THE FALLOUT from the violence and mayhem emanating from the rash of political demonstrations
over recent weeks has extended beyond the participants and affected business, day
to day life and even religion.
And it is not just Phnom Penh that has been affected, people in the provinces have
been too scared to travel, checkpoints have reappeared on some roads, and pagodas
throughout the country have been empty following reports of Buddhist monks being
It is the assault on the monks that has drawn the strongest reaction from people.
Since the crackdown on demonstrations, the authorities have been sending police to
check the temples in Phnom Penh. This has coincided with the annual two week Buddhist
ceremony, Pchum Ben, a time for remembering one's ancestors.
Normally at this time pagodas across the country are crowded with people. But this
year many pagodas, particularly in the capital, have been shunned because people
fear there could be problems.
Phok Kun, 64, a clergyman and a member of the commission of Wat Tuol Tom Pong in
Phnom Penh, lamented the lack of people visiting the pagoda.
"I heard the people mention the situation, they are afraid of going far from
their homes," he said.
He said they have not had any problems at the pagoda, but one of his monks was injured
by an electric baton when he got caught up in a demonstration.
He said 33 monks at his temple study at Soramrith Buddhist School. "They are
trucked to and from school everyday. One day the monks were prevented from leaving
school by police, so they were worried and went along with others with the aim of
finding a way to the school," he said.
"It coincided with the dispersal of demonstrators by the police and one monk
of my temple, named Kim Channan, was injured by an electric baton."
Meanwhile, for people whose concerns are more temporal than spiritual, the demonstrations
have caused havoc for business.
Stall holders in markets near demonstrations took to shutting up shop rather than
risk being looted if the crowds got out of hand.
Along the roads to the provinces, checkpoints set up ostensibly to check for agitators
fleeing the capital and weapons have doubled as cash cows for corrupt police.
Sem Rith, 32, a taxi driver who runs the route between Phnom Penh and Battambang,
said his business has slowed down since the demonstrations.
He said sometimes there were only a few passengers on his pickup truck. Furthermore,
he added, there are nine checkpoints along the road - each one costing money
"Since the checkpoints have been installed, I spend from 10,000 to 15,000 riel
for them," he said. "It reduced my income - sometimes for a trip I
am left with only some money for petrol."
At each checkpoint, all passengers had to get out of the trucks or cars to enable
the police and the military police to check their identity.
But he said he did not know how the police could identify someone coming from the
provinces to protest because it is not something you would let on you were doing.
Rith, who lives in Battambang, said demonstrations were a popular topic of conversation
among the locals. "They are very concerned about the situation. They worry that
either insecurity or war may break out," he said.
However he added that in the province there has been no problem. "There has
not been any movement of troops, the situation is good," he said.
He said his passengers often talked about the political situation as they traveled
in his taxi. "I heard people discuss the situation, some blamed the government
for not responding to the demands of the demonstrators," he said. Others, he
added, said if this kind of situation continues it will be bad for the country.
It is not just the Battambang route that is being affected.
Oum Than, 63, a taxi driver from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, also complained that
his income had dropped due to the checkpoints.
"Prior to the demonstration, there had not been any checkpoints, but now there
are seven," he said. "I spend from 7,000-8,000 riel per trip [for checkpoints]
although I have less passengers in my pickup truck," he said.
Asked what he thought of the political situation, he said the party leaders should
compromise and free the people from chaos and fear.
He said that in Sihanoukville, the situation is calm, but like in Battambang the
demonstrations are a hot topic of conversation and that most of his passengers seemed
to support the opposition-led demonstrations.
"Most of them support Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh, especially recently after
they heard that monks were injured by the police," he said.
However, a passenger in one taxi heading for Kandal said people in her area just
wanted peace and were not interested in politics.
"The people in my village do not care who is the winner or the loser, the thing
they prefer is harmony," she said.
Ny Mao, 28, a taxi driver from Phnom Penh to Svay Rieng said he was facing ruin because
of the demonstrations.
He said that within these past weeks he could not earn any income because of the
lack of passengers. "Now, sometimes I can only afford to buy petrol," he
He said if his business remained at the current level his family would be in trouble.
Asked who was to blame he said: "It is difficult to say because I do not know
politics, but I do not want this kind of thing happening, it causes a lot of difficulties
to myself and other people."