ang snuol district, Kandal province – Electric baton-wielding police bludgeoned one taxi driver and arrested two others among a group of about 200 drivers protesting on Tuesday against the introduction of tolls along National Route 4.
Armed with AK-47 rifles, at least 200 traffic police, intervention police, district police and military police were deployed to the Ang Snuol district toll booth, operated by AZ Investment Co Ltd, to crack down on the second day of protests.
Ten traffic police cranes were also on the scene to confiscate the protesters’ vehicles, which lined the road that runs from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville.
The taxi drivers began their protest Monday, calling on AZ Investment to lift its new charges on all four-wheel vehicles. Until Monday, taxis and passenger vehicles had not paid fees to travel along the US-built road. Taxis are now being charged $1.40, while mini-buses pay $2 and buses $2.50.
Protesters on Monday blocked National Route 4 at the company’s toll booths in Ang Snuol and Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district, creating lengthy traffic jams.
Demonstrators had promised to burn tires and torch an old vehicle in front of the toll booths. But on Tuesday, they kept their taxis parked to the side of the busy highway and voiced their dissent over a megaphone.
Around 10 am, one of the intervention police officers tried to confiscate the megaphone, setting off a scuffle between the police and protesters, taxi driver Sok Kunthy, 26, said.
Sok Kunthy said he tried to prevent the police from taking the megaphone, when one of the officers beat him over the head.
“I collapsed to the ground and took both hands to protect my head but the intervention police continued to beat me with the electric baton and kick me,” he said.
About an hour after the incident, blood was still seeping into his eyes from an open head wound which stained his torn clothes.
“I still feel dizzy. Both my arms are swollen,” he said.
Sok Kunthy was later brought to a Phnom Penh hospital for treatment, according to Chan Soveth, spokesman for the local rights group Adhoc, who witnessed the clash.
Ang Snuol district police Chief Kem Sokun said he, too, witnessed the beating but could not stop it.
“I saw the beating but I was far from them,” he said.
Police arrested two men, Thorn Than and On Sam Ol.
“We arrested the two drivers because they caused a traffic jam,” said Chan Savoeun, Kandal provincial deputy judicial police chief.
Kandal provincial Chief Prosecutor Chheng Phath said he would detain the men and decide whether to press charges against them today.
Police also confiscated a mini bus, belonging to Long Mun, the vehicle’s owner said.
As he tried to run from police, Long Mun said: “I left the key in the vehicle so the police drove the vehicle away.”
He added: “We did not have any plans to create any violent actions. We protested peacefully.”
Police also stopped opposition party lawmaker Son Chhay from crossing the toll booth after he drove there to support the protesters.
Son Chhay said he would file a complaint to the National Assembly and to the Municipal Court, against AZ Investment, charging that the new fees were illegal.
Following the crack down, taxi drivers dispersed, though several said they would continue their demonstration today.