More than a year and a half since he was removed from office over an illegal logging scandal, former Mondolkiri provincial governor Chhaom Bun Khan will become first deputy governor of Ratanakkiri province, officials said.
Chhaom Bun Khan will take over the post held by Vorn Chhunly, who will move to Kratie province to become first deputy governor there.
“In fact, Chhaom Bun Khan was not involved in [illegal logging], but was blamed because he was governing the province at the time. I am very happy he is being reinstated,” Vorn Chhunly said.
Vorn Chhunly said the order for the transfer was issued earlier this month by the Ministry of the Interior, and the transfer was officially to take effect at a ceremony Thursday in Banlung town, Ratanakkiri’s capital.
Chhaom Bun Khan and his first deputy governor Meas Thorng were removed from their offices under orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen in January 2000 after 400 truckloads of lumber were illegally shipped from Mondolkiri to Vietnam in November and December 1999. A military investigation into the logging scandal found that roads had been built in the province to accommodate the trucks.
Global Witness, an environmental watchdog group, originally reported the illegal logging to the government in December, 1999, a move that eventually led to Chhaom Bun Khan’s removal. At the time, Global Witness director Patrick Alley said he was pleased with the crackdown, but noted that it might be “politically convenient” for the CPP, given that Chhaom Bun Khan is a member of Funcinpec.
Global Witness said Tuesday they did not know about Chhaom Bun Khan’s impending return to political office, and had no comment.
Lieutenant General Chea Dara, head of RCAF’s anti-logging task force and the man in charge of the investigation that led to Chhaom Bun Khan’s dismissal, also had no comment on the transfer.
(Additional reporting by John Gravois)