Rights Worker to Run as CPP Commune Chief Candidate

Chhay Thy, who has worked for years to shed light on abuses either caused or neglected by the Ratanakkiri provincial government as a monitor for rights group Adhoc, has suddenly changed his tune about the ruling party.

When Interior Minister Sar Kheng lambasted provincial governor Thong Savorn on Monday for lying in order to skip a meeting with government ministers, Mr. Thy jumped to his defense, saying the governor had overseen vast improvements in the province.

What he didn’t mention is that he has set his sights on becoming a ruling party commune chief in the province’s O’yadaw district and plans to run in elections scheduled for June this year.

“I will resign from Adhoc soon to stand as the commune chief candidate for the CPP and join the upcoming commune election,” he said on Tuesday, noting that he had yet to formally submit his resignation.

“I have decided to join the CPP because we have seen this party make many reforms, and we think that their new reforms will be able to build the country and make it better for poor people,” he added.

Mr. Thy has been a constant critic in recent years of what he previously described as the government’s failure to protect land and natural resources, help impoverished indigenous minorities or control the activity of private firms with mining and land concessions.

His efforts to educate locals on their rights were sometimes blocked by authorities, and he often spoke up for journalists or activists who ran into similar trouble.

Pen Bonnar, who previously worked for Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, but moved to Phnom Penh to be a senior investigator after years of threats related to his work, said little had improved in the province, despite his colleague’s change of heart.

“We have not seen any real reforms and obviously the results of the reforms are still limited in remote areas, and most local people are still waiting to see the new reforms announced by the ruling party,” Mr. Bonnar said on Tuesday.

“We have seen that some powerful people and some oknhas are involved in many crimes, but up until now we have not seen them arrested and brought to be condemned before the law.”

Asked why Mr. Thy might have gone from railing against the government to joining it, Mr. Bonnar said only that it was his right to pursue politics.

Sam Chankea, a spokesman for Adhoc, said Mr. Thy had yet to formally resign, but that administrators at the NGO, which is meant to maintain political neutrality, would hold a meeting today to discuss the situation.

“The management committee will meet with him tomorrow afternoon,” Mr. Chankea said. “In principle, when he submits his resignation or if we dismiss him, he can’t speak on behalf of Adhoc.”

“He hasn’t officially decided whether to work with the CPP,” he added. “Even though it’s not yet official, he must make a definite decision.”

Adhoc was rocked last year due to its involvement in a case centered on an alleged mistress of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Four of its senior officials have been jailed for 250 days for allegedly bribing the woman to deny the affair, though they claim the $204 they gave her was part of their standard legal support package.

The group’s longtime president, Thun Saray, left the country amid the scandal and is now living in Canada.

(Additional reporting by Chhorn Phearun)

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