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Vendors made to toe party line

Armed security guards stand at the entrance of Phnom Penh’s Central Market
Armed security guards stand at the entrance of Central Market. KARA FOX

Vendors made to toe party line

Strolling through Central Market, it is no secret which party runs the place. Each storefront has two or three CPP posters and many display portraits of Prime Minister Hun Sen, while there is not a single CNRP rising sun to be found.

Last Friday, when opposition leader Sam Rainsy was welcomed by upwards of 100,000 CNRP supporters, many of whom had been waiting since dawn, the vendors at Central Market were not able to share in the momentous event. Those who tried say they were intimidated by security guards who ordered them to go back to work.

“We just wanted to hear what [Sam Rainsy] said, but they shouted at me to return. I’m afraid of being mistreated, so I returned,” said a 35-year-old clothing seller who refused to reveal her name fearing further reprisal from market officials.

In addition to blocking market vendors from welcoming the opposition leader, anyone trying to peruse the market sporting a CNRP logo risks being forced to leave, vendors told the Post.

Two jewellery vendors, afraid to speak on the matter in the open, summoned reporters across the street to a small shop in an alleyway.

“A few days ago, a CNRP activist entered the market and was dismissed by security guards. We dare not speak up, because we are under their authority,” said a female jeweller, 27.

Many vendors claimed stricter rules were placed on known CNRP supporters, who face near-constant harassment.

“We are warned not to even wave to welcome the CNRP campaign around the market. We cannot talk about other parties or we will be asked to the main office,” one vendor said, adding that on the day of Rainsy’s arrival, security guards took note of any vendors who tried to attend the speech using video cameras placed on the outer perimeter of the market.

Pon Dany, Central Market chief, rejected the allegations, saying the vendors were distorting the truth.

“It is not true. We did not ban vendors from listening to any speech. Whoever said this, please come to me,” she said, adding that the vendors asked for CPP posters to adorn their stores.

Opposition candidate Son Chhay said yesterday that the market was highly influenced by the CPP and accused those running it of oppression.

“People should have a right to complain about this. It is illegal, and we have to take action against that. The government controls the markets; when [the CNRP] tries to go to the market, they try to stop us,” he said.

“Cambodia is supposed to be a democratic society, but the system is the same as before. The government controls the market, businesses, everything. People are fed up with the system.”

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