Villagers in Prey Veng province who export rice to Vietnam accused border police and district officials on Wednesday of extorting too much money from them.
Keo Sam Ien, a 49-year-old farmer in Peam Chor district’s Koh Sampov village, said higher unofficial taxes are making it difficult for him to earn a profit from selling rice.
Farmers complained that taxes on 1 ton of rice have increased to 17,000 riel (about $4.25) from 5,000 riel (about $1.25) last year. One ton of rice sells for about $130, farmers said.
In November, Prime Minister Hun Sen approved an order to crackdown on the illegal export of unmilled rice in the face of a country-wide drought and food shortages.
The measure aimed to prohibit farmers from selling unmilled rice to middlemen and buyers in neighboring countries, where the rice is milled and sold back to Cambodians at a higher price.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said Wednesday that farmers can sell rice to neighboring countries for personal needs, such as earning money to pay for fertilizer.
When asked about the ban on rice exports, he said “at the beginning we seemed to be strict, but we could not prevent such export.”
Chan Sarun added that rice selling should not be taxed. He said he would ask officials to investigate whether taxes on rice are levied.
Despite the ban, 63-year-old farmer Im Sann appealed to the government to lower the price of unofficial taxes so that farmers can make a profit.
“We would like the government to resolve this problem,” he said, adding that he sold 8 tons of rice to Vietnamese dealers this month.
Suon Sovath, police chief for Peam Chor district, said his officers were not involved in taking money, but said that border police might be culpable.
Tim Phan, Prey Veng provincial police chief, denied border policemen are extorting money from Prey Veng farmers.
But, he said, border police and district officials did take money from the Vietnamese dealers.
Tim Phan said he would investigate if he receives complaints.