City Readies for Boat Races

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Boats line the Tonle Sap before a race. KT/Chor Sokunthea

More than 250 boats and 16,000 competitors will participate in three days of racing during this year’s Water Festival in Phnom Penh, government officials said yesterday.
The boat races are an integral part of the annual holiday – which this year will be from November 13 to 15 – and it has been two years since they were held.
Last year, the government canceled the event, claiming the water levels of the river were too low.
In a post on his Facebook page, Kem Gunawadh, director-general of National Television of Cambodia, said 256 boats were slated to join the Water Festival races.
The boats, he said, would have to be parked about 100 meters to the south of the Cambodia-Chinese Friendship Bridge and boats must gather north of the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge for the start of the races.
“The water levels of the Tonle Sap for the Water Festival in front of the Royal Palace will be about 6.20 meters,” said Mr. Gunawadh, adding that there are five places for boat racers and team leaders to stay in a satellite city development near a roundabout east of Chroy Changvar Bridge.
Mr. Gunwadh said concerts will be held on Koh Pich and in Wat Botum Park, Wat Phnom, Freedom Park and other venues. His television station will carry live footage of all the events.  
While government officials in Phnom Penh prepare the city for the Water Festival, hospitals across the country are bracing for a steep rise in traffic accidents as citizens travel during the holiday.
Health Minister Mam Bun Heng informed all provincial health departments to have staff on call 24 hours a day starting on November 10, according to a letter sent out by secretary of state at the Health Ministry Tae Kuyseang.
“The Health Ministry wants to inform all directors of all health departments in the country to know that during the Water Festival, the people will travel both day and night and traffic accidents will happen,” the letter read.
“So all referral hospitals and health centers have to have health officials on guard 24 hours at the places in order to help and treat victims without discriminating against whether they are rich or poor.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in September that boat races would be held this year regardless of the water levels after he was on the receiving end of a harsh barrage of criticism for canceling the event last year.
Opposition party members at the time claimed the event was stopped not because of the water levels but because authorities were worried about protests due to the then-recent beatings of two opposition members and the filing of charges against opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
“No matter what happens this year, the Water Festival must be celebrated, even if the water is only two meters,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
The races have been canceled for four of the five past years after a stampede led to the deaths of more than 300 spectators in 2010. In 2011 and 2013, the government claimed flooding had forced them to shelve the event, and in 2012, the death of King Norodom Sihanouk led to the cancelation of all festivities.

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