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In Pailin, Rural Development Remains Elusive

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining rural development.]

Villagers around the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin complain that they are facing a lack of clean water, schools, hospitals or clinics and land for farming.

Steung Trang commune is 30 kilometers from Pailin, accessible only by a gravel road that was only recently repaired, in time for the July 27 election.

Kong Naren, a villager in Tum Nup Thmei village, Steung Trang commune, Srala Krao district, said recently people here are facing a lack of farmland, water, latrines, hospitals and schools, and where there are school, there are not enough teachers. Srala Krao translates as "outside of school," in fact.

The lack of rural development in places like Srala Krao has become one of the election issues parties have taken up. Nine of the country's 11 competing parties campaigned around Pailin during the June 26 kickoff, promising the kind of development that voters in rural areas say they need.

Kong Naren has 10 children, but none of them go to school. A schoolhouse is too far away, he said, about 7 kilometers. Moreover, the family's poverty makes it too hard to send them to school. The children instead work to raise money for the family or help farm.

"My life here is facing all kinds of difficulties," Kong Naren said. "No water, no food, the house is deteriorating; our living is desperate. My family is like other families, desperate."

The only water sources come from the rain or a river red with earthen runoff, villagers said.

In the nearby village of Andong Reaksa, conditions are much the same.

"We face a lot of problems, no water, no land to farm," said one villager there. "These are the two greatest difficulties we are facing."

"We don't have enough schools, no pagoda for children to attend, so they cannot read and write," said another villager.

Some residents here said their land along the main road had increased in value until it was stolen, forcing them to work as farm laborers on another's land.

Steung Trang commune chief Vorn Ruom said he had 16 villages with 4,000 residents, most of whose living conditions were poorer than other villagers in Pailin.

His villagers lacked clean water, schools, teachers, hospitals or clinics, healthcare and medicine. Their farm produce is offered cheaply, because they are too far from town for good prices.

The people in Pailin where there is no development are looking for political parties that can convince them development will come, in more ways than a single gravel road.