Gov’t Will Replace Embattled Poipet Chief

Poipet’s renegade commune chief, whose unpopularity among locals prompted threats of mass demonstrations to remove him, will be replaced this week, a Min­istry of Interior official said Tues­day.

Poipet commune Chief Sok Sovann, who has stirred controversy since he was elected in 2002, will be replaced on Friday by Hay Nemheng, a Sam Rainsy Party member and current deputy commune chief, said Leng Vy, the Interior Ministry’s director for the department of local administration.

Co-Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry signed off on Sok Sovann’s removal after more than 3,000 people threatened to stage a protest last week if he wasn’t replaced, Leng Vy said.

Since early February, Poipet commune councilors have been on strike in protest at Sok So­vann’s alleged “rude words” and insults toward them.

Locals also called for his ouster because, though he had been elected as an opposition candidate, Sok Sovann was fired by the Sam Rainsy Party last year over allegations of corruption.

“We will conduct an investigation into his alleged corrupt ac­tions. If we find out, we will punish him,” Leng Vy said.

Now a Funcinpec member, Sok Sovann on Tuesday said he will relinquish his position, but denied any wrongdoing, charging that the Sam Rainsy Party and CPP commune councilors had colluded to plot his removal.

“I condemn the Sam Rainsy Party and CPP,” he said. “I am the victim of politics.”

Asked about his future plans, Sok Sovann said he will continue to live in the commune. “I want to be one of the common people,” he said.

Sok Sovann’s replacement, Hay Namheng, said Tuesday he aims to develop the commune. “First step: I will call for a meeting…and draw a new plan to help the people,” he said. “Within the two years under Sok Sovann’s control, we have not developed the commune. This time, we will serve the people who have voted for us.”

Commune councilors on Tues­day also said they would return to work once the replacement was official.

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