Security for the Water Festival has been beefed up this year, with police at checkpoints across Phnom Penh searching for weapons, and traffic kept to a minimum in the riverside area.
The post-election unrest led police chiefs to up patrols and checkpoints to guard against possible violence.
But officers on the street were just as keen to ensure the crowds enjoyed the festivities.
At a checkpoint Tuesday at the rear of the Royal Palace, 10 officers were questioning rogue moto drivers trying to cross the line to get into the festivities. Some drivers flashed a variety of badges, others pleaded and cajoled. Most were searched and unceremoniously turned back.
“If we let in too many cars and motos then people will not enjoy the festival,” said Yang Yuth, military police officer for Phnom Penh municipality and one of two at this checkpoint.
“Only those motos on duty or helping to maintain security are allowed in.”
A special badge is needed to bring a vehicle into the festival area, explained San Chan Than as he directed fellow Ministry of Interior officers outside the VIP enclosure by the river. Unless the car belongs to a member of the government, he added.
“There are some vehicles, like those belonging to senior government officials, which we have to let in,” he said.
As he spoke, a moto driver laden with ice boxes and cold drinks tried to sneak past. The driver said he was taking supplies to a food stall, but the officers turned him round.
“We know he’s selling back there,” said San Chan Than, pointing down the street.
He added, “We have to check and make sure there are no bombs or grenades in any bags or boxes.”
He ran off to stop a couple of young bread sellers walking into the VIP zone.
Vendors nearby seemed happy with this year’s security arrangements.
“There is no problem because the police are working very well,” said Kunthia, a grapefruit seller near the dignitaries’ enclosure.
Across the street, Ouch Amara was keeping a close eye on police activity. Her drink stall, run by 16 members of her family from Kampot province, was just outside the official vendor area, so the family was keeping a lookout for the public-order police. They’d already been moved on once that morning, she said.
A senior officer from that unit explained why the vendors had to be controlled.
“This year we have no vendors in the area opposite the palace, they’re just on the riverfront,” said Major Uk Sara.
“Last year they were blocking the road for the dignitaries. Now the traffic situation is much better.”