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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Protesters target SKorean company

Protesters target SKorean company

Sou Ching accused of colluding with police as 300 protesters demand right to own businesses

MORE than 300 tourist industry workers in Siem Reap Tuesday protested a Korean-owned company they claim has colluded with police to prevent them from selling tickets to tourists. The protesters - a mix of tourist boat owners, travel agents and tuk-tuk drivers - called on the Sou Ching company to negotiate with them.

The Sou Ching company has the concession to operate the upgraded Chong Khneas port at Siem Reap where tourist boats dock. In exchange, the boat owners pay the company one dollar per ticket sold to tourists.

Protester Roeun Thouen, who owns a travel agency in Siem Reap that sells tickets on behalf of one group of boat owners, said the protesters demanded the right to run their businesses.

"[The company] ordered police and security guards to prevent us from selling tickets to travellers, and to force travellers to buy their tickets from [a rival boat association] instead," he said. Roeun Thouen added that company representatives had not turned up for talks.

The local travel agents joined forces for the protest with the Tourism Boat Association (TBA) to make their case. TBA head Pum Lay said his grouping, which has 60 members, was authorised in 2002 by the Ministry of Interior.

If the company doesn’t tackle this issue, hundreds of families ... will face financial problems.

Pum Lay claimed that a former boat driver, Heng Mao, had colluded with the Korean company to set up a rival boat association in late January. Since then the tourist police were forcing tourists to buy tickets from Heng Mao's association, which has around 90 boats. The Post was unable to contact Heng Mao by press time.

"We can't sell any tickets to tourists any longer - the police and military police have disrupted our business," Pum Lay said, adding that the dispute was affecting 300 people working on the boats, transport and travel services. Each one had lost between US$16 to $20 a day over the past month.

However, management at the Sou Ching company rejected the allegations. Var Chuda said the problem was simply an internal dispute between the rival boat associations.

"We invested a large amount of money [upgrading the port], but we collect only one dollar per ticket," he said.

Var Chuda said his company had nothing to do with the split, and said it had taken place because the TBA boat owners had been unwilling to fix the prices of boat tickets for tourists. The new association had undercut the TBA with their ticket prices, and that was why they were angry, he added.

Ho Vandy, former president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said the company and the protesters should resolve their differences.

"If the company doesn't tackle this issue, hundreds of families in the community will face financial problems as they depend on this for their daily income," he said. "I don't agree with the impact of this sort of investment - it is against government policy,  and that means it is not a proper investment."

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