More than 60 construction workers and porters protested at Cham Yeam International Border Checkpoint in Koh Kong province yesterday over the introduction of a fee to cross into Thailand.
Ing Kong Chet of the human rights group Licadho said the protesters demanded that immigration police at the checkpoint in Mondol Seima district’s Bak Khlang commune stop charging 2,000 riel, or about $0.50, to cross into Thailand’s Trat province. He said the fee was introduced on Saturday.
“If the villagers didn’t pay, they were turned away from the border,” Mr Kong Chet said.
Following a protest outside the checkpoint on Sunday, police lowered the fee to 1,500 riel, but “some of the villagers sell vegetables, work as porters or in construction,” said Mr Kong Chet. “They are very poor.”
Yesterday, police lowered the charge to 1,000 riel, which is good for one day. Villagers were still angry.
Hem Keanlin, 49, a porter, said the fee was unprecedented.
“I never had to pay on this side of the border. We always paid 2,000 riel for one week to the Thai immigration police,” said Mr Keanlin, who earns about 5,000 to 10,000 riel, or up to $2.50, per day.
He said after Thai immigration police learned of the new charge by their Cambodian counterparts in Cham Yeam, they canceled the 2,000 riel per week charge and introduced a fee of 1,500 riel per day.
Suos Sok Dara, chief of border police at the checkpoint, said that during yesterday’s demonstration, protesters broke the border gate and crossed into Thailand.
“It is very difficult to control them,” Mr Sok Dara said, adding that if villagers do not have enough money, they can pay “500 or 1,000 riel—up to them.
“We do it because we want to make sure that it is safe for villagers to cross the border.”
Deputy provincial governor Say Socheat said no authorization had been given to immigration police to collect the fees, but he declined to discuss the issue further.