Drivers say excessive checkpoints along the highways are hurting their revenue; police claim to be enforcing road rules
About 100 taxi drivers from Banteay Meanchey province staged a protest outside the governor’s office yesterday, claiming that an excessive number of traffic police checkpoints on National Roads 5 and 6 were stifling their ability to make a living, protesters and rights workers said yesterday.
“We taxi drivers are being held hostage by traffic police,” said Nguon Sok, a protester representing taxi drivers working on National Road 6 between Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap City.
“We have to pay a lot…to traffic cops at nine separate checkpoints along national roads in these two provinces,” he said, adding that he regularly pays a total of up to $12 in fines at these checkpoints.
The drivers went to governor Oung Oeun’s office to ask him to intervene after two taxis were stopped by police in Mongkol Borei district for allegedly attempting to transport illegal migrant workers over the border to Thailand on Tuesday, according to protester In Nou. The taxis were confiscated and 36 suspected migrant workers were detained and transferred to provincial police custody, he added.
“We have faced a lot of problems when police accuse taxi drivers of transporting [illegal] migrant workers,” said Mr Nou, who represents drivers working on National Road 5 between the province and Phnom Penh. He said he hoped the governor would help drivers with this issue as well. Mr Oeun, the governor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Chhoeum Sophon, provincial traffic police chief, dismissed the protesters’ allegations, saying his officers were being deployed in these areas solely to enforce road rules.
“Taxi drivers often overload their vehicles with passengers, which is why traffic police stop them and fine them for breaking the law,” he added.
Speaking yesterday, protesters admitted to occasionally overloading their vehicles, but said they were forced to do so by the economic slowdown and the unofficial fines they must pay to traffic police.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said checkpoints were popping up with alarming frequency on roads leading out of the province.
“Taxi drivers…are being treated like hostages and are being held to ransom by traffic police,” he said. Mr Chankea said he had counted four separate checkpoints on a single 40-km stretch of road between the province’s Serei Saophoan City and Poipet City.
Provincial police chief Hun Hean said that police only stopped taxi drivers if they break the law. “The protesters gave false information about our officers’ hard work,” he said, claiming that only about 20 drivers had attended the protest.
Mr Hean said the confiscated taxis were returned to their owners yesterday. The 36 men, from Prey Veng province’s Mesang district, were released after questioning, he added.