Hundreds of truck drivers and owners returned to Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park on Thursday morning to ask for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s help securing a tax break and letting them keep driving their illegal right-hand-drive vehicles, two days after the premier’s cabinet turned them away for not having the proper documents.
On Monday, a cabinet representative met the group at the park but told the drivers and owners that they needed to come back with copies of their ID cards and loan documents as well as photographs of their vehicles before the prime minister could consider stepping in.
The truck drivers and owners—from the provinces of Kandal, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Speu and Takeo—want the government to legalize their right-hand-drive vehicles and only require them to pay half of the import taxes owed on them.
About 600 of the demonstrators arrived at the park with the requested documents Thursday morning and successfully filed their petition. Their attempt to then march to Mr. Hun Sen’s nearby residence to press their demands, however, was rebuffed.
“It does not mean that we violate your rights. But you are not respecting the law,” Daun Penh district governor Kuoch Chamroeun told the group, backed up by district police chief Huot Chan Yarann and about 40 district police and security guards. “Don’t use [marching] to put pressure on someone.”
The group asked Mr. Chamroeun when they could expect a reply to their requests, but the governor declined to give a specific answer.
“If you want to send a message [to Mr. Hun Sen] through the newspapers, it’s up to you. But if you send the message through us, please follow us,” he said.
The drivers and owners said they would give the prime minister’s cabinet until Monday to respond to their demands.
“I hope Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] can help us,” said Orm Sok Sreyroth, a truck owner from Kandal. “It doesn’t mean we don’t want to pay any tax to the government, but it’s too much.”
Hun Sambath, a truck owner from Takeo, said they would not be stopped from marching to Mr. Hun Sen’s villa the next time they gather on Monday.
“We have no choice. Next time we will try to reach Samdech’s house,” he said.
The drivers and owners have also rejected the government’s request that they all move their steering columns to the left-hand side, claiming the switch would make their vehicles unreliable and dangerous. They have put the blame on the government for allegedly allowing the vehicles into the country in the first place.
The dispute between the government and truckers flared up late last month when a team of customs officials in Kandal stopped a pair of drivers with right-hand-drive vehicles who had not paid their import or road taxes. The drivers were given until January 31 to pay their taxes and allowed to leave, but only after some 30 fellow drivers rallied to their aid, surrounding the customs team with their trucks and blocking a national road.