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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - High Kampot officials under scrutiny from capital

High Kampot officials under scrutiny from capital

THE Kampot hostage crisis is the latest event to raise concern in some Phnom Penh

quarters about corruption, logging, poor security and the competency of officials

in the southern province.

The Ministry of Interior, investigating the local police and military's response

to recent Khmer Rouge attacks in the province, is considering the removal of at least

one senior provincial official, sources say.

It is not the first time. An April attack by the KR at a scenic waterfall busy with

holidaymakers led to a failed bid by the ministry to remove Kampot's governor, deputy

governor and military and police chiefs.

A government source said the Ministers of Interior, blaming "carelessness"

in provincial security arrangements, agreed in principle to remove governor Kun Kim

Teng (Funcinpec), his deputy Tit Ream (CPP) and the police and military commanders.

The necessary papers were drafted but the move was quashed by the Prime Ministers.

Similarly, in January, questions were asked about security when a band of Khmer Rouge

attacked Kampot's Dong Tung district, burning down some 50 houses.

"They came freely and got out freely. No-one counter-attacked, they were able

to destroy freely," said the official. A Kampot source said the only KR who

came face-to-face with government soldiers were eight rebels who stayed behind after

the attack.

Illegal logging, meanwhile, is said to have occurred for years in remote areas of

Kampot province and neighboring seaside Kep municipality.

The government official said the latest kidnappings of logging workers were not the

first by the KR in the two regions. Some were kidnapped in Kep last year but senior

officials had deliberately tried to keep that quiet, he said.

The latest kidnappings - around Chruos Som, north-west of Kampot town - raised questions

about loggers working with the complicity of both the KR and provincial officials.

Phnom Penh and Kampot sources agree it would be virtually impossible for loggers

to work in the area, which is open to KR movement, without agreements of both the

guerrillas and provincial authorities.

"The logs weren't going to Thailand," said the Phnom Penh official. "They

were going on the national highway to Phnom Penh or to Kompong Som port... I'm not

sure whether high-level [provincial] officials knew of it, but those at the medium

level must have. They must get corrupt money from the loggers.

"In Kampot and Kep, they're not interested in security or rural development,

only in making money."

But taking action against them was difficult, he said, because of politics. "When

we know that someone is corrupt, or incompetent, we want to remove them. But we must

get a decision from a superior level, which in reality is a political party.

"If you want to do anything in Cambodia, at the end it's political," he

said, adding that getting agreement to sack senior officials - in any province -

was very difficult.

The situation in Kampot and Kep was complicated by a long-standing rivalry and demarcation

dispute. Bokor Mountain, west of Kampot town, was originally under Kep military control

but recently transferred to Kampot. The Kampot governor was unavailable for comment

when the Post visited because he was meeting Ministry of Interior officials from

Phnom Penh.

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