People Returning to City After Holiday Met by Roadblocks

KANDAL/TAKEO PROVINCES – Police and military police set up roadblocks on major highways leading into Phnom Penh on Sunday as the opposition held its first rally in the capital since the party boycotted the opening of parliament last month over contested election results.

Some officials manning the roadblocks said they had been set up to prevent unscrupulous minibus drivers perilously over-packing their vehicles with people returning to the city following the Pchum Ben holiday, while others said they had been ordered to search for weapons and explosives.

At a checkpoint on National Road 1 staffed by military and district police on the border of Phnom Penh and Kandal province, Mean­chey district deputy military police chief Hong Sovann said that security forces had been put in place to control the flow of people returning from Pchum Ben festivities.

“We’ve been stationed here since yesterday evening to check for explosives and smooth the traffic flow,” he said.

During the afternoon in Takeo province’s Samroang district, district police officer Moeung Sarun said that the roadblock was set up to stop taxi-drivers coming to Phnom Penh with dangerously overloaded cars and that similar checkpoints had been created in each district of the province.

“The taxis want to get lots of money, so they overcrowd the cars and that’s why we have to stop them,” he said. “We do not know much about the demonstration but we are also instructed to check for weapons for public security.”

Some travelers returning to Phnom Penh after the three-day Pchum Ben holiday said they had been forced to wait for up to an hour at the checkpoints, with those returning in the morning reporting greater trouble than those returning in the afternoon.

“They were checking cars for a long time,” said Chum Sreynim, 30, who was returning from Pchum Ben celebrations at her family home in Takeo province around 11 a.m. “They were letting through the empty cars,” she said.

On the border of Kandal and Takeo provinces on National Road 2, tuk-tuk driver Kom Sinat, 30, said he had been delayed in picking up a guest from her hometown in the early morning but had less trouble later in the day.

“They’ve been stopping people and looking for weapons. They closed the road at 6 a.m. by putting up a fence to stop the cars,” he said. “From 6 a.m. until 10 a.m., it was closed.”

“Now they’ve opened it up, but they’re still checking some cars and motorbikes. I think they’re afraid of people going to the demonstration,” he added.

Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito denied trying to control the flow of demonstrators to Freedom Park.

“We have not stopped any people from coming into to the city,” Brig. Gen. Tito said. “We are just protecting public security and checking for any explosives or weapons.”

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