About 300 vendors from the Tumnup market in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district protested in front of the municipal court on Wednesday to demand that two of their colleagues who were arrested amid a dispute over market fees be released.
A group of Interior Ministry police went to the market on Tuesday to arrest vendors Seng Sokly, 38, and Kim Bun An, also 38, who were both leaders of a group that has been opposing a stall-fee hike from $50 to $120 a month, said vendor and protester Kim San.
“I request to the court to please release the two men who were arrested yesterday because they did not do anything wrong,” said Ms. San, 36, alleging that the two men were arrested without explanation or a court order being presented.
Another vendor protesting at the court, Sourn Lina, 27, said that the police had been accompanied by representatives of the market’s owner, New Rich, raising questions over why they were apprehended.
“Police and people from the New Rich company came to arrest the vendors without any reasons and did not show us any court orders at all,” Ms. Lina said, describing the arrest of the two men as violent.
After the protest, Sok Khemerin, chief of penal police at the Interior Ministry, referred questions about the arrests to his deputy chief, Pol Ratana, who he said led Tuesday’s operation at the market.
“I do not know about the case. I just followed the warrant from the court,” Mr. Ratana said by telephone, declining to comment further.
Over the past two months, Mr. Sokly and Mr. Bun An have helped lead a group of 348 vendors to push back against the stall-fee hikes proposed by new market managers who were installed late last year.
Mony Ratanak, a representative for New Rich, said at the market on Wednesday that the company supported its new managers, whom it appointed on October 23 after the old company had failed to pay its rent on time.
“We did not renew the contract for the old company because the old company missed paying the rental fees to us,” Mr. Ratanak said, complaining that the protesting vendors locked up the market on Wednesday.
Mr. Ratanak said that he personally had to go to the market to cut the locks off to allow other non-protesting vendors to run their businesses.
“The vendors were so happy when they saw that I cut the locks for them to enter,” he said.
While the protest at the court did not involve any violence, the day was not without physical altercation.
When the protesting vendors returned to the market in the afternoon, a scuffle broke out when sellers became angered by the sight of the locks broken by Mr. Ratanak.
A group of five electricians hired by the New Rich company refused to heed a suggestion from the vendors to leave the market, causing the vendors to physically attempt to force them out.
Two of the vendors fell to the ground, having apparently lost consciousness, while the five market employees sustained minor injuries.