Two Sihanoukville officials have been fired and are being investigated by police and anti-corruption officials over their alleged role in a violent crackdown on land rights protesters in January.
Srun Sroan and Phay Bun Vannak, deputy governors of Preah Sihanouk province, were fired on Friday, according to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page that he had to “remove the sand and rock from my shoes so I can keep walking,” adding that he had “educated them [Sroan and Bun Vannak] many times already.”
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said on Friday that the two officers were fired in direct connection with the role they played in the land dispute in January, in which security forces shot a protester.
“Not only were they fired but they are also facing the law for what they have done, such as abuse of power, abusing people’s trust, and corruption,” he added.
In January a court ruled that 70 hectares of land in Sihanoukville would be distributed between nine families despite several hundred families claiming the land. It was suspected that powerful local landowners connected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party may have been the true beneficiaries of the land, sparking the protests.
Bun Vannak said the outcome was “normal for government officials”.
“Sometimes, if we do something wrong, there will be changes,” he said.
Sroan and Yun Min, the provincial governor, could not be reached for comment.
Khieu Sopheak, an interior ministry spokesman, said he “strongly supported” the decision, but declined to comment on the ongoing investigations against the officials.
Meas Ny, a political commentator, said the move was a sign of “positive progress”, but cautioned that it should be part of a wider move towards transparency.
Last month, Hun Sen removed another provincial official, Kim Reaksmey, the Ratanakkiri provincial police chief, after it was revealed he had gifted $500,000 to his children.
Siphan said the removals were part of an anti-corruption drive by the authorities.
“We clean our society, keeping officials within boundaries. Those with positions have to follow the law and serve our citizens, not cause them harm,” he said.