Cart-Pullers Block Border Traffic to Demand Thai Fee Reduction

A group of at least 30 cart-pullers who earn a living hauling wares from Thailand to Cambodia blocked traffic at the Thai border in Poipet City for more than an hour on Wednesday, demanding a reduction in the informal fees charged by Thai authorities.

“We protested to ask our Khmer border checkpoint officials to help us because Thai authorities charge the cart-pullers a lot of money, and we are not able to pay,” said Sao Theary, who joined the blockade.

Bun Chhin, a coordinator for rights group Licadho in Banteay Meanchey province, said the group blocked the Khmer-Thai bridge at the Poipet International Border Checkpoint to demand a drop in the fees, which are currently between 200 and 500 baht, or about $6 and $15, roughly 10 times what they paid before an increase four months ago.

The cart-pullers agreed to let traffic through after Thai authorities promised to resolve the dispute, he said.

Ms. Theary, 28, said the increase was unsustainable. “I earn 300 baht for each time I transport goods. If they charge me 300 baht, I will get nothing,” she said, adding the cart-pullers had protested about the increase two months ago.

Vich Aun, chief of the Poipet International Border Checkpoint, who counted 30 protesters, said Thai authorities had agreed to a temporary fee reduction. But he said he was not optimistic that a meeting scheduled for today between the two sides would yield lasting results.

“We have asked the Thai side for [the reduction] many times, but they never responded to us,” he said.

The cart-pullers have also squared off, sometimes violently, with Cambodian authorities over arbitrary fees charged on this side of the border. The provincial governor suspended a 1,000 riel, or $0.25, crossing fee in January amid a scandal involving a senior border official who tumbled to the pavement and claimed serious injuries when a local activist approached him in a car.

The case sparked national outrage after footage emerged showing the official dramatically falling in front of a barely moving car and, a few days later, walking gracefully through a Thai guesthouse where he was supposed to be recovering.

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