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Suon Bunsak (third left), Sim Sitha (second left), Sao Seny (first left) and Chan Vichet (first right), attend a compensation meeting with villagers on April 10 in Kampong Speu province. Photo supplied
Suon Bunsak (third left), Sim Sitha (second left), Sao Seny (first left) and Chan Vichet (first right), attend a compensation meeting with villagers on April 10 in Kampong Speu province. Photo supplied

NGO defends secretary-general’s role in dispute

The steering committee of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee on Friday issued a response to concerns about its secretary-general Suon Bunsak’s involvement in a widely decried compensation process between Phnom Penh Sugar and evicted villagers in Kampong Speu province.

The statement maintains that Bunsak’s presence at a May 16 meeting where more than 150 families accepted compensation was approved by the steering committee, and that he was “strictly advised to maintain neutrality towards both parties of the land conflict”.

It also denies Bunsak gave the deal his “stamp of approval” on the grounds that CHRAC “has no authority or power to provide any approval to any compensation deal” and his role was strictly to monitor.

The statement does not refer to an April meeting that Bunsak initially denied attending, but was photographed at sitting on a dais with a Phnom Penh Sugar representative. Nor does it respond to concerns raised by multiple villagers, community representatives and NGO staffers over a lack of transparency in Bunsak’s involvement.

Phnom Penh Sugar’s produce was labelled “blood sugar” in 2012 over allegations of child labour and forced evictions.

Ali al-Nasani, country director of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which is a CHRAC donor, wrote in an email yesterday that while he welcomed the statement there needed to be greater transparency from CHRAC about Bunsak’s involvement in the dispute.

Meanwhile, former CHRAC consultant Billy Tai yesterday said the statement raised wider questions about the integrity of the steering committee itself.

“If Bunsak is acting under the steering committee’s instructions it would be extraordinary for all five members, all prominent human rights NGOs, to be working with [Phnom Penh Sugar Company owner] Ly Yong Phat given his notorious reputation,” Tai said, adding that he felt Bunsak’s past statements to the media were “fairly unambiguous about his support for the deal, which raises questions of neutrality”.

Yesterday Latt Ky, head of land rights at NGO Adhoc, denied Bunsak’s prior claim that he had approved Bunsak’s involvement in the Kampong Speu dispute.

“It’s not true,” Ky said.

Bunsak could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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