With the departure of most of the Asean delegations Wednesday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy ended his four-day hunger strike but continued to blast the Asean Summit participants for not discussing poverty reduction, the environment or human rights.
“I always think about the people who have no choice,” Sam Rainsy said at a news conference.
“Before the Asean Summit the government evicted the beggars and sent the homeless to the countryside to pretend that Cambodia is very clean…the government wants to reduce poverty, maybe when those people die there will be no more poverty.”
Sam Rainsy began fasting Saturday to protest what he claims was the government’s lavish summit spending at a time when hundreds of thousands of rural Cambodians are facing a food shortage.
Sam Rainsy ate porridge on Wednesday afternoon, avoiding rice on the advice of his doctors, he said.
Though he had threatened to take to the streets with mobs of protesters, Sam Rainsy said Tuesday he decided against a public march because it was contrary to what had been a relatively low-profile fast. “[A demonstration] would clash with the spirit of a hunger strike,” he said.
World Food Program estimates put about 671,000 Cambodians at risk of running out of food in the wake of heavy seasonal flooding and the worst drought in years.
While Sam Rainsy was the fiercest critic of the summit, at least two other sideline meetings were held to push the point that Asean’s policies often have little to do with the people they are meant to serve. The Asean People’s Forum and the Southeast Asian People’s Festival ended several days of discussions and cultural events by attempting to march to the Hotel Inter-Continental, where the Asean delegates held their own talks.
But the small group of protesters that tried to breech the heavy security surrounding the hotel were turned back by police Monday and had their banners confiscated.
Both groups said Asean leaders didn’t address human rights, and expressed concern that a region-wide pledge to combat terrorism could result in governments unfairly cracking down on dissident voices in their own countries.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)