Neth Savoeun has been appointed to permanently replace his superior, the recently deceased Hok Lundy, as the national police commissioner, taking up one of the most powerful positions in the country.
According to Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, King Norodom Sihamoni endorsed a royal decree Monday that promoted Neth Savoeun from deputy national police commissioner to commissioner, just a day after Hok Lundy and three others died in a helicopter crash in Svay Rieng province.
Neth Savoeun became a penal police officer in the early 1980s, and quickly rose through the ranks to become Phnom Penh’s deputy police chief in 1982, according to Deputy National Police Commissioner Mao Chandara. Neth Savoeun was promoted to head that department soon after, and then tapped to become deputy head of the National Police Commissariat in 2000. The new police commissioner is also a member of the CPP Central Committee and married to a niece of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Neth Savoeun could not be reached for comment Tuesday because he was busy attending Hok Lundy’s funeral services, according to an assistant who answered his phone. CPP colleagues, however, hailed his appointment as a solid choice. “He is the most qualified among other deputies,” said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.
Khieu Sopheak described Neth Savoeun as a qualified candidate and said it was perfectly acceptable for him to retain a senior position within the CPP while heading up the country’s police force.
“He is not biased,” Khieu Sopheak said. “There is no law requires national police chief to resign from the party.”
According to the CPP’s Web site, Neth Savoeun is ranked 188 in the 263-person Central Committee. Hok Lundy, by comparison, was ranked 20th.
The political opposition, however, said it believed a person of such importance within the country’s security apparatus should not have strong political affiliations.
“If we have a non-political-party[-affiliated] national police chief, it is better,” said Human Rights Party Vice President Keat Sokhun, because a neutral police chief would be better able to gain the support of the people. “It is a government’s bad habit to choose the party’s member. He must resign from the CPP to fulfill his work.”
Even so, Keat Sokhun said he wasn’t surprised that a high-ranking CPP member was selected.
“Hok Lundy was Hun Sen’s right hand. He executed Hun Sen’s orders. Hun Sen has lost his right hand,” he said.
SRP officials said they viewed Neth Savoeun as more of the same:
“Assassinations against the politician and actors have not been resolved,” said SRP Lawmaker Yim Sovann. “We have little hope that we can change the situation because they are the same people.”
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua agreed. “We need a person who serves the country and does not… receive orders from the political party,” she said.
Civil society and human rights workers expressed hope for change with new leadership, but concerns remained.
“I’m hoping the next police chief will stick to principles of justice and do all they can to make sure justice will be served and the security of all Cambodians will be equally protected,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “I hope they will end the current abuse of power by current high-ranking government officials, or even not-so-high-ranking officials, or their children.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said he thought Neth Savoeun was the best candidate for the police commissioner position.
“Because I know him and his capacity for cooperation with NGOs is very open, so in this capacity he is good enough,” he said. “The only problem is, because he is the nephew of the prime minister, maybe some people will criticize this point.”
Yet, Sok Sam Oeun also noted Neth Savoeun’s political standing. “For me, if the police can be [politically] neutral it’s an important move to improve democracy in the Cambodia. Now, it is a problem. Because I like to think that for the future, the appointment of a position in the police force should be neutral so they do their job neutrally.”
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams, an outspoken critic of corruption in Cambodia, said he’s wary about Neth Savoeun taking the reins of the national police department.
“He, too, has been implicated in many serious human rights abuses and other crimes over the past two decades,” Adams wrote by e-mail.
“If he is appointed, he would almost certainly continue to politicize the work of the police and tighten Hun Sen’s personalized control over the national police. In a country with virtually no checks on Hun Sen’s power, this would be a step backward.”