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Border vendors trade concern

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Eav Sroh cuts fruit at a market stall in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, on the Thai-Cambodian border earlier this month. Some say trade has been steadily declining since violence erupted at Preah Vihear in February. Photo by: Cheang Sokha

Poipet, Banteay Meanchey province
OFFICIALS from Cambodia and Thailand say it is business as usual along their border despite the clashes that broke out in early February, but a month later many vendors in the area beg to differ.

Last month’s hostilities were just the latest in a series of clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops along the border near Preah Vihear temple.

Tensions in the area have been heightened since 2008, when UNESCO listed the 11th-century structure as a World Heritage site for Cambodia over Thai objections.

After the recent violence erupted,  Prime Minister Hun Sen  urged trade between Cambodia and Thailand to continue.  

High-ranking officials from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province and Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, west of Preah Vihear, recently told The Post that the fighting did not affect business between the two countries.

“The trading of goods is proceeding as usual. There is no sign of a drop” in business, said Winai Wittayanugool, vice governor of Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

He claimed that more than 10,000 Cambodians make their way into Thailand’s Rung Cloeur market everyday.

“Business operation is [as] usual, and there is not anything cutting off the relationship between the two countries,” he added.        

Authorities in Sa Kaeo and Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province have regularly contacted each other when anything has happened along the border to resolve the matter, he said.

His counterpart across the border, Banteay Meanchey Deputy Governor Chhum Vannarith, also said that the exchange of business and trade has not changed and local farmers from Cambodia are exporting rice, corn, cassava and fruit to Thailand.

“Before we were concerned that the border fights between the two countries will affect the people, but we have cooperated and talked to avoid disputes and the situation remains normal,” he said.  

But that is not how some vendors see it. Sam Sary, whose wife sells clothes at Aranyaprathet’s Rung Cloeur market near the border at Poipet, said that business has been steadily declining since the fighting resumed in February. Thai businessmen have decreased both the amount of goods they import and export from Cambodia.

“It is difficult to make business here now. The selling is not so good,” he said.

“The people still fear more fighting, that it might erupt anytime.”

Another vendor, 21-year-old Phal Sreysal, who sells second-hand coats to Thailand, said that for almost a year orders have dropped to 2,000 to 3,000 coats a week from 5,000 to 6,000 a week.

“The Thais have dropped their buying recently,” he said.

“We now sometimes face difficulty with money transferring. Since we’ve have border problems, business has been quite difficult,” he said.

The big question for these vendors is whether the violence in Preah Vihear could eventually make its way to Banteay Meanchey, further hurting business.
One vendor, Sam Sary, seems to think not.

“I don’t think the fighting will spread out to this area as this is the international border gate,” he said.

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