Illegal Checkpoints Reopened, Police Say

Customs officials and police in Battambang province have been accused by senior military officers of re-establishing illegal checkpoints on roads only three months after a countrywide effort to curb the practice of extorting money from motorists.

In March, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the arrest of dozens of officials who allegedly operated checkpoints in a highly-publicized move against corruption.

Hun Sen directed a similar shutdown of checkpoints in 1997, but they soon reappeared.

National Military Police Com­mander Sao Sokha said Sunday provincial customs, police and military are again taking money from motorists under the guise of looking for smuggled goods.

“What they are doing is having a very bad effect on the people,” Sao Sokha said.

Motorists also have reported checkpoints reappearing on roads in other provinces. Truck owner Song Kim said at least 10 checkpoints exist between Ban­teay Mean­chey province and Phnom Penh, where authorities demand from 5,000 to 10,000 riel from passing trucks. A 2,000 riel fee is typical for taxis, he said.

“If we do not pay them, they will make trouble for us by not allowing our vehicles to go ahead,” Song Kim said.

Customs Director Pen Siman denied the existence of the checkpoints, saying officials regularly patrol Cambodian roads but do not set up roadblocks.

In Battambang province, one “rest house” does exist for customs agents, according to provincial deputy customs chief Kim Hen, but it does not serve as a checkpoint. But Battambang military police commander Por Vannak said officials regularly target motorists on the roads.

“[Customs officials] asked me to cooperate with them and patrol along the roads, but it is strange because they settled into checkpoints to take money from people,” Por Vannak said, explaining that as early as February he ordered his men not to work with customs officials.

Deputy RCAF commander-in-chief Kun Kim said Sunday he would ask Hun Sen to intervene in the matter, attributing the accusations to a rift between customs officials and military police.

Military police officials are upset that customs agents often cut them out of large crackdowns, Battambang province police chief Heng Chantha said  Sunday.

“When there is a crackdown, [customs] never calls the military police to join. This is the problem and because of this the military police have reported to officials in Phnom Penh,” he said.




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