Smugglers, Border Guards Cash In on Election

Politicians consumed by campaigning are paying little attention to the illegal trade of goods, turning the run-up to the elections in­to a field day for smugglers, Bat­tambang traders said Monday.

Fearful of losing votes, political parties have relaxed their efforts to crack down on the underground trade of goods to and from Thailand and Phnom Penh. The border between Cambodia and Thailand has become a well-traveled trade route since campaigning began in mid-June, smugglers and officials reported.

Battambang province First Deputy Governor San Heab, Fun­cinpec, said all customs checkpoints are temporarily closed for the campaign period but will open after July 27. Taking the place of official weigh stations are mobile officers assigned to report and investigate trade-related problems. “The checkpoint closure aims to convince people to vote for [CPP officials],” San Heab said.

Most military officers, police and customs officials are banking on the closure, collecting informal tolls from traders without con­fiscating any goods, a Bat­tambang customs official said on condition of anonymity.

“We try to make money now be­cause if we have a new leader, we’ll be transferred or lose our jobs. We have to do this because we paid thousands of dollars to secure our posts here,” the official said.

Taxi driver Chan Than of Ba­nan district said he recognized CPP officials are pulling less on smugglers’ purse strings to lock in ruling party support. “CPP officials need the vote from the people, so they are consoling people to vote for their party. If they confiscate people’s il­legal goods or demand too much money, voters will not support them,” he said.

A yellow vine trader who identified herself as Pov said she prospers most during election periods. The refining of yellow vine can degrade the environment.

“If you want to make good money and ensure that your wares are not confiscated, this is the best chance to do it. It is easy to talk with forestry officials and other authorities,” she said.


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