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,
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
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
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