Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) staff held a meeting yesterday in the absence of their secretary-general, Suon Bunsak, to discuss how to respond to concerns about Bunsak’s approval of a settlement between hundreds of evicted Kampong Speu villagers and Phnom Penh Sugar.
Compensation recipients, community leaders and NGOs claimed that the company, owned by tycoon and ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat, obtained the settlement agreements in a climate of bullying and coercion, and only after co-opting certain community representatives, former NGO employees and Bunsak. Most recipients received only $500.
CHRAC secretary Leng Pich confirmed the meeting took place, adding that a further internal meeting with Bunsak present was planned, as well as another with members of CHRAC’s steering committee. He said Bunsak had a scheduling conflict during the initial meeting.
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), a donor to CHRAC, is currently assessing its relationship with the NGO, according to NPA country director Aksel Steen-Nilsen. He insisted that such assessments were an ongoing part of NPA’s relationship with its partners, but conceded that this one was taking place under unusual circumstances.
“What’s a bit special here is how did CHRAC suddenly get involved in this case,” Steen-Nilsen said, echoing concerns from Heinrich Boll Foundation country director Ali al-Nasani over CHRAC and Equitable Cambodia being involved separately on the same land dispute.
Former CHRAC donor USAID is also clarifying what has taken place by forwarding the allegations to its Office of the Inspector General, according to US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman.
NGOs also met with EU ambassador George Edgar yesterday. Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy said he briefed Edgar on the situation in Kampong Speu among other issues. Edgar confirmed the briefing, but declined to comment further.
Bunsak could not be reached for comment yesterday.