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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koh Kong asks govt to review Thai trade ban

Koh Kong asks govt to review Thai trade ban

K OH KONG - This southern Cambodian province is economically suffering because of

a government ban on trading with neighboring Thailand, according to its deputy

governor.

Van Kirirot said he had asked the Ministry of Interior to

reconsider its ban on trade between Koh Kong and Thailand, imposed early this

year in a bid to combat smuggling.

He said legitimate business people

were being hit hard by the edict, while smuggling continued.

All levels

of commerce were being affected, from big business people to porters and

retailers.

Some people were turning to environmentally-damaging jobs -

such as shrimp farming, logging and charcoal producing - to replace lost

employment elsewhere.

The Ministry of Interior's ban was designed to

channel trade with Thailand through Kompong Som port, further east, to ensure

better enforcement of taxation rules for imported goods.

Previously, Koh

Kong, and particularly Koh Kong Island off the province's western coastline, was

a key destination point for cigarettes, alcohol, motorcycles and other goods

imported from Thailand.

Van Kirirot said some 10 per cent of the island's

70,000 population had left because of the downturn in business.

He

estimated that as many as 60 to 80 per cent of business people and their

employees had lost their jobs, while land and accommodation prices were falling

sharply.

But he said smuggling still continued, though maybe conducted

more covertly.

"They believe that this sea-route [from Thailand to Koh

Kong Island] is very difficult to control but even though they're only allowing

one single route to Kompong Som seaport, the smuggling still exists.

"I

think to control the smugglers we should not be concerned about the route they

use, but how we deal with them. If they [customs or police officers] still

accept bribes the smugglers will continue."

Sar Ho, director of the

Ministry of Finance's customs department - which requested the Ministry of

Interior's ban - said it was hard to stop smuggling into Koh Kong

province.

Smugglers were often supported by heavily-armed military, and

local authorities largely ignored the illicit trade.

It was easier to

monitor the flow of trade into Kompong Som port, where the appropriate taxes

could be imposed on imported goods.

Sar Ho said some 50 to 80 per cent of

goods imported to Koh Kong were smuggled - no tax was paid on them - losing the

government millions of dollars a year in potential revenue.

A Koh Kong

businessman, who would not be named, told the Post that many of the province's

police, military and custom staff were corrupt.

He said that the military

assisted businessmen to smuggle goods without being taxed, while customs

officers sometimes charged tax but kept the money themselves.

Since early

this year, the Cambodian government has been instructing that Phnom Penh and

Kompong Som are the only seaports for legal importing and exporting of

goods.

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