From Phnom Penh to Poipet, Hundreds Face Joblessness

Roughly 700 to 800 Cambo­di­ans and Thais are facing unemployment in Phnom Penh and the lucrative million-dollar casino in­dustry in Poipet has been brought to a standstill in the wake of last week’s riots in Phnom Penh.

Workers and business leaders are urging the governments of Thai­land and Cambodia to find a dip­lomatic solution to the conflict as soon as possible so businesses damaged in the riots can restart operations in Phnom Penh.

“I believe that the Thai businesses will come back if [Cambo­di­a’s gov­ernment] responds quickly to address the damages,” said Chhim Sopheak, food and beverage manager of the Thai-owned Royal Phnom Penh Hotel, which was looted and burned by rioters.

The hotel, which formerly em­ployed 160 Cambodian workers, is just one of at least eight Thai businesses that mobs severely damaged Wednesday night. Other businesses include the telecommunications giant Samart and the Siam Cement company.

“If everything in Phnom Penh is OK soon, Thai business people will return,” said one Thai hotel owner who declined to be identified. “It just takes some time to see how well the Cambodian government is going to respond.”

One company that suffered huge losses, Cambodia Shinawa­tra, had to lay off 260 Cambodian employees and 40 Thai employees after the rioters destroyed both Shinawatra’s local office and its investor confidence in Phnom Penh, said Trairat Kaewterd, general manager of Shinawatra.

“Cambodia Shinawatra will return for business or it will not, depending on both governments’ policies,” he said. “Everything is still unclear.”

In the meantime, Poipet’s seven casinos continue to operate with virtually no customers, workers in Poipet said Sunday and Monday.

“We have no clients coming to play games in our casinos—the casinos are not ordered to close but they are automatically forcing themselves to close because there is no business,” said Tep Phalla, a casino worker in Poipet.

The casino industry, which caters largely to Thais who cross into Cambodia to gamble legally, reportedly brought in $4 million in tax revenues to the government during 2001 and much more unofficial revenues. However, with the closure of all border crossings be­tween the countries after the riots, the casinos and the government are expected to take a huge hit.

“I am worried about having no work to do if the border is closed longer,” Tep Phalla said. “I may have to move to Phnom Penh for work”

Casinos are not the only businesses in Poipet to suffer losses. Since the closure of the border crossing, the transportation of goods to and from Thailand has halted, with vendors and taxi drivers waiting daily for fares or for goods to come over the border.

Daily, Cambodian workers can be seen lining up along the boundary to check whether the once-bustling border has reopened.

“I heard a rumor that the checkpoint would be reopened [last] Sunday,” vendor Chan Mean said. “If it remains closed for months, I don’t know how I could live in Poipet. I will look for another place to make business.”

Immigration police official Pich Saran said Cambodian workers have been streaming across the border from Thailand every day since Thursday, when Thai officials started rounding up Cambo­dians for deportation.

Pek Heang, 67, a vendor who operates at the border, said she hasn’t been able to sell her goods in recent days. Before the riots, Pek Heang said she sold about $14 worth of goods a day, but since the border closure says she is lucky to sell $2 to $4 in goods.

“I don’t blame any side, but Cam­bodia and Thailand should work together to continue their businesses…. People from both sides are suffering—it is not only the Cambodian people,” she said.  “I hope Hun Sen will find a solution to allow people to live in a peaceful way.”



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