Demining Authority Has Some Donors Worried Concerned

While expressing satisfaction with some anticipated administrative changes in the Cambodian Mine Action Center, some don­ors are concerned about the possibility that former agency director general Sam Sotha—fired last year amid fraud allegations—will regain some of his former power.

One of the changes is the creation of a National Cambodian Demining Regulatory Authority to oversee demining not only for CMAC but for demining agencies MAG and the Halo Trust.

Though it is unclear who will be making demining decisions in Cambodia under the authority, Sam Sotha remains close to the issue as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s demining adviser.

Some donors have suggested Sam Sotha may have undue influence over where demining in Cambodia is heading. This was perhaps most dramatically evidenced late last year when Hun Sen, at Sam Sotha’s urging, suggested cutting nearly 90 percent of CMAC’s staff if donors did not contribute more money to the financially-troubled agency.

At the time, one Western diplomatic source commented that “Sam Sotha is running CMAC, one step removed,” a view that some donors say has current Director General Khem Sophoan worried about continued donor aid to the agency.

Other donors said, though, they have only heard of Sam Sotha’s influence and have found no “tangible” evidence that he is calling the shots.

Neither Khem Sophoan nor Sam Sotha could be reached for comment Monday.

CMAC Governing Council Chairman Ieng Mouly said he did not know what role any current or former agency officials, including Sam Sotha, will play in the authority.

“That is up to [Hun Sen],” Ieng Mouly said.

Despite concerns, the creation of the national authority is being seen as an improvement, according to Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot.

“[CMAC] is moving in a direction a lot of donor countries wanted all along—separating service delivery from administration,” Mailhot said.

“He is worried the donors will not respond if Sam Sotha is in charge,” one donor said Monday

 

 

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