Y Chhien Quits Pailin Council Despite Show of Support

Y Chhien, the three-star military general and former bodyguard of Pol Pot, has resigned from his position as chief of the Pailin Provincial Council, an Interior Ministry official confirmed on Thursday.

Rumors had circulated for days that Lieutenant General Chhien, the first governor of Pailin, would step down from his position, leading to a protest of an estimated 1,000 people in front of his home on Wednesday.

Last night, Sak Setha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, confirmed the rumors.

“I just got the information from the governor of Pailin that [Y Chhien] has submitted a letter to resign from his position as chief of the provincial council,” Mr. Setha said.

“I do not know any more until I meet with him.”

Lt. Gen. Chhien, 63, became the governor of Pailin when it was carved out of Battambang province in 1996 as part of a deal that saw Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary defect to the Phnom Penh government with some 5,000 rebel troops.

In June, Lt. Gen. Chhien stepped down from that position, and was replaced by his deputy, Koeut Sothea.

Kong Duong, director of the provincial information department in Pailin, said Thursday that he had seen Lt. Gen. Chhien’s letter of resignation but was not sure if his retirement had been made official.

“His Excellency Y Chhien has asked to take a rest, but he wants his colleagues to continue his work because they have been his colleagues since the civil war,” Mr. Duong said.

However, on Wednesday, Ly Samith, a subordinate of Mr. Duong at the information department, said he had heard that Lt. Gen. Chhien was ordered by the government to resign. He said a replacement had already been chosen—Lai Chan Chhay, a former provincial police chief who retired in May.

Mr. Samith said Lt. Gen. Chhien had fallen out of favor with many Pailin residents because his wife, Ban Sreymom, a CPP lawmaker, had abused his power in the province. Ms. Sreymom’s company also became involved in a land dispute with local villagers earlier this year.

Lt. Gen. Chhien could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The mass outpouring of support for Lt. Gen. Chhien on Wednesday, Mr. Duong said, was a result of his services to the province, which was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge.

“Most of them are children of his friends. Their parents were Khmer Rouge soldiers in the civil war and they went to ask His Excellency Y Chhien not to resign from his post,” Mr. Duong said.

“Because most of his friends are over 60 years old, they have advised their kids to love [Lt. Gen. Chhien].”

Mr. Duong said that Lt. Gen. Chhien had assured the protesters that he would never leave Pailin City, at which point they decided to stop the rally and go home.

blomberg@cambodiadaily.com, rith@cambodiadaily.com

Correction: This article has been revised to accurately reflect comments made by Ly Samith, an official at the provincial information department.

© 2014, All rights reserved.