|Opposition supporter Sao Pov, 48, who walked from Kampong Cham|
province to Phnom Penh over the course of a month, prays next
to her children during a CNRP demonstration in Freedom Park
last week. VIREAK MAI
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters and elected lawmakers have rallied around a 48-year-old widow who claims to have spent 23 days walking from Kampong Cham province to CNRP mass protests in Phnom Penh last week.
Heartened by Sao Pov’s story of trekking along the roadside with bags of rice in hand and children by her side, the public has already given her $5,000 in donations, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday.
Pov says her husband, an off-duty security guard, was shot dead during the coup of 1997, and that after a period of homelessness, she was later evicted from the capital’s Borei Keila community.
Ho Vann, an elected CNRP lawmaker, said that since Radio Free Asia had broadcast a story about Pov, the single mother had been inundated by pledges of cash to help her.
“People have given [thousands]. We’re scared people will try to steal her money if she goes back home, so we’re trying to create a new bank account for her,” Vann said, adding the CNRP was providing temporary
accommodation for her.
Pov told the Post on Thursday that after living a grief-stricken life for years, she decided on September 29 to carry her pain – and at times her young children – more than 120 kilometres to the CNRP’s three-day rally at Freedom Park.
“I have a strong spirit,” she said in the heat of the midday sun that shone down on thousands of protesters. “I knew I had to come to Freedom Park to find justice, peace and prosperity for our nation.”
People gathering around her at the park were moved by her story, with some labelling her “heroic” and “brave”.
Vann said that although he had not seen Pov walking along the road to Phnom Penh himself, he believed her story.
“She walked all this way because she wants to express her pain,” he said. “She moved to Borei Keila after her husband was killed in the coup of 1997.
“If you go and ask anyone at Borei Keila, they will know about her.”
However, not everyone does.
Sar Son, a community representative at Borei Keila who has lived at the site since 1998, said she did not recognise Pov’s name.
Oul Pau, deputy chief of Kampong Siem district’s Srak commune, where Pov lives, said he was not aware of her journey and had not seen her since July 28’s national election.
The Post has not been able to verify Pov’s claims that she left her village on September 29, not long after signing a CNRP petition to demand an investigation into the results of July 28’s national election.
But Touch Soy, a neighbour of Pov’s, said yesterday that she told him of her plans on September 28.
“I don’t know where she went, because after we spoke, the next day, I didn’t see her,” he said. “I thought maybe she left to work in Phnom Penh, and I was so surprised when I listened to the radio and she said she had walked all the way there.”
Pov said that at times during her journey, she walked with all three children at her side. When her six-year-old daughter grew tired, she carried her in her arms. At night, Pov said, they slept on the roadside.
“People have asked me why I struggle so hard,” she said. “I do this for my children.”
The mother believes change will provide better lives for her children than the one she has lived since 1997.
In that year, her husband, Khy Savuth, 41, whom she said was a security guard for Prince Norodom Chakrapong, was shot dead on Monivong Boulevard during factional fighting.
“I felt so much pain over that. My husband had left to buy me porridge but was shot dead. This is why I joined this mass demonstration.”
Sochua admitted Pov had “come out of nowhere” but said her story seemed legitimate.
“But she probably did not walk for 23 days straight . . . and she may have taken a truck along the way at times,” she said.
Either way, Pov said she has no plans to make the return journey on foot now that opposition protests have – for now, at least – come to an end.
“I’m sure someone going back will allow us to go with them,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA AND SHANE WORRELL