The city of Phnom Penh in the Khmer Republic has been "under siege" in the popular imagination for a long time.
The city of Phnom Penh in the Khmer Republic has been "under siege" in the popular imagination for a long time. But the two and a half million people in the city seem more concerned with the price of food and other commodities than with the war.
The price of food has risen sharply in Phnom Penh in recent weeks. Rice, the staple diet of most of the million refugees in the city, costs about 75 Riels a kilo (about 32 cents US). Three months ago it was 22 Riels (10 cents US). Most refugee families receive a weekly allowance of 40 Riels (about 18 cents US), and the rising cost of eating is forcing the men to find new jobs, and the women into prostitution or menial jobs. Meat, which can be anything from goat to waterbuffalo, now costs 400 Riels a kilo (about 1.80 dollars US) Vegetables have also gone up in price, because it's difficult to get it in from the surrounding countryside. People in Phnom Penh are being asked to pay 60 Riels for a kilo of vegetables (about 24 cents US).
Except for a fuel shortage, Phnom Penh has sufficient supplies of most basic necessities. Several times a week convoys try to run the gauntlet of communist forces flanking the road routes and the Mekong River. They carry vital supplies such as rice as well as luxuries such as Champagne, French brandy, Japanese beer and Gruyere cheese. Food stores still carry ample supplies of wines and canned goods although there has been a run on food supplies as people begin stocking up.
Other luxury goods, such as television sets, cars and motors scooters are in ample supply, but nobody wants to buy them. Sales have dropped in the last few months, as people try to liquidate their assets and leave the city. The prices of these goods have dropped by about 10 per cent recently but there are few buyers. There's an active second hand market in cars, TV sets and refrigerators.
SYNOPSIS: As in many other parts of the world, Phnom Penh is faced with a rising cost of living. Luxury goods such as new motor cars and motor cycles are rusting in the showrooms, while people concentrate on soaring food costs.
There is ample supply of luxury goods like radios and TV sets, but most people are getting rid of such goods and getting out of the city.
There is an active second hand market in luxury goods. But the million refugees in the city receive only 40 Riels allowance a week - that's about 18 US cents not enough to buy sufficient rice, let alone washing machines and motorcycles.
Eating out in Phnom Penh is Friday too - a meal costs a minimum of about 4,400 Riels or twenty US dollars per head. There's been two hundred per cent rise in the cost of meat in three months. Vegetables are sixty Riels a kilo compared with four Riels a Kilo three months ago.
There is enough rice for the next few weeks, and the shops have ample supplies. But this doesn't help the refugees, who continue to crowd into the isolated city. Some have ??? sidewalk stalls as a means to ??? a living. Because their allowance won't stretch to the basic foods, the men are trying to find new jobs to supplement their incomes. The ???drift into prostitution or menial labour. There's a run on food in the shops, and even Champagne and French brandy are available to those who can afford it. Some of the refugees have even started sidewalk stalls as a means of making a living. For the refugees from the villages the cost of a bag of rice seems more important than the latest government counter offensive or the attempts at ??? negotiations.