The CPP Central Committee on Saturday authorized Prime Minister Hun Sen to fire party members accused of grabbing land without first consulting with his CPP colleagues, officials said Sunday.
Hun Sen’s new power, bestowed upon him at the central committee’s annual meeting Saturday, will enable him to immediately dismiss senior party members accused of encroaching on state or privately-owned land, CPP officials said.
“Samdech Hun Sen can fire officials and inform the party later,” CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.
Prior to the decision, the CPP had to convene its permanent committee to decide on whether to take any action against a senior party official, Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
Hun Sen told the meeting—attended by 254 members of the central committee at CPP headquarters—that party officials embroiled in land disputes should step down, Khieu Kanharith said.
Rights workers have long warned that Cambodia’s numerous land disputes risk destabilizing the country; Hun Sen said in December 2005 that they could spark a “farmer revolution.”
The new authority granted to Hun Sen does not indicate a further consolidation of power in the prime minister’s hands, Khieu Kanharith added.
“He has the right [to resolve] land issues. He doesn’t have the right to appoint any officials,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Former Ratanakkiri provincial governor Kham Khoeun, who remains at large after being convicted over an illegal-logging scandal, was removed from the central committee at the meeting, Khieu Kanharith said.
Kham Khoeun was sentenced in absentia to 17 years in prison Nov 23, 2006 for his role in the 2004 Virachey National Park logging scandal.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the central committee expressed its support for prosecuting senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and reaffirmed the party’s continued cooperation with Funcinpec.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said Hun Sen’s new authority may be aimed at enabling him to weed out senior party officials whom he considers disloyal, rather than at serving the public interest.
“It is a CPP internal affair,” he said. “If [Hun Sen] wants to remove any CPP officials, they will claim those officials are involved with land disputes,” he said. “There must be another faction [within the CPP] competing for power.”
Sam Rainsy added that Hun Sen is simply paying lip service to the issue of land grabbing in a bid to attract more voters ahead of April’s commune elections. “It is just window dressing. It is not a solution,” he said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, head of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, said he does not believe the ruling party has any real will to combat land grabbing.
Most of the people involved in land grabbing belong to the ruling party, he claimed.
“They [CPP officials] created the problem. No one but CPP officials are involved in land disputes,” he said.
“There is no intention to solve the land issue. It is just an election campaign [move].”
Cheam Yeap said the government is serious about combating land grabbing, adding that Hun Sen’s new power does not represent electioneering on the part of the CPP.