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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC damned - and doomed?

CMAC damned - and doomed?

THE CAMBODIAN Mine Action Center looks doomed following damning revelations in a

report released to donors this week which proved the organization had all but abandoned

its humanitarian goals and was at all levels operating simply for profit in two key

provinces.

The report, written by CMAC senior Technical Advisor for Quality Assurance Operations

Stefan Carlsson, follows closely on other recent revelations of corruption, theft

and nepotism within CMAC headquarters.

The findings - that the on-the-ground teams were as corrupt as the top officials

- has come as a blow to donors who had always publicly maintained that the benefits

delivered by CMAC outweighed its long-rumored improprieties.

The immediate reaction to the report has been the suspension of all foreign donor

funding and a series of emergency meetings within the organization.

It is understood there are now moves afoot to remove CMAC head Sam Sotha and senior

management from their positions.

The report centered on Kampong Speu and Kampot, but a CMAC insider said the same

problems are occurring in Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Thom.

Key findings were:

  1. Land demined by CMAC Demining Unit 3 in Kampot is routinely sold for profit rather

    than turned over to provincial authorities for humanitarian purposes.

  2. CMAC demining units in both Kampot and Kampong Speu have engaged in extensive

    contract demining for police and military personnel including RCAF head Ke Kim Yan.

  3. Civilians are routinely forced off CMAC demined land by RCAF and police units.
  4. Land in Kirirom National Park that was given priority for demining is currently

    being prepared to be illegally logged by private interests.

  5. "Personal interests" were routinely placed over the goals of the CMAC

    National Work Plan by the Chief of Demining Unit 3 in determining what sites were

    to be demined.

  6. Minefields are routinely abandoned without being fully cleared, without proper

    explanation.

  7. Documents are routinely forged by Demining Units to justify demining operations

    in areas unsuitable for such activities.

  8. The Post understands that a desperate last ditch effort was made by high ranking

    CMAC staff members to try and cover up the problems.

One junior staff member in Kampot was threatened and beaten by three men sent

down from Phnom Penh in an effort to have him retract his allegations of impropriety.

It is also understood that Carl-sson received death threats if he reported anything

detrimental to the organization.

After submitting the report he was moved to a secret location under 24-hour guard

by armed units of the Gendarmerie.

CMAC sources report that Carlsson is due to leave Cambodia at any moment. "Let's

just say that [Carlsson] will be taking his summer vacation very soon," the

source said.

Among the most damaging of the allegations confirmed by Carlsson's report is that

Kampong Speu CMAC demining platoons illegally contract-demined private land for both

RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan as well as former Khmer Rouge Colonel Chouk Rin.

According to the report, 80 hectares of land privately owned by Yan in the Kirirom

Mountains region just off National Route 4 was cleared by CMAC demining units in

1998.

The report's findings are corroborated by a high-level CMAC source. "After the

land was cleared, Ke Kim Yan established a sugar cane and chili plantation on the

land, strictly for private use."

In Kampot province, demining platoons of Demining Unit 3 apparently demined more

than 80 hectares of land knowing full well the land was owned by Chouk Rin.

When demining work was completed, the land was turned over to Rin rather than to

Kampot provincial authorities.

The confirmation that CMAC contract-demined for Rin is likely to make the Australian

government furious.

Rin was responsible for the 1997 KR train robbery in Kampot Province that resulted

in the capture and eventual murder of Australian backpacker David Wilson and his

French and British companions, Jean-Michel Braquet and Brian Slater.

Former KR General Nuon Paet was convicted last month for the murder of the three,

but Colonel Chouk Rin and his former KR superior General Sam Bith have since been

charged for the same crime.

A CMAC insider confirmed the diplomatic source's findings about CMAC's relations

with Chouk Rin and emphasized how devastating the revelations could be for the Australian

government.

"Four CMAC demining platoons spent more than one year and US$1 million of donor

funds demining land for one of the killers of an Australian citizen," the CMAC

source said. "Considering that Australia has long been one of CMAC's most generous

donors, the domestic reaction to this news in Australia is going to be profound."

The CMAC source predicts that public outrage in Australia over the revelations might

produce "punishment" for CMAC in the form of a cessation of Australian

aid to the organization.

Australia has committed between A$28-34 million for CMAC operations over the next

three years.

No-one at the Australian Embassy was willing to discuss the report. Ambassador Malcolm

Leader said it would take a few days to digest its contents and until that time he

preferred to make no comment.

Additional conclusions of the report confirm the worst fears of long-time CMAC watchers:

According to the Post's source, the conclusions of the report are proof positive

that "...enriching powerful interests instead of aiding the poor and landless

were the main focus of CMAC authorities in Kampot and Kampong Speu".

The source added that the report recommends that the demining units in both provinces

be immediately relocated to areas in the west and north of the country "where

the need for legitimate demining operations is much more pronounced".

Meanwhile, CMAC sources report that CMAC officials have dispatched a special investigation

team to both Kampot and Kampong Speu to verify Carlsson's findings.

What happens next is uncertain. One possibility likely to find favor with donors

is to clean out the entire management, including some foreign technical advisors

who are accused of complicity in the corruption, and remodel the organization on

the Mozambique Accelerated Mine Clearance Program.

In Mozambique donors retain direct control of all finances, hirings and firings.

It is understood that MAG, the HALO trust and the Norwegian Peoples Aid are prepared

to step in and administer all of CMAC's current projects until a new structure can

be put in place.

Meanwhile a meeting on July 7 between Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) management

and resident ambassadors of CMAC's main foreign donors indicates that donor patience

with the scandal-plagued demining organization has reached its limit.

The meeting was held to discuss the findings of the recently-released audit of government

funds to CMAC by accounting firm KPMG.

While attending ambassadors and UN personnel refused comment or made ambiguous noises

about the "positive" aspects of the meeting, a high level CMAC source who

was present reported that the atmosphere within the meeting was far from cordial.

"The donors finally spoke with one unified voice and demanded serious changes

from CMAC," the source said.

To punctuate their seriousness, the donors have apparently announced an across-the-board

"halt" on funding until "drastic changes" are made in CMAC management.

Donor countries Australia and the United States had already imposed a suspension

on further funds to CMAC until the release of the second, comprehensive KPMG audit

due to be released next month.

However, according to the CMAC source, "the semantic difference between 'suspension'

and 'halting' of funding is important."

The actual findings of the KPMG report were no surprise following months of leaks

and speculation about the extent of financial mismanagement and fraud endemic within

CMAC.

"There was extensive evidence of contradictions between disbursements of funds

and receipts ... that just highlight the lack of appropriate rules in the management

of [CMAC] funds."

In addition, donors delivered notice to CMAC Director General Sam Sotha and Chairman

of CMAC Governing Council Ieng Mouly that extensive financial management reforms

would have to be undertaken along with "evaluations" of upper CMAC management

personnel.

Donors expressed surprise and concern that the KPMG report - originally scheduled

to take only three weeks - instead took a total of three months.

Donors weren't the only ones to express grievance at the KPMG audit report.

A section of the audit report on "Nepotism Within CMAC", complete with

an extensive list of relatives of Sotha, Mouly and Assistant Director of Operations

Pan Sothy employed with CMAC, drew the vocal concern of Mouly.

"Ieng Mouly was not impressed with the statements [in the report] on nepotism,"

the CMAC source said. "Mouly's response was that these hirings were 'political

appointments' based on his knowledge of the individuals 'loyalty, truthworthiness

and sincerity'."

"Mouly's frank admission to in effect 'politicizing a [quasi-]government organization'

apparently did not go over well with donors," the source said. "[Donors

found] his attitude to be disturbing."

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