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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - All Quiet on the Eastern Frontier

All Quiet on the Eastern Frontier

Life on the border at checkpoint CV-10 is pretty slow these days - barely a handful

of trucks cross each day going back and forth between Cambodia and Vietnam in this

remote corner of Rattanakiri province. Little sign of civilization is visible from

the air in this densely forested terrain except occasional clearings pocked-marked

by bomb craters - this border area, smack in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh trail,

was heavily bombed by the Americans in their efforts to destroy supply lines during

the Vietnam War.

"CV-4 [the border crossing on Highway 1 between Svay Rieng province and Ho Chi

Minh City] gets as much traffic in one day as we get in a month here," said

border control officer David Carden. During the elections, traffic came to a virtual

standstill, and has not resumed in any significant way since.

Stationed at the remote outpost with military observers and a small contingent from

the Uruguayan battalion, the border control operation is fairly low-key. The border

control officers' main duties are to inspect cargo and check for the necessary permits.

As Carden put it, "Our function is to monitor, not to intervene." This

is as much common sense as obeying orders, given that the UNTAC border officers are

unarmed and trucks often arrive at the border lacking the proper permits but accompanied

by armed CPAF soldiers.

Trucks bound for Cambodia are filled with market goods, mostly tiles, fuel, and cement,

as well as fruit and vegetables, to be sold in local markets or in the provincial

capital of Ban Lung.

Trucks on their way from Cambodia to Vietnam, on the other hand, carry a valuable,

if often illegal, cargo - rubber from the plantations around Ban Lung. In order to

legally export rubber, traders must purchase it fully processed from the government-owned

rubber processing factory in Ban Lung, where they are issued a receipt. The receipt

is then exchanged for an export permit, signed by the deputy governor of the province,

Bou Thang.

But because the processing factory at Ban Lung has been out of operation for some

months, thanks to the exodus of the Vietnamese engineers who maintained the plant

and the subsequent theft of much of its equipment, there is no processed rubber to

be had. So the traders buy semi-processed rubber instead, often directly from the

plantation workers. Even without the necessary permits, the profits to made on this

rubber make it worthwhile to pay the necessary bribes to get the shipment across

the border. Often it is CPAF officials selling the rubber, and the Cambodian officials

at the checkpoint aren't inclined to challenge them.

Another popular Cambodian export across CV-10 is cigarettes, although they too are

illegal, their importation into Vietnam prohibited by the Vietnamese government.

As with everything else, this apparently poses no serious obstacle. Trucks laden

with cartons of 555s and other popular brands cross the border into the 5 kilometer

"no man's land" between the Cambodian and Vietnamese checkpoints. There

they park and set up camp, waiting for the Vietnamese traders to come through the

forest. A case of cigarettes that is bought for $190 in Ban Lung goes for $240-250

to the traders, who then haul their cargo through the woods around the Vietnamese

border control.

Customs on the Cambodian side are fairly erratic, according to the border officers,

who are not directly involved in this aspect of border control. In theory, a truck

costs 10,000 riels at the border crossing, and each passenger is charged 3,000 riels.

For most goods tax is seven percent. In practice, customs collection is haphazard

at best, and there seems to be no accounting for the moneys that are collected. According

to one observer, the Cambodian government doesn't want to charge more tax for fear

of discouraging people from paying even this minimal amount.

Even the passage of immigrants back and forth - at least those who openly cross the

border rather than slip through the forest on the network of the Ho Chi Minh trail

- has greatly slowed. The numbers of Vietnamese entering Cambodia to work in the

gold mines near the border dropped dramatically in April before the elections due

to threats of violence, then the onset of the rainy season which is forcing the closure

of the mines.

Vietnamese immigration policy is also subject to change. For a short period in June,

Cambodians were permitted to enter Vietnam with a provincial "laisser passer"

issued in the provincial capital ban lung, but this experiment only lasted from June

10-19.

As UNTAC reduces its presence in Rattanakiri province and prepares to withdraw completely

by mid-August, the UN border control operation at CV-10 [ck?] was due to be closed

on [?]. Once again life on the border will revert to an almost forgotten, out-of-the-way

operation.

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