Hundreds of villagers continued their protests Thursday over their exclusion from the Asian Development Bank’s recently completed emergency food distributions in 200 communes around the Tonle Sap Lake and in Oddar Meanchey province, human rights workers said.
Angry villagers left out of the emergency rice distribution caused serious disturbances in two communes in Kompong Chhnang province, leading to the temporary suspension of the aid distribution, and one instance of violence was reported, the ADB said.
Banteay Meanchey province coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, Suom Chankea, said more than 300 villagers protested at Banteay Chhmar commune office in Thma Puok district Thursday over alleged unfair rice distributions in their village of Banteay Chhmar Khang Tbong.
The angry protesters demanded that their village chief be removed as he had given rice to well-off friends and family while excluding poor people in the area, Suom Chankea said.
The protesters had demonstrated at the commune office and provincial offices since the rice distributions in the area were held Oct 29.
“No one finds justice for them,” Suom Chankea added.
In all eight districts in Banteay Meanchey there were irregularities during the rice distribution, Suom Chankea said, adding that the most egregious incidents had taken place in Thma Puok and O’Chrou districts.
Adhoc had received complaints from 800 different villagers from four communes in O’Chrou and Malai districts, he added.
ADB Project Implementation Officer Long Piseth said the rice distribution, which was intended for 68,000 poor families, had “not been going well.”
The ADB would soon look into the complaints seriously, he said Thursday, adding that 50 official complaints had been received so far through the ADB’s telephone hot line.
Most of the complaints accused village chiefs of “bias and nepotism” in those chosen to receive rice and for excluding others from the beneficiary lists, Long Piseth said.
In two or three communes the rice distributions had to be temporarily suspended when angry villagers, who were excluded from the list of needy households, caused disturbances during the rice handouts, Long Piseth said.
In Kompong Chhnang province’s Phsar Chnnang and Chhnok Trou communes there had been “serious problems” during rice disbursements, with large groups of villagers protesting and “some kind of violence” in Chhnok Trou commune, he said.
Long Piseth said that he was surprised by the amount of complaints and that he “didn’t expect this type of complaint.”
Most of the reported problems were due to problems at the local level, he added, and had occurred in cases where local officials had not followed the ADB’s advice in selecting beneficiaries at village meetings.
The ADB will now ask NGOs to check the selection of beneficiaries for further rice distributions scheduled to take place in three slum areas in Phnom Penh after the Water Festival, he added.