National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy, long considered one of the most powerful figures in Cambodia and staunch ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was killed Sunday evening in a helicopter crash in Svay Rieng province, officials said.
According to numerous government officials, Hok Lundy’s helicopter went down at about 8 pm as he was en route to Bavet town, killing all four people on board including RCAF Lieutenant General Sok Sa Em, deputy commander of the army, and both pilots.
“Yes, four dead. One is Hok Lundy, and one is Sok Sa Em,” said Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak also confirmed that the national police commissioner had perished in the crash.
Khieu Kanharith said the cause of the crash was still unclear.
“We don’t have details…technical failure or weather,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Mao Havanall, secretary of state in charge of the Civil Aviation Secretariat, said that Hok Lundy’s helicopter left from Phnom Penh at about 7:15 pm and crashed at about 8 pm in Svay Rieng’s Rumduol district. It remained unclear what had caused the crash, he added.
“We don’t know yet. In the morning we will send investigators,” he said by telephone Sunday night. “We will send at least three people.”
Svay Rieng Provincial Information Department Director Keo Samoeun said by telephone that he had visited the crash site and added that the helicopter had gone down in mildly inclement weather not long after a bout of serious rain.
“People who were catching frogs said they heard a sound and then the helicopter went down,” he said. There appeared to be no sign of an explosion or fire, he said, but the helicopter had broken into multiple pieces in the crash.
He added that the bodies of the four victims had been recovered and had been taken to Svay Rieng provincial referral hospital.
Ly Thuch, second deputy president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that Hok Lundy had made the nighttime journey to Svay Rieng so he could participate in a Kathen ceremony. Earlier in the day, dressed in a formal white uniform, the country’s most powerful police commissioner had joined the Independence Day ceremonies in Phnom Penh.
Mao Havanall said he was unsure whether the helicopter was privately owned or state-owned, and referred a reporter to a pilot who declined to be named but said that the police commissioner had taken off in a Eurocopter AS350 B2 Ecureuil, known as a “Squirrel.”
Born around 1950, Hok Lundy is a native of Svay Rieng province and of Vietnamese ancestry, according to “The Historical Dictionary of Cambodia” by Justin Cornfield and Laura Summers.
Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Hok Lundy rose steadily through the ranks of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea, the precursor to today’s ruling CPP.
According to the Historical Dictionary, he received his first position of prominence in 1982, being appointed as chairman of the Svay Rieng Organization and Inspection Bureau of the PRPK. In 1985 he rose to be the deputy secretary of the province’s Provisional Party Committee, being promoted to secretary of that committee three years later.
In 1990, he received a dual appointment as the secretary of PRPK for Phnom Penh as well as chairman of the municipality’s People’s Committee, effectively becoming the governor of the capital.
Three years later he ran for the National Assembly in Phnom Penh in the first post-conflict national election. He was not elected but was appointed governor of Svay Rieng later in the year.
In November 1994, he was appointed national police commissioner, a post he had held for the past 14 years.
In 1997 he became a member of the CPP Central Committee and four years later rose to join the party’s standing committee. At the time of his death, Hok Lundy was listed as the 20th most senior official within the party, according to the CPP’s Web site.
A loyal force supporting Prime Minister Hun Sen, Hok Lundy has been seen as key in strengthening Hun Sen’s hold over the country’s security apparatus. The bonds between Hok Lundy and Hun Sen were further solidified by the January 2002 marriage of Hok Lundy’s daughter Hok Chindavy to the premier’s son Hun Manit.
Commenting on a likely successor to Hok Lundy in the role as chief of national police, one Interior Ministry official said that Neth Savoeun, a deputy director-general of the national police, was the most likely candidate.
A long-time and close associate of Hok Lundy, Neth Savoeun is married to a niece of Hun Sen and has long been tipped as a successor to his boss.
Neth Savoeun could not be contacted for comment on Sunday night.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, John Maloy, Kevin Doyle, James Welsh, Yun Samean and Stephen Kurczy)