Hundreds gathered yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park for the fifth Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly, where they called for issues ranging from deforestation to democracy to be addressed ahead of ASEAN integration.
About 700 people from the Cambodian Cross Sector Network, a group made up of 40 grassroots organisations, travelled from provinces around the country to attend the event.
With the theme of “ASEAN Integration”, participants were divided into four groups to discuss issues involved with human rights and democracy, social protection, agriculture and fisheries, and natural resources.
Chhay Savun, a farmer from Prey Veng province, spoke of fears that Cambodian farmers would not be able to compete with those elsewhere in the region.
The government should “provide a loan with a low interest rate to farmers, prevent the importation of products that locals already have and set standard food prices in the market” to relieve those fears, he said.
“The government should also help by sending more experts to teach farmers” here new skills, he added.
Elsewhere at the assembly, Pursat province land activist Nhong Khun urged the government to “speed up the registration of community forests so that they will be easy for people to protect”.
Teachers at yesterday’s event called for improvements to the education system, including recruiting more teachers and providing health insurance and overtime pay.
Government officials who attended the assembly said concerns raised were being addressed.
Huor Chhunkry, a Ministry of Education representative, said reforms were already being implemented, but acknowledged that some changes were proving “slow”.
Organisers said concerns raised at yesterday’s event would be compiled and sent on to relevant ministries and institutions in the coming weeks.
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor at local rights group Licadho, said that with ASEAN integration looming, the government needed to act quickly to address the concerns.
“When Cambodians go to their countries, we work as the [low-level] workers, but when they come to our country they are the bosses, so what is the problem? If people are forced to focus on land disputes, how can they have time to consider social development, especially since they don’t have money to support their children’s education?” he asked.
“Therefore, in the future, will our human resources be able to gain a key position in the ASEAN market? This is what the government should think about.”