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Clean sweep for ASEAN

Clean sweep for ASEAN

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Cutting classes: an unknown number of schools along main roads will be closed temporarily during US President Barack Obama’s visit to Phnom Penh. Photograph: Nina Loacker/Phnom Penh Post

Children who sell goods on the street and beggars would be “collected” and taken to the Prey Speu social affairs centre – which has two-metre-high walls and lockable gates – for the duration of the upcoming ASEAN Summit, a City Hall spokesman said yesterday.

Such action was necessary to make a good impression on visiting leaders such as US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche told the Post.

“We need to make good security for the foreign delegations that join the ASEAN meeting,” he said.

“We plan to collect beggars and children who are walking and selling goods and fruit on the street, and put them in Prey Speu.”

Those taken to the centre – from which about 20 women and children from Borei Keila escaped in January – would be provided with training in the centre and would be free to go when they pleased, Dimanche said.

“If the leaders from across ASEAN and the world see beggars and children on the street, they might speak negatively to the government.”

David Harding, deputy director of the NGO Friends International, said that although it was not always acknowledged by visiting delegations, this type of action was becoming common among host nations in the lead-up to big international events.

“The larger the [visiting] country involved, the higher the anxiety about how these people are perceived,” he said, adding there were options other than sending people the government wanted off the street to Prey Speu.

“These places are not adequate for people to live in a humane way . . . so we’re working very hard to create [other options].”

The government was, however, beginning to recognise alternatives to this approach and was working with NGOs that provided suitable services, Harding said.

One security guard, who did not want to be named, told the Post yesterday high-ranking officials had stated in no uncertain terms that beggars and sellers must be cleared from his Wat Phnom beat – near the US embassy – before world leaders arrived for the summit, which will runs from November 18 to 20.

“I’ve already told them not to operate here during the ASEAN Summit, because it makes our city look bad and visiting officials won’t like it. We had to do the same thing earlier this year,” he said, referring to ASEAN summits in April and July.

Homeless veteran Thoeun, an amputee who sells books near Wat Phnom, said he expected to be banned from working his usual patch, but was not sticking around to find out.

“I know our country has this ASEAN meeting next week, so I already know what I have to do for the sake of my business – go somewhere else.”

Beggars along the river say they too have been told they are not welcome during ASEAN.

Srey, 45, whose husband has been locked in Prey Speu under similar circumstances before, said police had told her to beg somewhere less public – and lucrative.

“I don’t really know what’s happening here next week. I was just told to move because there’s a big meeting,” she said.

About 100 Boeung Kak and Borei Keila residents, mostly women, continued protesting yesterday on parkland outside the US embassy, a short distance from Wat Phnom.

The group, who left the area on Wednesday night after being confronted by scores of police who threatened them with arrest, plan to protest each day until Obama arrives, in the hope he will intervene to secure the release of imprisoned activists Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony.

“However, we don’t sleep here,” Boeung Kak resident Song Srey Leap said. “We’ll leave at night.”

Song Srey Leap said an embassy official had told the protesters later they should write a letter requesting a formal meeting with US ambassador William Todd.

Dimanche said City Hall was considering what action it would take if the protesters remained there until the ASEAN Summit.

In a separate attempt at cleaning up the streets yesterday, City Hall asked residents who live along main roads to keep their houses looking neat and tidy.

“Avoid placing your garbage in front of the house or illegally dumping it along the boulevards and roads, which could impact public order, traffic, [the] beauty and image of Phnom Penh as well as of the whole country,” a statement says.

Some students would also have to play their part in ensuring the success of the summit, the final big event of Cambodia’s chairmanship, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday.

Schools on Russian Boulevard will close from November 16 to 21 – as they did for ASEAN events in April and July – to ensure traffic does not become too congested for dignitaries.

“I expect students will understand and forgive us for missing school for a short time,” Hun Sen said.

Meanwhile, more than 100 families who fear eviction from their homes near Phnom Penh International Airport in the lead-up to the summit face a nervous wait.

Chray Nem, a resident of Por Sen Chey district’s Choam Chao commune, said residents were still worried they would be thrown off their properties to make room for a security fence.

“I have heard a rumour that the authorities won’t do this now, but we don’t believe rumours until we receive an official letter in our hands.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]; Mom Kunthear at [email protected] ; Shane Worrell at [email protected]

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