BETWEEN 30 and 40 illegal border crossings in Banteay Meanchey province have been closed in an attempt to curb the smuggling of pigs, gas, petrol, fruits and expired perishable foods from Thailand to Cambodia, provincial officials said Wednesday.
“We have closed more than 30 illegal border crossing points along the border with Thailand to stop smuggling, and this closure is forever,” Banteay Meanchey deputy governor Im Phoansophal said.
He expressed concern about the smuggling of expired food – including fruits, raw chicken, goat meat and packaged products – that he said had sickened some Cambodians.
The smugglers, he said, “have brought in spoiled foods for people to eat, which is making people’s health deteriorate, and this has caused the state to lose income”.
He declined to provide any figures supporting this claim, though he accused local businessmen of resorting to smuggling in order to evade taxes.
“Businessmen have always used these illegal crossing points to smuggle their goods. They prefer to do things this way because they don’t want to pay tax on items, and they think it will cost less to just bribe local officials,” he said.
He noted that Thai and Cambodian villagers living along the border could still legally exchange goods on a small scale.
The crackdown, which took place in Malai, O’Chrov and Thmar Puok districts, was ordered by Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan, he added.
Om Chantha, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial cabinet chief, said almost 40 smuggling paths had been blocked off, and that the crackdown had been delayed so as not to aggravate cross-border tension with Thailand.
“We have known for awhile that there were illegal crossing points along the border, but we needed to take time for our investigation and had to delay the crackdown because of tension with Thailand,” he said.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, also said Cambodia lost a substantial amount of income due to illegal smuggling, though he blamed local police for accepting bribes and “looking the other way”.
“Hundreds of millions of riels are lost every year because of these crossing points. Smugglers don’t pay tax on items; instead they give bribes to the police to feed their units,” he said.
“It makes me question why they are taking action now. Why did they not take action before this?”