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Party Seeks to Woo Vote of Farmers

The Human Rights Party is seeking to reach voters in Cambodia's broad agricultural sector by proposing a plan to give a unified voice to farmers.

The party has already established a farmer union, which it hopes would grow into a larger congress. Together, the farmers could push for governmental policies that benefit agriculture, including subsidies and low-interest rate loans.

"Eighty percent of Cambodians are farmers and are an economic and political force for stabilizing Cambodian politics," said Kem Sokha, president of the party. "The Human Rights Party has a policy to establish the national farmer congress, to push for economic growth and agricultural progress."

Growth in the agricultural sector would bring more economic growth nationwide, benefiting vendors, workers and state employees, he said.

Farmers face numerous challenges, including the lack of farmland, irrigation, modern techniques, capital and access to markets. They also face high interest rates for borrowing.

Sok Sina, an independent economic analyst, said he was not opposed to a congress.

"First, we have to free farmers from poverty," he said. "If the farmers are in poverty, we cannot promote national economic growth."

But the congress should be free from political control, said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

"If the congress is not under the control of anyone, and serves only the farmers' interests, it will be a force to develop agricultural development," he said.