An official from the Ministry of Land Management was removed from his post as director of the ministry’s Phnom Penh department without explanation Wednesday, officials said.
Chhuon Sothy’s dismissal comes after the publication of his letter in two Khmer-language newspapers this week regarding the government exchanging land inside the Royal Palace city block with a private company.
The dismissal order was signed Wednesday by Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim who named Chhay Rithisen, the department’s deputy director, as Chhuon Sothy’s replacement.
Attempts to contact Im Chhun Lim for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday. Chea Sophara, secretary of state for the ministry, also could not be reached.
Chhuon Sothy had a letter—dated Friday and bearing his signature and his department’s seal—published in Rasmei Kampuchea on Monday, and Koh Santepheap on Tuesday.
He said the purpose of the letter was to clarify information that was reported by The Cambodia Daily and broadcast by Voice of America.
The Cambodia Daily wrote in August that the Ministry of Interior had signed over to Phanimex Co Ltd the lot occupying the southwest corner of the Royal Palace block and used by its Logistics Department. The land was traded for new facilities to be built by Phanimex in Meanchey district, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“The Royal Government did not sell or swap land that is royal property at all,” Chhuon Sothy wrote in the ad, adding that the land belonged to the Ministry of Interior.
Chhuon Sothy declined to comment on his dismissal Wednesday.
At the ceremony held at City Hall on Wednesday to mark the appointment of Chhay Rithisen, ministry officials said Chhuon Sothy’s removal had nothing to do with the publication of the ad.
Mam Bun Neang, Phnom Penh’s first deputy governor, said this was strictly a Ministry of Land Management matter.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Wednesday that Chhuon Sothy is only a low-ranking public servant who follows orders, and that high officials who authorized the land swap should be investigated.