Police and military police fired into the air to control irate workers in a confusing business dispute that veered toward violence last weekend.
The fracas broke out Saturday in the town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province on the Cambodian-Thai border. About 100 workers for the Attwood Transport and Export Company attempted to accompany seven trucks loaded with second-hand clothing into Thailand without stopping to pay a tax.
Trucks crossing at the Poipet checkpoint are normally expected to stop and pay the tax to the PKS Co, which until recently held a contract with the Cambodian government to collect taxes on exports. The Attwood employees, however, maintained that they had already paid a tax when the clothing arrived in Cambodia at Sihanoukville. They said they did not have to pay again.
When police moved to enforce PKS’s authority, police Chief Vong Born of O’Chrou district said some of the workers—whom the chief said appeared to be drunk—tried to grab weapons from the police. Police fired about 20 shots into the air to drive them off. No one was injured, Vong Born said.
Police were enforcing PKS’s claims because the company won a lawsuit against Attwood in Banteay Meanchey court last week, O’Chrou district deputy police Chief Meng Boeun said.
PKS claimed Attwood had to pay the tax because PKS had a signed agreement with Minister of Finance Keat Chhon, authorizing PKS to collect the tax on all second-hand clothes exported to other countries.
Neither police, court officials, nor district authorities realized that Keat Chhon had canceled the contract with PKS last month, due to irregularities, said Pen Siman, director of the Finance Ministry’s customs authority.
He said that under the agreement, PKS paid the government about $75,000 per year and kept anything else it collected in taxes. The payment was far too low, he said—$75,000 per year “is not equal to what it earns in two days.” From now on, officials said, Attwood will be allowed to export the clothes to Thailand without paying tax.