Villagers Who Came to Capital Promised Money to Buy Rice

More than 650 hungry villagers from Takeo province rumbled out of Phnom Penh with smil­ing faces Tuesday after being promised money to buy rice from a man claiming to be a government official.

The villagers, hailing from Samraong district, arrived in the capital from their drought-strick­­en area around 10 am Tuesday hoping for food from King Norodom Sihamoni.

They had paid 3,000 riel each to make the trip from Chonleat Dai, Pieng Veng and Dak Po villages in Roveang commune, and had taken shelter from the sun under some trees near Wat Botum and the Ministry of Interior’s body­guard department headquarters. For several hours, police watched as the villagers milled around, waiting for a response. Chonleat Dai village Chief Teh Phen said the drought had left many villagers hungry and desperate.

“People are just suffering,” said Teh Phen, 67. “Some families don’t have even a cup of rice to eat.”

Around 3 pm, a man who claimed to be the governor of Samraong district, but who would not give his name, told the villagers “his excellency” would pay them $37.50 per truckload of villagers if they returned home. The man did not say who “his excellency” referred to before rushing to his car and driving away.

Takeo Governor Kuch Chantha confirmed Tuesday evening that he had agreed to pay 100,000 riel (around $25) to each of the eight truckloads of villagers.

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