In the space of 24 hours, Prime Minister Hun Sen fired, suspended and then reinstated a three-star general in the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, who berated a traffic police officer who pulled him over for running a red light earlier this week.
On Monday, traffic police officer Sout Kanha uploaded a video to Facebook that shows an altercation between himself and Lieutenant General Mam Srimvanna, a deputy director of the immigration department, after he pulled the official over for driving through a red light in Phnom Penh earlier that day.
In the video, Lt. Gen. Srimvanna is seen speaking to a superior on the telephone, complaining about the fact that he has just been pulled over and referring to the police officer using the pejorative “ah,” which is considered offensive when used in an unfriendly manner.
“After turning at a traffic light, a traffic police officer saw a big car pass, but the police officer did not catch the big car. He said, ‘I don’t want to catch the big car, I want to catch your car,’” Lt. Gen. Srimvanna can be heard saying.
After hanging up, the official turns to Mr. Kanha and says: “You don’t know me.”
Mr. Kanha replies sarcastically. “Now, I want to tell you that I am a low-ranking officer, and if you want to fire me, it’s OK. I will accept my mistake if you fire me because you have already called my superior and I am a low-ranking officer,” he said, before the general and his driver get back in their Toyota RAV4 and drive away.
In his Facebook post, Mr. Kanha explains how he did, in fact, end up getting suspended from his unit following Lt. Gen. Srimvanna’s phone call, and called on Interior Minister Sar Kheng to come to his aid.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Mr. Hun Sen posted the video to his own Facebook page, along with a message announcing that he had signed a sub-decree removing Lt. Gen. Srimvanna from his position.
“I have paid attention, researched and repeatedly listened to the words of the general. The words ‘ah traffic police officer’ are not just an insult to low-ranking officials but an insult to the entire traffic police institution,” the prime minister wrote.
“I have no choice, and it pains me to make this decision, but I regret to say that he will be stripped of his position and rank, and fired from the National Police,” he wrote.
Later in the morning, however, the premier said he had experienced a change of heart, and that Lt. Gen. Srimvanna would be stripped of his position but allowed to continue working for the National Police. The general would be offered another role if he “acknowledges his mistake,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote.
Then, at about 6 p.m., Mr. Hun Sen made an about-face, posting six photographs of Lt. Gen. Srimvanna and Mr. Kanha awkwardly holding hands alongside a message stating that the case had been resolved and that neither official would lose their jobs.
“I am happy to announce that General Mam Srimvanna and Second Lieutenant Sout Kanha have met and recognized each other’s mistakes and showed determination in correcting their attitudes to become good officers to serve the nation,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote, without explaining what mistake the traffic police officer had made.
“This has changed from a lose-lose situation…to a win-win situation in a minute,” he added, referring to the policy of mutual benefits that he credits with restoring relative peace to the country in the 1990s.
Contacted by telephone Thursday night, Lt. Gen. Srimvanna reiterated the prime minister’s sentiment.
“Thank you to Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen], who has settled the issue using the win-win policy,” he said, refusing to comment further.
“It is finished,” said Chev Hak, chief of the municipal traffic police, also declining to comment further. Political analyst Kem Ley said the whole episode was indicative of the ruling party’s style of governing.
“This is the political culture from the top, and it influences downstream,” Mr. Ley said.
“The person who is in charge of this issue should be the general director of the police, then the Interior Minister, not the prime minister,” he said. “They take actions by using their feelings, their emotions, rather than administrative measures.”
(Additional reporting by George Wright)