Rain Dampens Crowd Hopes For Festival

Despite the clogged streets and massive traffic jams that accompanied Water Festival weekend, officials said Sunday that the overall turnout was less than expected, hampered by forecasts of heavy rains.

According to Ministry of Tour­ism estimates, about 1 million people attended the three-day festival, which started Thursday, compared with its earlier forecasts of 2 million to 3 million. About a million attended last year.Chea Sokhom, deputy secretary-general of the Secretariat General for the Permanent Org­anizing Commission for National and International Cer­emonies, blamed the lower-than-anticipated turnout on initial warnings that Typhoon Mufia could bring heavy rains and winds to the capital.

“The weather forecast an-nounced a typhoon might occur. Therefore, people were afraid to come,” Chea Sokhom said. But, he said, “Then on the second and third day, more people arrived.”

Though the typhoon bypassed Cambodia, the festival was dampened by several rain storms.

During the annual boat races on the Tonle Sap which ran throughout the festival, at least 30 boats capsized due to strong gusts of wind and bursts of rain, Chea Sokhom said. No one was injured.

But on land, frequent fights broke out among spectators, Chea Sokhom said.

“People from the provinces don’t understand each other,” he said. “During the racing, they insulted each other about their provinces’ team’s performance.”

Nhem Phally, deputy secretary-general in charge of finances for the Water Festival, said Sunday that no records were yet available for the winners of the various categories of boat racing.

But, he said, first place winners received about $100 per team, second place winners received about $75, and third place winners received $50 per team. Win­ning team members each re­ceived 25 kg of rice, he added.

In the city’s bustling Daun Penh district, police set up doz­ens of checkpoints for the holiday to ensure that only vehicles with passes from the national ceremony commission were allowed to travel near the river, to cut down on traffic. Unofficially, though, the checkpoints served as a source of income for the military police, municipal traffic police and Interior Ministry security police officers stationed at each one, police and drivers said.

We have a “mutual understanding” with non-pass holders, Ser­geant Long Chhorn of the Daun Penh district police said Thurs­day at a checkpoint at Streets 240 and 19.

“We get a small amount from them, in order to buy some drinks for our forces,” he said as officers dropped 1,000 and 500 riel notes collected from drivers into a plastic bag tied to a motorbike.

Travelers, however, said the bribes were an expected, if irritating, fact of life.

“Society is like that nowadays. We feel very bored with this,” sugar cane vendor Bun Sry said on Thursday, looking back at the checkpoint where he had just paid 1,000 riel to pass. “But if we don’t pay, we cannot do anything.”

In Siem Reap on Sunday, officials said the number of tourists attending Water Festival celebrations there appeared to have increased, though no estimates were available.

“There were minor crimes, such as pickpockets, thieves, snatchings and lost items,” said Pin Sok Heng, bureau chief of Siem Reap social order police. Even so, crime was low, he said.

Pen Tung, deputy police chief in charge of crime in Pursat province, said many people decided to stay in their home provinces for this year’s Water Festival, as they had no money to travel for leisure due to the nationwide drought.

Rather than spending money to attend the festival events, many people from his province instead headed west to the Thai border to find jobs, Pen Tung said.

(Additional reporting by Pin Sis­ovann and Corrine Purtill)


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