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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pre-festival crackdown nets 40

Pre-festival crackdown nets 40

Rights groups condemn the government's latest roundup of homeless

THE Phnom Penh Municipality has launched a pre-Water Festival crackdown on homelessness that has seen at least 40 people detained, including two children in its first day.  

"We arrest them only for big national celebrations to keep order and create a good atmosphere during the celebrations, especially the Water Festival," Pich Socheata, Daun Penh district deputy governor, told the Post Tuesday.

"We start to collect the street people one week before the Water Festival. In 2007, we arrested 70 people before the festival started. If we add up the number of people we arrested last year, there were 200 or 300," she said.

The roundup, which began Sunday and ends Friday, focuses on 11 Phnom Penh communes. Those detained are kept at Ministry of Social Affairs rehabilitation centres, Pich Socheata added.

But rights groups and the United Nations have lashed out at the crackdown.

"It is not by rounding up poor people from the street that one struggles effectively against poverty," said Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

"This is done in the name of beautification, but there is no beauty in collecting poor people from the street and sending them to so-called rehabilitation centres - which are de facto detention centres," he added.

The Water Festival, which runs next Tuesday to Thursday, is expected to attract millions of visitors from Cambodia and abroad.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naruth said at a conference last Thursday that NGOs were unfairly criticising the pre-festival dragnet.

"We always hear the accusation from civil society groups when we arrest people in public places. They say we violate their freedoms and we never give them skills, but through this conference, I would like to deny that we ever do what they are accusing us," he said.

"If we really did what they say we are doing, there wouldn't be homelessness in Cambodia ... those street people are not willing to stay in the centres that we offer," he added.

He said the government faces serious resource shortages but was making a genuine effort to help street people find alternative ways of life.

One Phnom Penh resident complained that her son had been falsely detained for a drug offence.

"Last night they arrested my son and daughter, who are under the age of 25, by accusing them of using drugs. But I believe that they do not use drugs at all," said San Heang, 53.

"They said they arrested my children to make order for the city. Please, I would like to get them back," she said.

"I understand that having beggars is really not good for the city. But what can be done?" she asked.

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