School Owner Could Be Jailed, Minister Says

Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith warned on Thursday that the own­er of the Banana Center could be jailed for inciting students to pro­test against the school’s site being turned into a national radio station.

On Tuesday evening, about 100 stu­dents demonstrated against the deal. The school’s owner, Chan Sok Khieng, has also threatened to sue Khieu Kanharith for breaking a 15-year rental agreement between the ministry and the school.

“[Chan Sok Khieng] told the students and teachers that [we] were going to take over the property and in­cited them to protest, but we just ask­ed to move the generators,” Khi­eu Kanharith said.

Though Chan Sok Khieng could be jailed for in­citement, Khieu Kan­harith said he did not wish to see it happen.

“He could be jailed, but I don’t like to have the dispute,” he added.

Khieu Kanharith also countered com­ments made Wednesday by his pred­ecessor, Funcinpec’s former minister of information and current Min­­­­­­is­ter of Rural Development Lu Lay­sreng, who said the deal he sign­ed with the school in 1999 should not have been broken.

“When the state wants it back, the contract can be canceled with the com­pensation,” he said.

Chan Sok Khieng, who also owns Nor­ton University, said he could not have incited the students to protest as he was meeting with Khieu Kan­harith’s brother, CPP Under-Sec­re­tary of State Khieu Thavika, at Nor­ton University at the time. Khieu Thavika teaches interna­tion­al law at Norton, Chan Sok Khieng said.

One of the Banana Center’s teach­­­ers, who identified himself as Va­thanak, said Tuesday that the students protesting that evening were there of their own volition.

“We just told them to go down [to the parking lot] and look for themselves” at a scene where police, riot police and a crane had been de­ploy­ed, he said.

Sorn Sokna, vice-president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Com­merce and vice-chairman of petroleum giant Sokimex, said that t­hough he was not fully aware of the details of the case, it is generally inappropriate to cancel a contract prematurely.

“If the contract is not ended yet, they must not go and take over [the property],” Sorn Sokna said.

Break­ing contracts in such a man­­ner goes against normal business practice, he said. “The business community doesn’t support the contract violation,” Sorn Sokna said. “The contract is the law.”

(Ad­di­­tional reporting by James Welsh)



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