Phnom Penh police yesterday launched a coordinated operation to seize illegal walkie-talkies from tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi drivers, in order to rid the capital of alleged “anarchy”.
The campaign is the initiative of the capital’s chief and reportedly comes in response to complaints that drivers’ use of unlicensed walkie-talkies not only facilitates vigilantism and street fights, but also intercepts the communication of authorities, businesses and embassies.
“In the past, these groups have collided with cars and other motorbikes and called their friends to confront the other party,” explained the director of the Ministry of Interior’s Radio Communication Department, Min Sovanna.
“When the police arrived, they would disappear, creating confusion because police also hold communication radios. Tuk-tuks and motorbikes do not have the right to use these communication radios. We apply that rule equally.”
According to Sovanna, authorities will, as a first step, seize walkie-talkies, giving owners a chance to apply for permission from the Ministry of Telecommunication to use the appropriate frequency to avoid future technical problems.
Some 36 walkie-talkies were confiscated from tuk-tuks yesterday, but none were taken from motodops, whom authorities suggested were given a heads-up about the operation.
The deputy director of the Tonle Bassac Tuk-Tuk Association (CCTA), Soth Sen, whose device was temporarily seized, claimed that his group used only short-range radios to contact its members in the Aeon Mall area.
He said that he would not object to registering their devices with the Ministry to run his business legally.
“I don’t know why we should have to request the frequency, as we buy the radios with an ID,” he said. “But if they want us to ask for permission, I will do so as it makes things easier for me.”
Ly Salin of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) admitted that some tuk-tuk drivers are guilty of using walkie-talkies inappropriately, but that this is not representative of the business generally.
“There are messes in individual cases, but police should not judge all drivers by this. Authorities should target those causing the phenomenon rather than taking wholesale action,” he said.
IDEA says that more than 1,000 of its members are using legal walkie-talkies bought from a licensed local store. According to Salin, walkie-talkies make some tasks easier for drivers, such as picking up passengers, but he also acknowledged that they were sometimes used in precisely the fashion authorities say they hope to curb.
“Sometimes we tend to act like police who alert each other to tackle a thief or robber along the road,” he said.
IDEA president Vorn Pov, however, insisted that the group’s use of walkie-talkies was legal, and defended drivers’ rights to self-defence.
“If police could help us efficiently and quickly, we would go to them when we have problems,” Pov said. “As civil society, we do not act illegally. We only hope the authorities will be open to legitimate requests to licence walkie-talkies.”