Residents Along Thai Border Support Closure

Many Cambodians along the Thai border in Battambang province and Pailin expressed support over the weekend for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to close the border, and some said they were considering changing their vote in July’s elections to support him.

Hun Sen angrily condemned Thailand last week for not normalizing diplomatic relations swiftly enough after the Jan 29 riots in Phnom Penh. He also accused Thai security forces of beating and, in some cases, killing Cambodians on their soil since the riots.

Much of the weekend’s conversations on the Cambodian side of the border centered around the border closure. Some even gathered around tape players to listen to cassette recordings of Hun Sen’s speech blasting the Thais. And most were saying the border closure will be a good lesson for Thailand.

“I want to see the government react to the Thai government because Thailand does not allow their people to enter Cambodia and [the Thai government] has upset the balance of business along the border,” Lath Lina, a Pailin farmer and former Khmer Rouge soldier, said Friday.

“They allow Cambodians to buy their goods, and they do not allow their Thai citizens to buy our goods. It is not a fair business exchange. If Thailand continues to do like this, border closure is the best way for the Cambodian side,” Lath Lina said.

A former Khmer Rouge leader said on Friday that Cambodians might learn something too. “This is a good way to solve the problem with the Thai government,” he said. “It is a lesson for Cambodian people to learn to plant vegetables and fruits to sell in the markets by ourselves.

“Even vegetables were bought from Thailand, and when the Thais close the border we have nothing,” he said. “We have much empty land, so we should plant by ourselves and sell in our markets.”

Srey Neang, another farmer, said the border closure could be detrimental to the Thai economy. “I do not see where Thailand’s goods would go because Burma is not friendly with Thailand and Laos is not as well,” she said.

“Thais will lose millions of baht. It does not only affect Cambodia’s businesses. Thailand will damage their own businesses because huge amounts of Thai goods were imported into Cambodia,” she said.

Long Samnang, a farmer outside of Battambang town, on Friday repeated an often cited claim that Thai soldiers have been shooting Cambodians who have illegally entered Thailand.

“I wanted to hear the government’s reaction,” he said,. “Previously the prime minister never expressed any reaction. So now I am very happy with Hun Sen’s reaction.”

Not everyone is pleased by the retaliatory border closure, though. Sok Sovann, the Sam Rainsy Party commune council chief of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province, wrote in a letter Sunday that 3,282 families in his commune are facing starvation.

“The government now can either dispatch immediate food supplies to its people suffering at the border, or lift the border closure, to avert the disaster,” Sok Sovann wrote.

Sar Chamrong, the district chief of O’ Chrou district—which includes Poipet—on Sunday said, “Sok Sovann is propagandizing for his party, not the people…. It is normal for people in Poipet right now. There is no starvation.”

However, Sar Chamrong conceded that about 1,000 families originally from other provinces who moved to Poipet to live off the cross-border trade soon would be facing hunger. He said he had sent a list of those families’ names to the World Food Program and would inform the Interior Ministry as well.

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