Hing Bun Heang, chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s elite personal bodyguard unit, has been appointed “supreme consultant” to the newly formed Senior Monk Assembly, according to a government sub-decree dated Sept 6.
Chhoeng Bunchhea, cabinet chief of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect, said that the Senior Monk Assembly—of which he is a member—was created by the government on Aug 24 to act as a “supreme court” for handling disputes among monks or between monks and lay people.
“It was very important to create the Senior Monk Assembly because we have noticed an increase in conflicts” involving monks, Chhoeng Bunchhea said.
Hing Bun Heang, who also holds the rank of RCAF general, said that his role in the religious council would be to advise the assembly on conflict resolution.
He added that he was well suited to the position because of his role in Hun Sen’s cabinet, reviewing religious affairs and disputes.
“I have gathered much knowledge and experience of Buddhist principles even though I have never been in the monkhood,” Hing Bun Heang said by telephone.
Hing Bun Heang’s appointment as a conflict resolution adviser for Buddhist monks has raised some eyebrows.
“This proves that we live in a Kafka-esque world where everything is upside down,” said Sam Rainsy, leader of the SRP.
“I think that the guy is everything but a religious man,” he added.
Last year, Hing Bun Heang filed a lawsuit against Sam Rainsy’s wife Tioulong Saumura, who is also a SRP lawmaker, and former SRP secretary-general Eng Chhay Eang, for their role in the distribution of a DVD that implicated the prime minister’s bodyguard chief in the 1997 grenade attack.
More than a dozen people were killed and over 120 wounded in the still-unsolved attack on a peaceful demonstration outside the National Assembly in March of that year.
“I cannot stop people from criticizing me,” Hing Bun Heang said on Monday. “But I have never done what they have accused me of.”
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said that the bodyguard chief may be too controversial for the post.
“This is a very high position for religion,” she said. “It should be a person that is non-controversial.”