Three men were arrested in Banteay Meanchey province on Friday for blocking National Road 5 during a protest over where market vendors are allowed to sell their wares, police and local officials said.
A group of 200 vendors from the main market in Serei Saophoan City protested because they are angry that city police have embarked on a beautification campaign and will no longer allow vendors to set up makeshift stalls on the road surrounding the market.
Provincial deputy police chief Sith Luos said that Chan Roeun, 34, Hing Chanthorn, 32, and Ek Thav, 58, were arrested during the protest because they were standing in the middle of National Road 5 shouting into megaphones, and had used motorcycles and vegetables to block the road. The three arrested men were all motorcycle taxi drivers, but their wives are vegetable sellers at the market. Mr. Luos said they had been released late Friday after being “educated.”
“We released them after we explained and educated them about the legal rights of protesting, and they accepted their mistake in blocking the road,” he said.
Provincial authorities say that market vendors must stop selling in unauthorized spots outside the market, because it affects public order.
“From now on, we will not allow them to sell around the market, because selling on the road affects the beautiful environment and order,” said provincial governor Kousoum Saroeuth.
He added that the evicted vendors had the option of moving to either of two newly built markets, with the incentive of selling there rent-free for a year. But the vendors who have set up shop around the market say they signed a contract with authorities in 2010 allowing them to occupy the space for another 15 years, and allowing a contractor to collect an “informal tax” from them.
Mao Sokha, who sells smoked fish outside the Serei Saophoan market, said moving to the new markets was not a viable solution.
“We cannot go to sell at Reatrey and Huy Leng markets, because those markets have only one narrow access way and the shop fees are very expensive, and they are inundated in the rainy season,” she said.
“It is brutal of police officers to forcibly break up the vendors’ protest,” she added.
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