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Politics Suspected in Halt to Cambodian Water Festival


A vendor from Kampong Chhnang province ​complains that her sticky rice cake business is not good this year due to the cancellation of boat races. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, November 26, 2015. (Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

A vendor from Kampong Chhnang province ​complains that her sticky rice cake business is not good this year due to the cancellation of boat races. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, November 26, 2015. (Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)

For the fourth time in five years, officials of Cambodia’s annual water festival canceled the event.

Officials say low water levels and a lack of rain are the reasons for the cancellation.

But others in the Southeast Asian country think politics are at work.

Bon Om Touk, also known as the Cambodian Water Festival, is a three-day festival held on the full moon in October or November. It celebrates the reversal of direction of the Tonle Sap river system.

But the festival has a deadly history. In 2010, more than 350 people were killed in a stampede. Besides the weather-related cancellations, officials say the festival was halted for safety reasons.

Cambodia’s political climate has changed in the past months. Two opposition politicians were beaten outside of parliament earlier this year. An arrest warrant was issued for the country’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy.

Sam Rainsy is the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. In October, he was charged with racial incitement and destruction of property. He left Cambodia to live in self-imposed exile in France. If he returns to Cambodia, he risks being arrested.

Political analyst Sebastian Strangio noted that the large crowds mixed with tense politics led to government concerns. He thinks the concerns can be connected to the festival cancellation.

The festival was last held in 2014. The 2016 festival is scheduled for late November.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Jim Dresbach adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

festival – n. a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something

stampede – n. an occurrence in which a large group of frightened or excited people run together in a wild and uncontrolled way to escape from something

warrant – n. a document issued by a court that gives the police the power to do something

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