In an attempt to split relations in the CPP, “political opportunists” are behind rumors that Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara will be removed from his position, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in a public statement read on TVK Monday night.
The rumor of Chea Sophara’s dismissal and the statement from the prime minister are understood within government circles to be part of an ongoing feud between the city governor and opponents within the CPP.
Hun Sen quashed what were high-level rumors within the ruling CPP that he was about to fire Chea Sophara because the municipality had erected portraits in the city of King Norodom Sihanouk without the government’s approval.
The prime minister said Chea Sophara, a CPP Standing Committee member, did not erect the portraits without his permission.
“I would like to deny this information and please [inform] all provinces and towns to continue to organize and carry out the government’s [plan],” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen said the portraits were ordered by the government as part of a plan to celebrate the King’s 80th birthday and his 60 years as reigning monarch.
Chea Sophara said Tuesday he was not disturbed by the rumors
“We have much work to do to build up our country,” he said. “Why do they not do this work, but [instead] make up rumors,” he said.
The rumors follow the recent surprise removal of Municipal Military Police Chief Chhin Chanpor—a close ally of Chea Sophara—while the governor led a municipal delegation to the US state of Hawaii. When he returned, Chea Sophara made no comment about Chhin Chanpor’s removal.
Interior Ministry sources say the removal was orchestrated to wrest control of the city’s military police force from the governor.
The military police have been instrumental in a number of high- profile crackdowns on crime, including the shutting down in 1999 of a sophisticated syndicate that smuggled thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants through Cambodia to third countries.
Senior government sources said at the time that a senior police official and a Cambodian diplomat were involved in the human-smuggling syndicate.
Claims of political infighting also were made last year after the removal of Deputy Municipal Police Chief Lek Vannak, a Chea Sophara supporter. Lek Vannak was given a position in the Interior Ministry.
(Additional reporting Kevin Doyle)