Phnom Penh Municipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, who played a prominent role in City Hall’s handling of land issues, retired Thursday and will take a position at the Council of Minister’s National Foundation for Population and Development, he said yesterday.
Mr Chhoeun, who turned 60 recently, said that after 31 years in civil service, his age prompted the departure from his position where he oversaw efforts to reduce urban poverty levels and beautify the capital. He said his replacement had yet to be appointed.
“No one has forced me to retire but at such an old age, I must retire,” he said, adding that in his new role as vice-chairman of the National Foundation for Population and Development, he will continue to work with poverty alleviation. “I will still work with the poor people and now nationwide in 24 provinces and municipalities.”
Keut Chhe, the municipality’s deputy cabinet chief, said Mr Chhoeun’s new title at the foundation will carry the same rank as a secretary of state.
Lim Neou, chairman of the foundation, which does not have a website, could not be reached for comment.
As deputy governor, Mr Chhoeun often played a high-profile role in land cases such as the Dey Krahorm evictions in Phnom Penh January 2009 and the filling in of Boeng Kak Lake which will displace thousands of residents. Both incidents have raised objections from human rights groups.
Mr Chhoeun has also been at the forefront in refuting criticism about the municipality’s handling of land issues in the city.
Prior to the eviction of residents of Dey Krahorm on the Tonle Bassac he said, “In this era, we will not use any activities that lead to violence.”
Following an event where police used tear gas, metal batons and water canons on residents he said, “We didn’t want to do this. We tried to find a middle ground.”
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema and Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong could not be reached for comment Friday.
Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said that Mr Chhoeun was the face of the municipality’s dealings with civil society over housing and land issues. But he was also at the center of some highly contentious decisions in land disputes for many families.
“In fact to the communities, they found he’s the one who used the force to evict people,” he said, adding that it is still too soon to tell how Mr Chhoeun’s departure will affect the municipality’s operations.
Huon Chundy, program manager for Community Legal Education Center, declined to comment on Mr Chhoeun directly, but said he doubted that municipality’s poor record on evictions would change because of his departure.
“Land disputes in Cambodia is not just because of one individual person, it’s something systematic and I cannot say it’s because of this one or that one,” he said.