PM’s Order Puts Brakes on Police Checkpoints

Police reported clear roads across the country Sunday only days after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the elimination of illegal checkpoints.

“[National] Road 5 from Poipet to Ban­teay Meanchey provincial town is clean,” said Sorm Sophin, de­­­pu­ty police chief of Banteay Mean­chey province’s O’Chrou district. “No checkpoints are set up and even the traffic police do not dare to stand alongside the road because of [Hun Sen’s] or­der.”

Authorities have always had the right to set up temporary mobile checkpoints to stop smugglers, but for years those checkpoints have become nearly permanent fix­tures in specific places.

Commanding police officials said they had recalled their officers who were manning mobile checkpoints for fear they would be accused of running them illegally.

“We ordered our police to re­turn to the police post on Sat­ur­day,” said Banteay Mean­chey de­puty police chief Chhoeurng Sok­hom. “We have stopped our po­lice­­­­men from standing with mo­bile customs officials at checkpoints to avoid accusations.”

Banteay Meanchey’s military po­lice commander, Roth Sreang, laid most of the blame on customs of­ficials, saying they were respon­si­ble for establishing permanent checkpoints in his province. “They did not move and patrol but they fixed their checkpoints in one place for many months,” he said. “If they do this, they are not called mobile customs.”

On Sunday, police in Kompong Cham province reported they had confiscated 107 containers of gasoline smuggled from Vietnam on Fri­day night. Provincial police Com­missioner Kang Sokhorn said he ordered the crackdown in re­sponse to Hun Sen’s speech Tues­day despite the difficulty in catching smugglers. “We must stay up late at night and not sleep to catch them,” he said.

Em Sitha, deputy director of the national Customs and Excise De­part­ment’s investigation and smug­gling office, said mobile checkpoints are effective since the smugglers seem to have a net of informers.

Taxi driver Em Sok­hon said he has already seen changes. Check­point officers used to be friendly and only one officer would come out to collect money without con­ducting a search. Now there are three to four officers who check cars thoroughly, he said.

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