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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Largest-ever festival expected

Largest-ever festival expected

PHNOM PENH may host the largest Water Festival in Cambodian history, government officials

said.

Last year, about two million people arrived in Phnom Penh from the provinces to celebrate

the festival, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. This year, even more people

are expected to flood the capital.

The large turnout is expected in light of the other events surrounding this year's

celebrations. The King's 81st birthday was celebrated on October 31 and the 50th

anniversary of Cambodia's independence falls on the last day of the Water Festival,

which runs from November 7-9. Better transportation was also cited as a reason.

"This year the road to Siem Reap is much better, so there will be many people

in Phnom Penh, as well as from the other provinces," Kanharith said.

Provincial visitors in Phnom Penh can appreciate public parks strung with decorative

lights, a parade and three days of boat racing during the Water Festival. A procession

of formal ceremonies and free concerts are also planned.

On Saturday, November 8, each ministry will place wreaths of flowers at the base

of Independence Monument. The next morning, on Independence Day, the King and Queen

will light the torch at the monument during a red-carpet ceremony commemorating the

country's independence.

King Sihanouk, accompanied by Queen Monineath, will then appear at the front of the

Royal Palace to make a speech in Khmer on Cambodia's quest for independence. Later,

the Royal couple will watch a parade as it proceeds past the palace on the way to

the Independence Monument. The procession will include 27 ministries, 30 cars carrying

government officials and a detachment of French Marines from the Navy frigate Prairial

now moored in Sihanoukville.

Tith Sunthorn, a member of the ceremonial organizing committee, POCNIC, said he expects

at least 50,000 people to listen to the King speak in front of the palace. Another

10,000 are expected to join in the parade to the Independence Monument. He said the

traditional army procession will not appear this year.

The King and Queen will end the celebration on November 11 at 4 pm by extinguishing

the flame inside the Independence Monument.

Kong Sam Ol, Minister of Royal Palace, is organizing the events. A palace official

working with him said no expense was being spared to prepare for this year's festivities.

"There is great spending for this year's celebration," he said. The official

estimated the cost would exceed the budget of most other Water Festivals, but he

could not divulge a figure.

Chea Kean, deputy general secretary at POCNIC, also said a platform has been prepared

on the riverfront for VIPs to watch the boat racing during the festival, as well

as the nightly procession of illuminated barges.

Several ministries are sponsoring the brightly-lit boats that will be towed up the

Tonle Sap each night. Seven of the lantern-boats will be sponsored by the Royal Palace,

the Senate, the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Justice,

the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Defense.

But along with the festivities, the Water Festival poses a myriad of headaches for

those providing services to the millions of people expected to pack into Phnom Penh

during the holiday weekend.

Government officials said they would impose measures to limit the traffic congestion,

which usually brings parts of the city to a halt during the festival.

Traffic police officer Sok Hen said he had received orders from his commander to

organize the traffic along city streets.

"During the Water Festival and Independence Day, we will not fine any passengers

who drive their motorbikes or cars incorrectly," he said. "We only tell

them to drive in the right way in order to make traffic better."

Chief of the Municipal Cabinet Mann Chhouen said he has already organized at least

60 portable toilets to accommodate boat racers housed near the Cambodian-Japanese

Friendship Bridge. He said additional public toilets had not been made available.

But accommodating the influx of visitors has always been a challenge.

Municipal police chief Soun Chheagly said in the past year the authorities had encountered

problems with missing children.

"Last year, we found 40 children who had lost their parents or relatives,"

said Chheagly.

To help address the problems this year, he has ordered more than 4,000 police, soldiers

and military police to provide security and assistance around Phnom Penh.

In an addition to the record number of spectators, this year's festival may present

the most demanding competition for racers rowing on the Tonle Sap.

There are 376 racing-boats vying for highest honors in the races this month, said

organizers. The boats will be crewed by more than 23,000 racers, 876 of whom are

women.

The boats hail from almost every province in the country. The military police, Army

and Khmer Kampuchea Krom community have also sponsored boats.

Among the competitors, hopes are high that they will emerge winners in this year's

races.

Nhab Samon, district chief of Kampong Tralach, said he sponsored four racing boats

with a crew of 136 racers.

He said that his boats are well known throughout Kampong Chhnang province.

"Victory depends on training," he said. "We train them until they

are strong."

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