe his people have not informed him,” Son Chhay said by telephone Tuesday.

“The public just laughs its head off when they hear what he says. People just wonder if he’s really in touch with the people,” he added.

Fellow SRP lawmaker Yim So-vann also accused the government of licensing many of the companies that dredge sand from river bottoms and deliberately ignoring those companies that do it illegally.

“They turn a blind eye on the wrong that is done. If they cared, they could do something, but they ignore the problem,” Yim Sovann said.


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