Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that Ratanakkiri’s former top officials were removed last month over allegations of illegal logging, and reiterated that officials will be fired and face trial if they engage in land-grabbing.
“There will be no more forgiveness because we have talked about the same thing for many years,” Hun Sen said told a conference on land management and urban development.
“The governor of Ratanakkiri, the commander of the Ratanakkiri Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and of the Ratanakkiri police were removed from their positions and handed over to the court to charge them,” Hun Sen said.
“Through that investigation, it was found there was an involvement in illegal logging,” he added.
The province’s governor, Kham Khoeun, provincial police chief Yoeung Baloung and sub-regional RCAF Commander Moeung Samouen were moved from their positions on Jan 23 to jobs at the Interior Ministry.
The removals came on the heels of a court investigation into a massive illegal logging operation discovered in the province’s Virachey National Park in 2004.
Kham Khoeun has denied allegations of his involvement in the scandal and claimed his name was tied to the incident because he had blown the whistle.
Hun Sen said the removals of senior officials will not be the last.
“It will not be the last: If it involves land encroachment, then there would be no forgiveness,” he said.
He said some senior officials own land in every province of the country, and that these officials should give the land to poor people who have no land to farm, or face dismissal.
He added that the destruction of land titles by the Khmer Rouge continues to haunt the country. He said that with the cooperation of donors, the government is now granting 20,000 land titles per month and by 2015, 65 percent of land ownership should be registered.
Hun Sen’s tough words on systemic land-grabbing by powerful officials in his government comes ahead of the Consultative Group meeting in March, which has taken land issues as a core reform barometer. Threats of jail and expulsion from government jobs have been issued on several occasions in the past by the prime minister.
In 1999, Hun Sen issued an 11-point directive to end land-grabbing, stating that such problems were hindering the country’s development.
A year later, Hun Sen warned wealthy land-grabbers that they would face the army if they didn’t drop their claims to ill-gotten land.
More recently, in October 2004, Hun Sen said the government was poised to reclaim land illegally held by companies and powerful individuals and redistribute it to the poor.
Villagers in Sihanoukville who took the prime minister at his word and retook land that they claimed had been seized by the powerful were later rounded up in mass arrests.