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Unauthorised military jackets cause furore during Water Festival

An army jacket not authorised for sale to the public hangs on display at a roadside clothing shop yesterday in Phnom Penh.
An army jacket not authorised for sale to the public hangs on display at a roadside clothing shop yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Unauthorised military jackets cause furore during Water Festival

Street vendor Seoung Panha said yesterday that selling black jackets emblazoned with the words “POLICE” and “ARMY” had generated good business for him while it lasted.

But after more than 300 civilians were busted over the course of the Water Festival for sporting the jackets – which police confiscated – the boom times appear to have come to an end. Several vendors at Teuk Thla Market and street shop vendors on Street 217 near Veng Sreng Boulevard yesterday said local authorities paid them a visit on Saturday to warn them to stop selling such jackets – albeit half-heartedly in some cases.

Teuk Thla Market has long been a clearinghouse where officials and civilians alike can easily get their hands on anything related to the police and military, such as uniforms, footwear and various pieces of equipment. The market has thrived in plain sight for years, despite the fact that it’s illegal to sell such material to civilians.

Indeed, even after the weekend’s warning, Panha said he will still sell the last three jackets that he has left, noting that they’ve become a trend among youngsters. What’s more, he added, the authorities who take a daily 1,000-riel bribe from him only asked that he “hide them”.

Panha began to sell the jackets, which he attained from a trader, about a month ago. He has sold around 100 for $7 to $7.50 each. He said the jackets are very popular among teens, with sales seeming to take off exponentially among trend-chasing youths eager to keep up with their peers. “That’s how they became very popular,” he said yesterday afternoon. “It’s really good business.”

Chhay Kim Khouen, chief of staff at the National Police, yesterday said anywhere between 330 to 340 festival-goers were arrested during the last two days of the Water Festival for wearing the police and army jackets.

“We didn’t see them wearing these jackets during the first day of the festival, but we saw them on the second day and on the last day of the festival,” he said. “All of them were released after being educated and told not to wear [the jackets] again.”

Kim Khouen declined to comment on what action might be taken against vendors selling such products, and referred questions to Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Choun Sovann. Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Khoung Sreng declined to comment and also referred questions to Sovann, who couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

Sopha Rath, a vendor at Teuk Thla Market, said district authorities on Saturday went around the market informing vendors to stop selling the jackets.

“It’s a hot issue,” he said of the jackets. However, authorities “don’t have a problem with [vendors] selling military uniforms”.

Rath said military officers only get two uniforms per year, which is not enough, so they go to the market to buy extras. However, he admitted that vendors don’t ask their clients for proof of their positions before selling them police- or military-related items.

Rath maintained his business didn’t carry any of the offending jackets, and said that district authorities were going to conduct a follow-up inspection today at Teuk Thla – a possible explanation for the scarcity of jackets on display yesterday.

However, Sok Makara, a vendor on Street 217 near Veng Sreng Boulevard, said he began to sell the jackets right before Pchum Ben after getting them from a vendor at Teuk Thla. “When I went there to buy them, all the shops had them,” he said.

“They have everything at that market.”

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