Hundreds of Cambodian security personnel blocked all access to the border crossing at Poipet, in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, on Saturday, ahead of opposition leader Sam Rainsy's planned return to the country.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was expected to return to the country on November 9, using the land border with Thailand at Poipet. The Cambodian government in response had deployed hundreds of mixed security forces, including army personnel, to fortify the border crossing. The security forces could be seen stationed at makeshift barracks on Friday, just outside the town.
Security forces blocked multiple intersections on National Road 5 leading to the border crossing, preventing residents of the border town, casino and market workers, and international tourists from accessing the border.
Around 8:30 am, security personnel allowed only casino workers to walk towards casinos along the border. International tourists were also relieved when they were allowed to cross the border, after spending the morning waiting at the multiple barricades on National Road 5.
Poipet residents who work near the border or at markets in Thailand are still being prevented from crossing the barricades and all vehicular access is still restricted. Security personnel did not confirm when the blockade will be lifted, saying it could last all day.
“Casino workers are allowed in but not Cambodian tourists or Cambodians who want to do business in Rong Kleu market [in Thailand],” announced a police officer to residents at one of the security barricades.
Phut Kosal, a fruit seller in the same market, sat at a small restaurant nearby eating his breakfast. He was disappointed that he could not cross the border and work because it could potentially cost him $100 in daily income.
“I am a bit scared,” he said. “But I think this is just to frighten [people]. Nothing will happen.”
The blockade in Poipet comes as CNRP leaders have faced difficulties reaching Thailand. The Thai government has said it will not allow the CNRP to use their border crossing to enter Cambodia. Opposition leader Mu Sochua was first denied entry into Bangkok earlier this week and then detained in Malaysia Wednesday night, only to be released Thursday evening.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said he was not allowed to board a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok on Thursday. However, a Facebook message on his personal page posted Friday night claimed that he was on a flight to Asia, but did not specify to which country.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager rights group Licadho, said there was no signs of protests or resistance among the people in Poipet and that authorities should allow people to get to work.
“There are no people coming to protest,” he said, speaking to VOA Khmer in Poipet. “People including workers should be able to do their business so that they will not lose income.”