Career Soldier Takes Over as Siem Reap Provincial Governor

The government on Monday officially appointed a two-star general and lifelong professional soldier as governor of Siem Reap province, as part of a shakeup of provincial officials.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced this month that Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema and nine provincial governors were stepping down, most due to old age.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Major General Khim Bunsong, 54, the former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander for Siem Reap, on Monday took over as governor of the province.

It is Maj. Gen. Bunsong’s first civilian administration position. He replaced Sou Phirin, who had reached the legal retirement age for public servants of 60.

“[Yesterday was] the day that he has the right to make decisions about his work,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said.

Maj. Gen. Bunsong said yesterday that he had been working for the military in Siem Reap province since 1979.

Commenting on his suitability for a civilian position, Maj. Gen. Bunsong said his role as military commander in the province had put him in touch with the Siem Reap civil administration on a number of occasions.

Defense Minister Tea Banh, who presided over a ceremony to mark the appointment on Monday, said Maj. Gen. Bunsong was the right choice for the job.

“He is capable of this position. He’s old enough, he understands the work—it is nothing beyond his capacity,” Gen. Banh said.

“We can appoint whoever can do the job. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Deputy Siem Reap governor Bun Tharith said the predecessor, Mr. Phirin, had moved into a new role as an adviser to the Apsara Authority, which oversees preservation at the Angkor Archeological park.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said a military professional was an odd choice to run the province, which is the most popular tourist destination in the country.

“It is a bit strange, a bit surprising because that province is a tourist center, so the governor should be experienced [in tour­ism],” he said.

“So far, at least in Siem Reap itself, there has been no trouble and no security problems.”

As a new group of governors prepares to take over, the government is planning to change the law in order to give them more power, handing them a role in appointments within the provincial departments of government ministries.

Pa Socheatvong, the current deputy governor of Phnom Penh, is yet to officially take over the role of governor from Mr. Chuktema, who is expected to run as a CPP candidate for the National Assembly in July. “[The transfer] will be held on May 3,” Mr. Socheatvong said.

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis)

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