Governor Blasted for Skipping Land Meeting

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday accused the governor of Ratanakkiri province of breaking the law when he invoked Mr. Kheng’s name to skip a meeting with three other ministers who were visiting the province last week to review land disputes.

Mr. Kheng lambasted Thang Savun, the governor of the northeastern province since 2014 and son of CPP stalwart Bou Thang, during a meeting at the Sofitel hotel in Phnom Penh held to review efforts to enforce the traffic law.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at the Sofitel hotel in Phnom Penh during a meeting on the implementation of the traffic law. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“I have not seen that provincial governor for many days,” he said of Mr. Savun. “When they went to his province, he lied to the ministers, saying that he was busy meeting with the interior minister. But I did not meet with him.”

“Why did he lie to the ministers? They are representatives of the whole government including representatives of the prime minister,” he added. “It is not correct, and it is illegal.”

Mr. Kheng did not say whether the governor would be punished, and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he was not aware of the situation.

Mr. Savun could not be reached. His deputy, Nhem Sam Oeun, said he was in Phnom Penh when the three ministers—Land Management Minister Chea Sophara, Environment Minister Say Sam Al and Rural Development Minister Ouk Rabun—paid a visit, so did not know if his boss had intentionally avoided them.

Mr. Savun has proven to be a controlling and at times uncooperative provincial boss, refusing to work with the U.N. in helping Vietnamese asylum-seekers and ordering journalists in the province to stop gathering and taking photographs.

As an ethnic minority himself, there was some optimism that Mr. Savun would help protect indigenous communities who have for years struggled against deforestation, land grabbing and environmental destruction.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the governor was generally setting a positive example in the province, opening new tourist attractions and taking a disciplined approach to sensitive issues.

“Since he became a provincial governor, the land disputes seem calmer because both companies and authorities wait for the solution from the national level,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting in Phnom Penh, Mr. Kheng also reeled off a 10-point reminder for safe driving: Don’t speed; don’t drive drunk, on drugs or while sleepy; wear a helmet or seat belt; drive on the right side of the road; check your vehicle before departing; know how to drive your vehicle; and be careful when turning.

Min Manavy, a secretary of state at the Transport Ministry, said the government must make various efforts to get out the message—through local officials, Facebook pages and smartphone applications—as police continue enforcing the traffic law, which came into effect a year ago.

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