Poipet Checkpoint Customs Chief to Be Replaced

The head of customs at the Poipet International Checkpoint, the site of numerous recent protests by handcart-pullers complaining of arbitrary fees for transporting goods across the border, will be replaced Wednesday, according to the Banteay Meanchey provincial customs chief.

The decision to replace Chhuon Hay with Huy Socheat, previously the head of customs at the Bavet International Checkpoint in Svay Rieng province, comes about two months after military police fired warning shots during a protest that blocked National Road 5 near the Poipet checkpoint.

During clashes with the military police on May 25, handcart-puller Mao Sun, 32, was badly beaten and hospitalized. False rumors of his death led protesters to attack the checkpoint’s customs office in retaliation, throwing rocks over its gate before breaking it down.

Banteay Meanchey customs chief Thong Sokhamphou said Tuesday, however, that the protests against authorities at the Poipet International Checkpoint had nothing to do with the demotion of Mr. Hay, who will become deputy chief of customs at the Phnom Din checkpoint in Takeo province.

“It is normal for our customs officials to be transferred across the country every three years,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the damage caused by the protest two months ago.”

Mr. Hay could not be reached for comment.

A week after the incident in May, authorities met with police and military police to compile a report that was sent to the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court, which is still investigating the incident.

On Monday, the court questioned Mr. Sun, the protester who was injured, and his wife, Ran Sreymom, who was also at the protest.

Ms. Sreymom said that she and her husband were questioned for at least four hours in separate rooms, and that both were threatened with jail time if they did not say who incited protesters to attack the customs office.

“The court asked many questions, but the questions were all the same: Who was behind the violent rally?” she said. “The court wanted me to blame someone.”

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