K OH KONG - This southern Cambodian province is economically suffering because of
a government ban on trading with neighboring Thailand, according to its deputy
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.
of commerce were being affected, from big business people to porters and
Some people were turning to environmentally-damaging jobs -
such as shrimp farming, logging and charcoal producing - to replace lost
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.
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.
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
But he said smuggling still continued, though maybe conducted
"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.
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
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.
this year, the Cambodian government has been instructing that Phnom Penh and
Kompong Som are the only seaports for legal importing and exporting of