Businesses Hide Inventories in Fear of Looting

Two days before Sunday’s general elections, fearing political unrest, Korn Lin and his workers transported nearly all of the motorcycles from his shop in Tuol Kok district to his home.

More than 50 of them now lie crammed in his tiny apartment, taking over his living room, kitchen and even his bedroom.

There’s not much space for his family to move about in the 4-meter-wide, 18-meter-long apartment, he said.

“We feel a bit annoyed but it’s OK. My family understands,” he said.

This domestic parking lot is only temporary. Korn Lin said he will return the vehicles to his shop as soon as the three main political parties, the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, resolve the outcome of the election.

Until then, his shop remains bare with only a few motorcycles displayed in view from the sidewalk.

Korn Lin is only one of many shop owners in Tuol Kok who have stashed away the bulk of their inventory as a precaution against post-election looting.

Leading up to voting day, the area, which houses more than 100 motorcycle shops, was abuzz with workers driving vehicles off their lots in favor of safer places.

The shop owners said they have good reason to be afraid. During factional fighting in 1997 between the CPP and Funcinpec, Tuol Kok was heavily targeted by looters and armed soldiers who made off with much of their belongings.

Muong Lao’s shop was one of the hardest hit by the 1997 plundering. The 43-year-old said she lost every­thing to gun-toting bandits, including more than 100 motorcycles and all the furniture and housewares in the shop,  The losses, she said, amounted to more than $60,000.

Her workers, who were taking care of the business, could not stop the devastation, she said.

“They could not resist the people with guns. They just stood watching,” she said.

In the aftermath, Muong Lao and other Tuol Kok victims appealed to the government for compensation, but to no avail.

“At the time Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to compensate for the losses,” she said. “Since then, we haven’t seen any money.”

Muong Lao said it took her years to re-establish her business and she’s not willing to lose it all again. In the past week, she has all but emptied her shop, storing most of its contents at her brother’s house.

Down the street, Kim Sry, 53, said she’s also not taking any chances. She’s hidden more than 20 motorcycles in her apartment and will keep them there until the political climate stabilizes.

“People do not trust the post-election security,” she said.

She added that since most of her workers had gone to their home villages to vote, she had nobody to stay and take care of her bikes. But, she said, considering there have been no political protests or upheaval from the elections so far, a repeat of the events of 1997 appear unlikely.

“We are less worried because in the past few days, nothing has happened. But we’re still watching to see if some political parties will be protesting,” she said.

At a neighboring shop, 33-year-old Uy Theavy said she will also remain cautious.

“Prevention is better than cure,” she said.

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