A group of minivan drivers blocked a highway in Mondolkiri province Tuesday in protest of what they claim is ongoing extortion by government officials of vehicles transporting ready-made furniture.
Some 20 drivers parked their vehicles across National Road 76 in Keo Seima district, where military police, forestry administration and economic police checkpoints are set up to inspect passing vehicles, to demonstrate against alleged “under the table” payments.
Sok Bory, 33, a driver who joined the protest, said the money he was expected to pay was so high that he could no longer make any money from transporting furniture.
“There are four to five checkpoints and we have to pay between 10,000 to 20,000 riel [$2.50 to $5] per checkpoint,” he said.
“If we do not pay money at each checkpoint they have threatened to confiscate our cars.”
District Governor Sin Vanvuth said the drivers did not have the required certificates, which are issued by business owners as proof that wooden furniture is not made from illegal timber. He said the drivers should comply with the law.
“To prevent forestry offenses, we have to check vehicles that are transporting furniture without certificates, because the furniture is made from wood,” he said.
The protesting drivers say that many of their clients are small, family-run furniture businesses that do not issue certificates.
National military police spokesman Kheng Tito denied that any military police had extorted money from villagers.
“Please provide evidence [of military police wrongdoing],” he said. “Sometimes taxi drivers mistakenly put the blame on military police when in fact they have broken the traffic law,” he said.
Em Sopheak, the provincial coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center, called for legal action to be taken against any officials unlawfully taking money from citizens.
“It is anarchic that these checkpoints have failed to crack down on forestry offenses, but are a chance to take drivers’ money to serve some authorities’ personal interests,” he said.