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Cambodia Land Mine Chief Resigns

August 4, 1999

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ The director of Cambodia’s mine-clearance agency resigned Wednesday, amid reports of corruption and gross mismanagement of donor funds by the organization.

The Cambodian Mine Action Center announced the resignation of Director-General Sam Sotha less than a month after the agency’s board of directors blamed him and two top deputies for widespread corruption revealed by disgruntled foreign advisers.

``Apparently, he offered his resignation and it was accepted,″ center spokesman John Brown said.

A statement from the agency said Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Lt. Gen. Khem Sophoan to replace Sam Sotha. His deputies, Assistant Director-General Niem Chouleng and Finance Director Ek Bolin, have been demoted.

``The Royal Government has not ignored the issue, but has taken the necessary measures to shed light on the problem,″ Hun Sen said in a letter to an outraged opposition lawmaker released Wednesday.

Sam Sotha could not immediately be reached for comment. After being demoted last month, he blamed corruption on the center’s rapid growth.

An internal report leaked to the press last month found that the center had spent more than $1 million to clear land in southwestern Cambodia that was then turned over to government officials, wealthy businessmen and army generals.

The most scandalous revelation was that $500,000 was spent to clear land that is now a plantation controlled by Col. Chhouk Rin, a former Khmer Rouge commander charged as an accomplice in the 1994 abduction and murder of three Western backpackers.

Born out of U.N. mine-clearance efforts in the early 1990s, the government-run center receives $12 million annually from foreign donors to fulfill its mandate of clearing former battlefields for Cambodia’s landless poor. An estimated 10 million mines had been left buried within Cambodia’s borders after almost three decades of civil war.

At least two donors countries _ the United States and Australia _ froze funding pending a resolution of the scandal and implementation of a proper accounting system for donated funds.

Three foreign advisers also resigned during the scandal, saying top U.N. adviser Richard Warren had stymied their efforts to implement reforms.

Center Chairman Ieng Mouly called for Warren’s dismissal in July, but the U.N. Development Program said he would remain in place for an unspecified transition period.