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Tempers rise as flood waters recede

Tempers rise as flood waters recede

D

ESPERATION of rural poor facing ruin by flooding snapped at Stung Chveng village

last Saturday night, when village chief Pou Heng was "chopped" to death

as he slept.

Heng, 43, had angered local villagers by compiling two lists of names of people wanting

aid and rice to see them through the floods, but one of the lists consisted only

of his own relatives who got preferential treatment.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen alluded to the murder the next day, Oct 14, saying

he heard about an "incident" and asking people not to repeat such a thing.

Any problem with aid was not the fault of village chiefs, he said. The Government

was doing what it could to help.

Two witnesses from Stung Chveng village - maybe 60 kms from the capital, a Khmer

Rouge "resting place" and now only accessible by boat - confirmed the attack

by a group of villagers angry at the way Heng had satisfied the security of his own

family and relatives.

Khean Sophal, 21, and Sok Chea, 28, confirmed that feelings had been running high

at the village because of the discrepancy in the lists.

Others seeking help from authorities in the capital - and the Palace, various ministries

and leaders' houses have been busy fielding requests throughout the last fortnight,

from groups coming from many different provinces - say news has been heard of other

village chiefs afraid to sleep in their houses for fear of similar retribution.

International aid has come in for those affected by the freak floods, the worst since

1978. Japan and the United States gave more than $100,000, Australia $450,000 - most

of that to the World Food Program - and $75,000 from Save the Children Australia.

Cambodian Red Cross director Uy Samath told Reuters news agency that the flooding,

which has claimed 25 lives, had decreased "and the situation now is better everywhere."

However, at press time Svay Rieng township on the eastern border with Vietnam was

still underwater - the first time in memory that has happened - and around 10,000

people had been displaced from their homes.

The road from Phnom Penh to Neak Leoung had been breached, or nearly breached, in

eight places, and authorities had sandbagged the spots to prevent flooding from topping

and eroding the main highway to Vietnam.

Water marks indicated the flood had receded some 40 centimeters, but thousands of

villagers were camped along the national highway. Paddies on both sides of the road

were still completely flooded.

Downtown Svay Rieng was inundated under a meter of water. In the town center there

were more boats and canoes than motor vehicles. A make-shift market had been set

up on the outskirts of town because the main one was unusable.

Altogether, on Route 1 to Vietnam, a rough calculation indicated between 20,000 and

30,000 farmers and perhaps an equal number of cattle were camping on the roadside.

Flying back from Ho Chi Minh City one could see gigantic swaths of countryside under

water. Some villages looked totally isolated with the nearest dry land three or four

kilometers away. The normal course of the Mekong could only be discerned by trees

on higher embankments sticking out of the water. Otherwise flood waters spread on

both sides of the Mekong and Bassac south of Phnom Penh for 15 to 20 kilometers.

Along Rouge 6 to Kompong Cham - a road still broken and impassable - hundreds of

people are still living in temporary bamboo shelters, along with their cows.

Food prices had increased sharply, despite Hun Sen's pleas for restraint in market

forces, and people were still pointing toward the middle of huge lakes explaining

where their chili crop, or rice paddy, or vegetable crop would normally be.

York Chreung, 65, said "the flood comes every year during the rainy season,

but it's just very bad this year and has not gone away quickly.

"It has covered all the villagers' crops, especially the rice. If the government

helped us dig streams or ponds, or provided us with pump machines, the flood [like

this] could come every year and we wouldn't have to worry about it.

"Last dry season we could not work on the farm because of a lack of water. We're

not lazy people, we try to work hard but nature and the free market doesn't help

us."

Many villagers knew from experience that when the waters receded, the land would

be very fertile, "but even if the flood brings good fertilizer, we still find

it hard to work because we have no seed or irrigation," Chreung said.

Meanwhile in Phnom Penh, many of those seeking help from authorities were upset at

being turned away for help. People interviewed by the Post said they had been refused

by guards at the Palace and at Ranariddh's house "because [the visit] had not

been organized by the village authorities, but by yourselves."

The people complained of having had to spend 20,000 riel to come to Phnom Penh and

had no money to get home, no place to sleep in the capital, and little to return

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