DONORS and demining ex perts have reacted with dismay to a Cambodian Government decision
to appoint former Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) Director General Sam Sotha
as acting head of a new Government body to oversee all land mine removal activities
The Post has learned that a Royal Decree - expected to be passed within days - authorizing
the creation of a new National Regulatory Authority on Mine Action (NRA) names Sotha
as Secretary General of the new body. Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Minister of
the Council of Ministers, Sok An, are named in the decree as President and Vice-President
of the NRA respectively.
"Donors will never fund it [the NRA] if Sam Sotha is involved," said one
Phnom Penh-based demining expert regarding the implications of Sotha's appointment.
"Especially when you consider that the donors got Sam Sotha kicked out of CMAC
and ended up attributing all the mismanagement and financial problems within CMAC
Sotha was dismissed from his position as CMAC's Director General in August 1999 at
the demand of foreign donors who were furious at the spiraling series of scandals
that began to surface within the demining agency in March 1999. Although Sotha was
later cleared by a KPMG financial audit of allegations of fraud, the audit report
concluded that during Sotha's tenure as Director General CMAC suffered from "...serious
A long-time observer of donor-Government interaction over the resolution of CMAC's
ongoing funding woes interpreted Sotha's appointment as "a deliberate snub of
"There is increasing resentment [within the Government] about the level to which
donors involve themselves in the day-to-day affairs of the Government in demining,
demobilization, economic reform and forestry," the observer said. "I find
it difficult to believe that those deciding on this new appointment [of Sam Sotha
to the NRA] would not have sensed serious donor reservations about Sam Sotha."
When contacted by the Post on August 29, Sotha insisted that his impending appointment
to the NRA was "just a suggestion".
"I can't say anything yet [about the NRA appointment] ... it's not yet official."
Sotha's assertions were supported by a CMAC source, who confirmed that although Sotha's
was expected to take the proposed NRA management position "... in our view it's
still not 100% certain".
"If in a worst case scenario [Sotha] is actually appointed [to the NRA position],
he most certainly will not have the same level of control, resources or money to
play with [as he had as CMAC Director General] given the NRA's proposed structure,"
the source added.
However, Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot told the Post that Sotha had confirmed
his appointment to the NRA during a meeting with the ambassador on August 28.
Although the million-dollar, Canadian Government funded Level One Mine Survey will
fall under the supervision of the NRA following its creation, Mailhot said that Canada
had "no concerns" about Sotha's appointment to the NRA's leadership.
"He's always had a position of influence [on demining affairs]," Mailhot
said in reference to Sotha's appointment as Huns Sen's official advisor on land mines
and land mine victim assistance following Sotha's dismissal from CMAC. "This
appointment [to NRA] doesn't change anything."