A three-star RCAF general announced Wednesday that he has handed over more than 200 hectares of land to the government after Prime Minister Hun Sen apparently threatened to fire him Monday in his “war” on land grabbers.
General Chao Phirun, the CPP director general of RCAF’s technical and material department, said he was the unidentified three-star general whom Hun Sen threatened to sack if he did not return state land within a week.
“I already gave the land to the government [Tuesday],” Chao Phirun said by telephone.
“I am not sad. This is a contribution to help the government,” he said of the 215 hectares in Kampot province’s Chhuk district.
“[As soldiers] we are willing to sacrifice our lives for the government, so giving land is just a small issue.”
Announcing his campaign Monday, Hun Sen said he would target CPP officials in particular for encroaching on state land, and warned that if he did not receive cooperation in his campaign, there would be “bloodshed.”
Chao Phirun said he had been unaware that he was the target of Hun Sen’s specific threat against a three-star general until the prime minister’s cabinet contacted him.
Since he handed over the land, he said, “Samdech Hun Sen has written to thank me.”
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Chao Phirun will not be fired now as he had bought the state land rather than grabbing it.
“It is finished. We must warn them first,” he said. Other CPP officials guilty of encroaching on state land must hand it back by Monday if they do not want to lose their jobs, he said.
Chao Phirun said that his wife bought the land in Trapaing Phlaing commune in 1999 from 46 former Khmer Rouge families who had just defected to the government. “I didn’t know it is illegal to buy the land because I have proper documents,” he said, adding that he had planted mango trees on the property.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said the government is targeting Chao Phirun to create the impression that it is serious about land encroachment ahead of April’s commune elections, and to “confuse” the public.
The government is using Chao Phirun to distract attention from the thousands of CPP officials allegedly involved in land grabbing who will likely be allowed to continue unabated, Sam Rainsy said.
“The government must have a general solution. The government cannot solve this case by case,” he said.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said if officials have been illegally grabbing land, they must be prosecuted and jailed, not just fired. “Otherwise, [land grabbers] will not be afraid,” he said.
The government should also take action against massive private land concessions in Cambodia, not just officials who have grabbed state-owned land, he added.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, head of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, said the nature of Hun Sen’s new campaign indicates that Cambodia is not governed by institutions and the rule of law, but by the ruling CPP.
“Normally, the authorities must file a complaint to the courts to punish those who breach the law,” he said. “Cambodia does not have [rule of] law,” he added.