Crossing Cambodia

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ripping off Vietnam

One way of earning a decent living in Cambodia is by smuggling gasoline from Vietnam, where it's cheaper. Not allowed in Vietnam, openly traded in all Cambodia. Pity the Vietnamese regularly pick up smugglers. Thanx to KI Media:
Gasoline Smuggling in Kampot province and Kep city

While the price of gasoline in Cambodia is higher than that in neighboring countries, gas smuggling is on the rise in provinces bordering with neighboring countries.

In Kampot province and Kep City, gas smuggling is done by sea. Kep residents who have no jobs, and who are very poor, as well as other villagers from Trapeang Lapov district, Angkor Chey district, Dang Tung district, in Kampot provinces, are involved in the smuggling. A large majority of these people act as laborers transporting gasoline for large businessmen, and only a small number of them are independent smugglers.

41-year-old Korm Samin said that he is into the smuggling trade for the past one year because his fishing trade is getting continually worst. He complained that currently, the smuggling trade is also getting more difficult as well, the profit is low, and he also faces police arrest.

Korm Samin said: “In this (smuggling) trade, you fear that you will be caught (by the police) because when you get caught, you lose, and we wouldn’t have anything to eat at home for 2 or 3 days. It’s never sure, sometime you leave (from home) at 5:00 PM, and you get there (Vietnam) at 7:00 PM, then you return back at 9 to 10:00 PM to come back home. [The amount of smuggled gas] is not steady, sometime you smuggled in 100 containers, but at other times, you would bring in 70 to 80 containers only. Before, it was cheaper, when the price of gas was cheaper, the cost is a littler over 50,000 riels (~$12.50), and we get here over 60,000 riels (~$15.00)”

Gas smugglers operate by sea using small boats departing from Kep city, they head to the Vietnamese border, in Ha Tien province. After purchasing gas there, they have to head back home in the middle of the night, and they have to make it back before daybreak in order to avoid large waves.

20-year-old Khieu from Kep City is working for others to transport smuggled gas. He said that each trip earns him up to 20,000 riels (~$5.00) only. “They call us to be the boat skipper for the large smugglers. They are the ones who make a lot of profit, for me, I receive only a small amount, about 10 to 15,000 riels only (~$2.50 to $3.75). Sometimes, if we make the wrong run, and take a bad path, the Vietnamese could shoot us, some even died from this shooting.”

50-year-old Chak Kol is another transporter of smuggled gas for others. He said that some of those who transport smuggled gas have been arrested by the Vietnamese authority and thrown in jail for 4 or 5 days, before the Cambodian authority asked for their release back. “We don’t get much, but we have nothing else, so we just do it, we have to endure it, no matter how hard it is. When the Vietnamese [authority] catches us, they confiscate everything, the gas, the boat, and they throw us in jail. One time, some of the smugglers were arrested [by the Vietnamese], then our side [Cambodian authority] went there by boat, and asked for their release, it was then that [the Vietnamese] release them and they could come back home. It’s not like we can do whatever we want, we cannot just transport [the smuggled gas] day and night as we see fit, we can’t do that.”

According to the local people, the large gas traders, who have the backing from officials, are the ones who can smuggle in tens of thousands of liters of gas and bring them into Kampot province and Kep City, but for the small time smugglers, the most they can bring in per trip is about 100 liters only.

Kong Chea, the police chief of Kep City, claimed that his police force used to arrest the small smugglers there, but that the majority of them travel to Kampot province instead. “There are smugglers here, we always arrest them, and now they don’t come here anymore. My force lacks transportation means to patrol at sea. We cannot go to sea, if we want to go to sea, we must rent a boat. But, in Kep City, there is not much to worry about.”

Thach Khon, Kampot province governor, admitted about gas smuggling in his province. Each month, the authority confiscates about 20,000 liters of smuggled gas. He said that because of the vast extent of the sea shore, the authority has a hard time eliminating this problem.

Thach Khon said: “… we try hard to arrest them, a report just came in that almost 5,000 liters of smuggled gas were caught, and each month, we confiscate tens of thousands of liters of gas. But, our sea is large, and we lack equipment, this doesn’t mean that we don’t make arrest, we do make arrest, like today, I just signed in a report saying that more than 1,000 liters, almost 2,000 liters [of smuggled were confiscated].”

Even though the authority claims that it intensely goes after gas smuggling, smuggling still take place in Kampot province and Kep City.

A local official of the Adhoc human rights group said that the authority only arrest poor people who smuggled in 1 to 2 gas containers, but it never arrest large smuggled gas traders who have the backing of high-ranking officials.
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