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Prime Minister floats venues for disabled street singers

A man donates money to a blind woman signing on the side of the road in Phnom Penh last year.
A man donates money to a blind woman signing on the side of the road in Phnom Penh last year. Sreng Meng Srun

Prime Minister floats venues for disabled street singers

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday offered to give musicians with disabilities who earn their livings playing for traffic-bound vehicles in the capital – and at times have been blamed for contributing to that congestion – a new venue for their performances: Wat Phnom.

Speaking at a Disabled Person’s Day event, the premier urged several groups of musicians – about 20 in total – to combine into just five groups, saying he would also spend up to $200,000 in donor funds to provide them new instruments.

City Hall has in the past mooted bans on the groups singing along major thoroughfares, though in practice, the performances have continued unmolested.

“If you want the government and authorities to solve the problem, you, yourself, have to be united. If you are not united, who is going to unite with you?” he asked, adding it was necessary to avoid “a messy situation” with performers crooning at traffic lights.

“People experienced traffic accidents since they kept their eyes on the performance, not on the road, so please, understand each other and understand about the difficulties of the authorities and the whole country,” he said.

He said Wat Phnom, surrounded by a roundabout where it is difficult for vehicles to stop, could serve as a performance space, but he also floated the options of Freedom Park – which he said yesterday would no longer hold protests – and Wat Botum.

Pov Thearith, Chea Savoeurn and Chab Tou, all of whom head disabled bands, expressed concern that uniting into large groups would see their profits – from $25 to $100 a day – drop.

“It is right that the prime minister worries about traffic congestion and accidents, but small groups make more money than bigger ones. But the government is like our parent; they think it is good, so we must follow,” Tou said.

Savoeurn and Thearith both feared the leaders of newly formed groups may exploit other members.

Em Chan Makara, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, said he would meet with 16 groups this week to discuss the issue further.

“We understand their feeling of concern, but it will be good for them when they are able to work in a professional group. We want to see their lives valued and improved,” he said.

Ngin Saorath, of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation, said the move was “a good sign for blind musicians”, but urged the government to do more. “No one wants to sing on the street for their career.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ERIN HANDLEY

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