After the cancellation of crossing fees at the Poipet International Border Checkpoint last Thursday led to hundreds of Cambodians being blocked by confused Thai officials the following day, the two sides met on Sunday in an effort to smooth out the misunderstanding.
The sudden decision to waive fees for temporary border passes was widely seen as a way to placate locals enraged over the controversial detention of Poipet City labor leader Mang Puthy, who was arrested after a border official flopped to the ground in front of his SUV. He was released on bail on Saturday, but still faces charges of intentional violence.
Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Suon Bavor said, however, that he asked border officers to stop collecting the crossing fee of 1,000 riel, or about $0.25, because “the government learned that Cambodians are facing livelihood problems.”
Cambodia’s immigration chief Sok Phal met with his Thai counterpart, Nathathorn Prousoontorn, on Sunday to discuss temporary border passes, the printing costs of which were previously split between the two sides, as well as a host of other issues, including tackling criminal activity along the border.
“The Cambodia side has implemented free [temporary passes] to people who cross into Thailand,” General Phal said. “But the Thai side has not agreed yet, because the Thai side wants Cambodia to pay for the temporary passes.”
“Now we are trying to find a solution,” he added.
A statement posted to the National Police website says the department plans to spend between $1.2 million and $1.8 million on upgrading facilities at the checkpoint, including building accommodation for immigration officials and expanding a road, if the budget is approved by the government.
Immigration officials could not be reached on Monday.
Mr. Puthy, who is also deputy head of the CNRP in the city, said he did not know whether the governor’s spontaneous act of generosity stemmed from public outrage over his case, but said he had campaigned against the fee for years.
“We have protested since a long time ago, and they never canceled it,” he said.
Gen. Phal, the immigration chief, said that he was not aware of any plans to transfer Chhean Pisith, the Poipet checkpoint deputy chief whom Mr. Puthy is accused of driving into, to a new post once he returns to work, as has been rumored in local media.
“Where did that information come from?” he said. “We don’t know about a request to move Mr. Chhean Pisith.”
Mr. Puthy said he would be fine with Mr. Pisith returning to the Poipet checkpoint, but also believed he should be cleared.
“What I need is the provincial court to drop the charges,” he said. “It’s an injustice.”