Authorities’ seizure of two overweight grain trucks carrying Cambodian produce over the Thai border sparked protest by hundreds of farmers and the arrest of four alleged instigators.
The two trucks were shipping Cambodian grain out of the country from Battambang province on Saturday when authorities found they were overweight, according to Phnom Proek district governor Song Sopheak.
Authorities fined the two Thai drivers and confiscated the trucks to be taken off the roads for a year, Sopheak said.
But news of the seizure quickly spread online and local farmers began to gather in protest, fearing that Thai grain trucks would stop coming to their area to buy their produce, the district governor said.
“More and more people came to gather, and the working group could not bring the truck to its destination on the 9th. People mobilized after they heard this or that information — more and more — so the working group pulled back,” Sopheak said.
There were around 500 people obstructing and confronting police and military police officers from several districts who were trying to maintain security, he said.
“They came to intervene and prevent violence from happening. It was night, and there were few officers, and some of [the protesters] had removed air from tires and cut fuel pipes.”
He added that one of the Thai drivers had also escaped during the seizure.
The following morning, provincial authorities arrived to take away the trucks and arrest four instigators for the protest, he said.
“Some people were speaking the true thing, that brothers and sisters should come to protest to prevent authorities from taking the truck. And some people were providing water so that they could keep protesting for longer. I have seen that these were the people who have been taken,” Sopheak added.
Duong Saron, spokesperson for the Battambang court’s prosecution office, said four people, including one woman, had been arrested for obstructing authorities and mobilizing people.
“The authorities are questioning them, and they are in the hands of the authorities,” Saron said.
Farmer Sothan Borey said over the weekend, before the arrests, that locals in the border area were worried about losing markets for their produce. They were currently producing thousands of tons of corn a day to export to Thailand, he said.
His family had borrowed $30,000 to invest in their corn, cassava and mango production, he said.
“Farmers recognize that this truck was overweight. But if transported at the set standard weight, it lowers the price of corn,” he said, adding that the impact on farmers would be severe. “Firstly, the risk of double debt, because the farming of Cambodian farmers is dependent on bank loans. Secondly, farmers’ corn will be damaged because corn is now being harvested and cannot be stored for long.”
Another farmer in Phnom Proek district, Seng Han, said he was also thousands of dollars in debt. “If Thailand does not come to buy from our farmers, we face difficulties,” he said. “We live on this border. We depend on the Thai market.”