A dispute between police and the wife of a Royal Palace guard Wednesday evening led to a crackdown on dozens of street vendors along Sisowath Quay, authorities and witnesses said Thursday.
The wife, who works as a food vendor in front of the Royal Palace, got into an argument with a patrolman who complained that her charcoal brazier was damaging sidewalk paving stones, Daun Penh district Governor Suon Rindy said Thursday.
Tepchan Sorphorn, who works in the Globe restaurant overlooking Sisowath Quay, said she saw a policeman knock the woman onto the grass. “He pushed the lady, and she went to tell her husband.”
The husband, who came to his wife’s aid with a group of his co-workers, took the policeman into the Palace and beat him, Suon Rindy said. The policeman then reported the incident to district police.
At around 6 pm two truckloads of police returned to the scene and announced over loudspeakers that vendors must pack up and leave. When the vendors didn’t budge, police began confiscating their belongings, Suon Rindy said.
Officially, hawking is forbidden in front of the Royal Palace, but police generally turn a blind eye to the practice. Wednesday’s crackdown was the first this year.
Suon Rindy, who ordered the crackdown, said vendors are making more and more of a mess along the popular promenade. He said they pour dirty water onto the grass in front of the Royal Palace, scorch the sidewalk with cooking fires and leave behind trash.
“I needed to send them a wake-up call,” he said.
The confiscated belongings have been returned to vendors, who had to pay a 3,000- to 5,000-riel fine, Suon Rindy said.
But by mid-afternoon Thursday, vendors had begun returning to the riverfront.
Thon Thai, 34, said he works at his eight-table food stall every day in the afternoon and evening.
When police came on Wednesday, he and his family hid their stall furniture in a nearby construction site and ran away, he said.
To keep his space Thon Thai said he pays $200 a month to the owners of the building adjacent to his stretch of sidewalk and 1,000 to 2,000 riel a day to police. He clears just enough to support his wife and two children, he said.
Thon Thai said he knows that hawking on the river front is illegal but added, “I have no choice. I have no other way to make business.”