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Illegal checkpoints exploit rice traders

P OLICE and military at river checkpoints are exploiting rice importers at the same time as the country faces severe rice shortages, traders complain.

Vietnamese boat owners importing and delivering rice around Cambodia's provinces along the Mekong and Bassac rivers say they are charged high fees at the checkpoints.

One Vietnamese trader said he had paid two million riels to Cambodian middlemen in order to pass checkpoints around the country.

"There was no formal receipt or bill of this charging. They just look at the boat and ask whatever they want."

Vietnamese traders used Cambodian brokers to negotiate with checkpoint officials, he said, because they would otherwise be charged even more.

He said six legal and illegal checkpoints were in force along one 40km stretch of river from the Vietnamese border to Neak Leung, in the Prey Veng province most hard-hit by the rice crisis.

Checkpoint officials demanded "taxes" of anything from 10,000-500,000 riels, he said.

A provincial town policeman told the Post that police and soldiers paid bribes to their officers to be posted in checkpoints where they could make money from corruption.

They usually paid between $200-500, though he had heard of one Neak Leung policeman who had paid $4,000 for a checkpoint "chief" job.

He explained that police, soldiers and customs officers usually manned a checkpoint together, sharing the proceeds.

Checkpoint fees had been rising steadily for the last two months.

Tep Nannory, the Prey Veng provincial governor, said he had not given any officials permissions to tax rice imports.

"I think maybe it has happened but I have to investigate".

"If anyone is corrupt, I would take him out...but I'm afraid these people are maybe not my soldiers or police."

He said some military and police were employed by the central Phnom Penh government and outside his control.

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