|Sao Peou speaks to RFA at Freedom Park, Phnom Penh, |
Oct 24, 2013. RFA photo
A poor Cambodian widow and her three children walked 23 days from her rural village on the central lowlands of the Mekong River to the capital Phnom Penh to join a mammoth opposition rally this week aimed at questioning the legitimacy of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government following disputed elections.
Unable to pay for a bus ride that takes only several hours from their home province of Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh, the 47-year-old Sao Peou said she resorted to walking nearly 200 kilometers (about 120 miles) with her children aged six, 10 and 13 years to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) protest site at Freedom Park.
“I came here not for my personal benefit, I am here for the sake of the younger generation...who face a bleak future,” said Sao Peou, wearing blue badges on her blouse calling for "change."
Hun Sen has ignored the CNRP's demands, convening parliament despite an opposition boycott and unilaterally approving his 28th year in power.
For Sao Peou and the thousands of others who came from the provinces to camp out at Freedom Park for three nights, their journey also symbolized a desire to highlight growing problems in Cambodia's rural areas—unending poverty, rising unemployment and rampant corruption, among them, she said.
Video: Sao Peou speaks to Radio Free Asia
The problems have forced Cambodians to emigrate to neighboring countries to seek jobs, said the bespectacled woman, as her children rested at the park.
Sao Peou walked nearly 200 kilometers (about 120 miles) from Kampong Cham province's Kampong Siem district to Phnom Penh.
Sao Peou, who is from Kampong Cham province's Kampong Siem district, cited her own domestic conditions to illustrate the point, saying she and her children have been toiling as garbage scavengers since her husband was killed in a 1997 coup in which Hun Sen seized power.
“End to corruption, that is what I want," she said. "I have a difficult life these days because of CPP's rule," she said, admitting that she was an ardent CPP supporter at one time.
"Cambodians are still leaving the country to seek jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and other countries. They have been treated badly there."
While Sau Peou joined the demonstrations that ended Friday, her children were busy collecting empty plastic bottles left behind by the huge crowd.
They want to sell them to make some money—possibly enough for the trio to take a bus ride home.
"If I don’t have enough money from selling the bottles, we'll try to hitchhike home,” said the tenacious Sao Peou.