Lawmaker Calls for Ouster Of Banlung City Governor

CPP lawmaker Bou Lam, the sole representative for Ratanakkiri province in the National Assembly, has called for Banlung City governor Ouk Sam Ol to be ousted for allegedly seizing land granted to local villagers in order to extend the provincial capital’s main market.

Mr. Lam, the younger brother of Bou Thong, an ethnic Tampuon CPP senator who served as defense minister during the 1980s, alleges that Mr. Sam Ol has claimed for himself a 0.44-hectare plot of land adjacent to the market that Prime Minister Hun Sen gave to villagers in 2010.

In a brief April 27 letter to CPP lawmaker Hun Neng and Mr. Thong—chairmen of the National Assembly and Senate commissions on the interior, defense and civil service, respectively—Mr. Lam says Mr. Sam Ol must be removed, but does not offer any reason for his request.

Speaking by telephone on Thursday, Mr. Lam said his request came after 211 families from Banlung filed a complaint against Mr. Sam Ol, who he said did not realize the extent of his concern for his constituents in Ratanakkiri.

“The families are not happy because the new governor has taken the land and built many shops in the new market for his own benefit, and for a few of his accomplices,” he said, explaining that Mr. Sam Ol was constructing the new market stalls on the seized land in order to collect rent on them.

“I am a parliamentary member, so I need to give protection to the people in my province,” he said. “If you want to hit a dog, you must learn who the owner is first.”

Mr. Sam Ol said the market stalls he had built so far were for the benefit of people already selling on the land and that the complaints made against him had been organized by the owner of the existing market.

He said the strip of land had, in fact, been a garbage dump, and that he cleared the garbage before starting construction.

“We needed to build the stalls for the minority people selling there, because they were working under the sun and the rain,” Mr. Sam Ol said. “The market investor, Sa Leang…incited the people in the market to protest against building the stalls because they would lose their profits.”

“I am not worried about being removed from my position because I simply implemented the orders made by the provincial governor,” he said. “I will step down from my position if they upper levels judge that I did wrong.”

Mr. Leang could not be reached Thursday.

Mai Din, deputy chief of Banlung’s Laban Siek commune, said he believed Mr. Sam Ol’s ideas for the seized strip of land in the middle of the city involved more lucrative plans for the construction of homes.

“I received information that the city governor has plans to build many houses on the land, and he will then sell the houses. Some people have already deposited money, but they are now protesting because they are worried about losing their deposits,” said Mr. Din, a member of the opposition CNRP.

In a letter sent to Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An the same day as Mr. Lam’s, but which was also only made public Thursday, some of the market vendors also accused Mr. Sam Ol of mismanaging the market’s fees.

The vendors accuse Mr. Sam Ol of collecting irregular daily taxes from them—ranging from 500 to 40,000 riel (about $0.13 to $10)—as well as demanding sums of between $200 and $400 to build a small road for the market.

Yet Mr. Sam Ol said he believed the complaints were part of an attempt to smear his administration of the city.

“The accusation is not true, and these people just created the issue to defame the authorities,” he said.

Neither Mr. Neng nor Mr. Thong, the two parliamentary commission heads, could be reached for comment.

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