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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Disgraced Sam Sotha bounces back to the top

Disgraced Sam Sotha bounces back to the top


Sam Sotha

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

in Cambodia.

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

to him."

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

managerial deficiencies".

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

the donors".

"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."



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