Mondolkiri Governor Replaced Amid Local Discontent

Eng Bunheang, the much-crit­icized governor of Mondol­kiri province, will be replaced by his deputy today in a ceremony pre­sided over by Interior Min­ister Sar Kheng, according to officials.

While the government maintains that Mr. Bunheang is only being replaced because he has reached retirement age—he is 60—-activists and rights workers sus­pect his removal is related to dis­content he has created among in­digenous communities and his failure to curb rampant illegal logging in the eastern province.

Mr. Bunheang, a CPP stalwart and former deputy governor, was ap­pointed governor of the prov­ince in 2013. Now, less than three years later, he will be replaced by his own deputy, Svay Sam Eang, ac­cording to Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

“His age requires him to be re­tired,” he said. “Mr. Bunheang will be sent to work at the Interior Min­istry, but the upper level has not yet appointed him to a specific position.”

Asked to explain why Mr. Bun­heang was too old to lead the pro­vincial government but still able to serve the state, General Sopheak said only that such a transfer was “natural.”

Eang Mengly, a provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the move appeared to be anything but.

“We don’t know the real reason for his removal,” Mr. Mengly said. “But last year, the communities filed complaints to the Interior Min­istry and the National As­sembly, as well as the Council of Min­isters, requesting the removal of the governor because they were angry that he revoked freedoms and violated human rights.”

In October, some 900 members of 17 ethnic Bunong communities in Mondolkiri thumb-printed a pe­tition calling for Mr. Bunheang to be ousted and sent it to the In­terior Min­istry. The document ac­cused the governor of preventing the com­munities from marching on In­ternational Day of the World’s In­digenous Peoples and turn­ing a blind eye to their many land disputes. The ministry re­sponded by asking the governor to explain his actions.

Other appeals sent to the government conveyed the communities’ frustration that Mr. Bunheang had seemingly done nothing to pre­vent the illegal logging that has been devastating the forests on which the groups depend, according to Mr. Mengly.

Kroeung Tola, a representative of Mondolkiri’s many Bunong com­munities, said he was convin­ced that Mr. Bunheang was being re­placed as a result of the groups’ ac­tivism, in particular their threat to de­fect from the CPP in upcoming elections, having been loyal supporters of the ruling party in previous polls.

“Our people voted in order to help the governor. But in the end, the governor mistreated the people,” he said. “I think the removal of the provincial governor occurred be­cause our minority people threatened to not vote for the CPP if the gov­ernment did not remove the governor.”

Neither Mr. Bunheang nor his re­placement, Mr. Sam Eang, could be reached Wednesday.

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