Drivers Say Checkpoints Back

Nissan taxi driver Sok Savoeun said he is tired of paying at the half-dozen illegal checkpoints that have materialized between Bat­tambang and Phnom Penh since the elections.

He noted that Second Prime M­inister Hun Sen’s eight-point security plan of more than a year ago was supposed to eliminate the illegal checkpoints, “but now it’s happening again.”

“If we do not pay at each checkpoint, the soldiers threaten us with their guns,” he said this week. The going rate, he said, is about 1,000 riel for a nearly empty taxi and 10,000 riel for a full truck.

Sok Savoeun is one of many who complain that checkpoints are back on many of Cambodia’s main roads, although they are not as frequent as before.

In August 1997, Hun Sen ordered the removal of the unauthorized checkpoints, which were often manned by RCAF soldiers, military police or militiamen. There were once more than 115 unauthorized points on National Route 4 between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville alone.

For their part, authorities admit there are checkpoints to stop cars and inspect for illegal weapons, but they deny that tolls are being collected as well.

“We only inspect for illegal wea­pons and explosives,” said Chan Kosal, Battambang provincial police chief, adding that 200 guns without licenses were seized in September alone. As for those who are collecting money, “I do not know where they are from, maybe they are outlaws or soldiers.”

Ko Chean, commander of Bat­tambang-based Military Region 5, also said he didn’t know who was responsible, but added that no soldiers from his unit are setting up illegal checkpoints.

Kompong Cham provincial Po­lice Chief Sourn Chheangly said he believed the illegal checkpoints are probably manned by “rogue militia” who threaten drivers after dark.

A taxi conductor who would only give his name as Voeun said prices definitely go up at night. “When the car comes through at night, they claim 10,000 riel. If we don’t pay, they won’t agree to release the car.”

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