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Opposition: High Prices Preventable

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Monday one factor in the high price of rice was local middlemen who buy unhusked rice for cheap, process it, and sell it back at a higher rate.

The high mark-up on processed rice was too much to ask most consumers and farmers, he said, and it was only one domestic reason prices have been hurting Cambodians.

"We are all victims," Sam Rainsy said, as a guest on "Hello VOA."

"The rogue businessmen make a huge profit at the expense of farmers and consumers," he said.

The government has faced increasing pressure to curb inflation and last month put a ban on the export of rice and injected subsidized rice into the marketplace.

Sam Rainsy meanwhile held a demonstration of a few hundred people Sunday to protest the rising cost of living.

Sam Rainsy said that middlemen pay only 900 riel for a kilogram of rice, then process it and sell it back on the market for almost 4,000 riel.

He said a reasonable price of rice should be about 1,500 riel.

In the last few months, prices of rice and other foods have gone up across Asia and around the world.

Many governments, including Cambodia, have taken steps to stabilize the price and to ensure enough supply in their countries.

They have temporarily suspended rice exports and have issued government-owned rice to alleviate the problem.

In another measure the Cambodian government last week boosted the wages of garment factory workers by $6.

However, Sam Rainsy said he was not impressed.

That amount was not enough to counter inflation, he said.

"The price of consumer goods has doubled. Therefore, salaries have to double too," he said. "What can you do with six extra dollars? I have met some farmers who told me that their children used to send them money from the cities to help them out. But now, they say they have to send rice to their children in the cities because their children no longer make enough money to support themselves."

Sam Rainsy admitted that food prices increase everywhere in the world. However, he said, in other countries they don't go up as drastically as Cambodia. Also, in other countries, incomes are higher than Cambodia, so people's lives are not affected as badly as in Cambodia.

The key to lower food prices is land distribution, he said.

"In order to lower the price of rice and other foodstuffs, land must be distributed to farmers to increase food production," he said. "When food production is increased, prices will go down. Therefore, we have to give the land back to the people so that they can grow crops."