More than 1,000 impoverished Cambodians marched on the National Assembly Tuesday, calling for international donors to ensure the government uses its aid properly.
The protesters, who claimed to be a cross-section of rural and city poor, began massing in front of the legislature early Tuesday. The police erected metal barricades, which kept early protesters at bay until Sam Rainsy and a group of demonstrators from his party arrived.
They pushed the blockades aside and began shouting at the government.
Police made no move to stop the protesters, and no one was arrested in a day of demonstrations. There was a confrontation between a union activist and a security guard at the Japanese Embassy on Norodom Boulevard, but no other reports of violence.
Sam Rainsy presented a nine-point program, which called on donors, among other things, “to stop being complacent” in the face of government corruption.
Other protesters came because of more personal reasons.
“We are the victims of land grabbing by local authorities, who confiscated our land and ordered the military forces to threaten and arrest villagers,” Tev Sokal, 36, of Koh Kong province, said at the assembly.
Touch Pin, 30, of Ratanakkiri province, said the situation in his home province is becoming worse and many people are blaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“We are living with hopelessness because of the policy of communist leader Hun Sen,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara had forbidden the protests, saying they would embarrass the government.
The annual donors’ meeting is scheduled to open today, and for the first time, it is being held in Phnom Penh.
The government, which is asking for $1.4 billion over the next three years, has pared down its aid request from last year with the knowledge that international donors have made Afghanistan and East Timor top priorities.
But any amount of aid is wasted here, Touch Pin said.
“The government has taken this money to buy nice houses, expensive vehicles and a lot of money sent to overseas banks,” he said. “Where is the money?”