Within days of RCAF Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan’s ouster on Jan 22, 507 soldiers were removed from Senate and CPP President Chea Sim’s bodyguard detail and sent back to their barracks, military sources said Thursday.
The mass redeployment, which included two brigadier generals and several officers, officially reduced the number of men assigned to the protection of Chea Sim to about 100 men, officials said. It was unclear Thursday whether it was a temporary transfer or a permanent reassignment.
Newly installed RCAF Commander in Chief Pol Saroeun on Thursday said the transfer of army bodyguards was not part of any reshuffle, and that the men were not being reassigned. “We’re just bringing them back for more training,” said Pol Saroeun, adding that he could not remember the exact date of the redeployment order.
“There are 100 more to protect [Chea Sim] because Samdech is a very senior leader,” he added.
On Wednesday, Pol Saroeun moved to dampen rumors within the armed forces of more removals of military personnel following the ousting of Ke Kim Yan.
Major General Mao Sophann, commander of the elite Brigade 70, from which the military bodyguards for Chea Sim and those currently guarding Prime Minister Hun Sen are drawn, said Thurs-day he was unable to hear the voice of a reporter who reached him by telephone. And Lieutenant-General Chhoeun Chanthan, chief of Chea Sim’s army bodyguards, could not be reached. Pol Saroeun, however, said that Chhoeun Chanthan would be neither demoted nor removed.
Army Major Hem Savy, an officer in Chea Sim’s bodyguard force, said the order for the 507 men to return to the 70th Infan-try’s base located just beyond Phnom Penh International Airport had come down Sunday. “There will be more removals,” Hem Savy said, adding that Chea Sim had in the past also ex-pressed a preference for police bodyguards. “We were removed by government order,” he added.
A senior official in the cabinet of Chea Sim who declined to be named also described the re-deployments as permanent, but he said the move would not compromise Chea Sim’s security.
Police Brigadier General Ros Sa An, head of the detachment of po-lice who are also assigned to the protection of Chea Sim, said the military bodyguards were principally used to protect Chea Sim when he traveled within Cam-bodia, and that the current detail of police officers was sufficient to keep the Senate president safe.
“We have enough police. It’s no problem,” Ros Sa An said, declining to say how many police are now guarding Chea Sim.
Defense Minister Tea Banh hung up when contacted by a reporter Thursday.