FORMER Cambodian Mine Action Center Director of Operations Phan Sothy has refuted
CMAC assertions that he resigned on Nov. 8, insisting instead that he was "unfairly
and illegally" dismissed by CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan under pressure
from foreign donors.
Sothy's "resignation" was released in tandem with the termination announcements
of the Manager, Assistant Manager and Operations Officer of CMAC's notorious Demining
Unit 3 (DU3) in Kampot, all three of whom had been suspended at the request of CMAC's
foreign donors in August.
DU3 has been embroiled in scandal for months following conclusive evidence that its
demining platoons engaged in free-lance demining-for-profit operations for powerful
individuals in the Kampot region.
Some of that land had been under the control of former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk
Rin led an attack on a train in 1994 in which three westerners were taken hostage
and later killed. CMAC's foreign funders, particularly the Australians, are understood
to be unhappy that their aid money may have been used to benefit a person who had
a hand in the death of one of their citizens.
Although the DU3 scandal was instrumental in the dismissal in August of former CMAC
Director General Sam Sotha (currently Prime Minister Hun Sen's Advisor on CMAC and
Land Mine Victims Assistance), Sothy bridles at the suggestion that as Director of
Operations he too should take responsibility for malfeasance at DU3.
"I can't accept responsibility for something mistakenly [blamed on] me,"
Sothy said. "It's true that the recent reform process has put the Demining Units
under the supervision of the Director of Operations, but in 1998-1999 the command
and control of the DUs were under the Director General."
According to Sothy, he was asked on Nov. 5 by CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan
to tender his resignation for "problems" in DU3.
"He said the decision was a result of 'pressure', but he wouldn't say from where,"
Sothy told the Post. "I told him that resigning wasn't a problem, but that first
I wanted to know the reason behind it."
Instead, Sothy claims that on Nov. 8 Sophoan convened CMAC Headquarters staff after
the morning flag-raising ceremony to announce that Sothy had resigned to take responsibility
for problems in DU3.
"If you go to CMAC headquarters they will tell you that Phan Sothy resigned,
but that's not true," Sothy fumed. "Actually I was terminated by Khem Sophoan."
Sophoan declined to discuss the circumstances of Sothy's dismissal with the Post.
Sothy insists that his termination violates an agreement within CMAC to await the
final results of an investigation into DU3 by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs
and Inspection before taking punitive action against CMAC staff.
"I don't want to escape any responsibility if it's fair, but we agreed to base
decisions on dismissals on the inspection team's findings," he said. "The
inspection team hasn't finished yet, so it seems unfair that this has happened."
In addition, Sothy says that the nature of his termination directly violates CMAC
"If an employee has a problem, CMAC is obliged to convene a disciplinary committee
to investigate and make a decision," Sothy explained. "This is the procedure,
but it hasn't been followed. ... Even in spite of pressure, [Sophoan] still has to
obey CMAC's rules and regulations."
Sothy hints that the source of the 'pressure' put on Sophoan to generate Sothy's
dismissal is a violation of Cambodian sovereignty.
"I don't know what pressure he's under, but he should be independent because
he's appointed by Royal Decree," Sothy said. "He should show initiative
and independence. ... If he does things under pressure, CMAC loses."
According to Sothy, the pressure by foreign donors to effect internal reform in CMAC
has done more harm than good.
"Since the beginning of 1999, the whole focus of CMAC has been on funding and
investigations which have caused a loss in operational focus and hurt morale,"
Sothy complained. "[Donors] only talk about negative things [about CMAC], and
forget the positive contributions I made to CMAC for six years, helping to make CMAC
the best mine-clearance organization in the world."
Meanwhile, Sothy awaits a conclusive written notification from CMAC of his termination
before pondering his next career move.
"Without formal information of my situation, it's very difficult for me to know
what to do," Sothy said. "I'm waiting for [Sophoan] to explain my problem
to me, then I can make a decision about my future."