Prime Minister Hun Sen’s middle son, Hun Manith, has been appointed as director of the Defense Ministry’s military intelligence unit, according to a sub-decree issued by his father last month, making him the second of the premier’s sons to ascend to the upper echelons of the military.
The appointment was defended Thursday by Defense Minister Tea Banh, who said that anybody accusing Mr. Hun Sen of nepotism for promoting his child to a top military position had “mental problems.”
Major General Manith joins his elder brother, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, who heads the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department, as one of the youngest senior military officials in the country at age 34.
He will replace Chea Dara, a four-star general and deputy commander in chief of the army, who became head of the military intelligence department in 2012 following the death of its longtime chief, the formidable CPP stalwart Mol Roeup.
“Modify the position of Chea Dara, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and director of the department of military intelligence,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote in the September sub-decree promoting his son. “Appoint Major General Manith to be the director of the department of military intelligence.”
General Banh said Thursday that the decision was made long ago and had simply not been publicized.
“Why did you get the news so slowly? This is old news,” Gen. Banh said, laughing. “He has become the director of the department of military intelligence, and he is suitable to be the director of the department.
“He has worked there for a long time, but he was the deputy director and now he has become the director,” Gen. Banh added. “He has been working on [espionage] and can solve all of the issues.”
The defense minister said the previous head of the department, General Dara, who also commands troops in the region around the Preah Vihear temple, decided himself to step down from the top spy job.
“Chea Dara is a deputy commander in chief…and he only quit as the director of military intelligence,” Gen. Banh said, explaining that Maj. Gen. Manith was the natural successor to the top post.
“He is very active with his work, he has lots of experience,” Gen. Banh said. “Before he was the deputy. Now he is the director because he has done good and proper work and has obtained a lot of achievements.”
He said any claims that nepotism had been involved in the promotion of the premier’s son were insane.
“They can just say whatever. It’s wrong, and they have mental problems,” he said. “The most important thing is that [the department director] makes our country develop and brings peace, and that the person is ambitious.”
Besides Maj. Gen. Manith and Lt. Gen. Manet, Mr. Hun Sen has a third son, Hun Many, who became a CPP lawmaker for Kompong Speu province in the 2013 election and heads the ruling party’s youth wing.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the latest promotion for Maj. Gen. Manith was well-deserved and was not a demotion for Gen. Dara, who will continue in his other roles as a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces deputy commander.
“You do not have to doubt this. It is a normal thing to organize and modify roles,” Mr. Eysan said. “From what I know, Chea Dara has two or three positions; therefore, he shared out his work.”
“[Maj. Gen. Manith] fits the conditions and the criteria, so the government promoted him,” he said. “It’s not like they say that the prime minister selected and appointed him. There was a request from the Defense Ministry after they checked that he was qualified.”
“I believe in Hun Manith’s capacity, and it follows the policy of the government and the CPP to train youth to succeed and be the new bamboo shoots that have the qualities and capacity to work,” he added.
“It is not cronyism, because they fit the criteria and have the knowledge.”
However, Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor with local rights group Licadho, said that whatever Maj. Gen. Manith’s qualifications may be, his promotion would inevitably be interpreted through the lens of nepotism.
“According to their framework, his promotion was due to his achievements and capabilities,” he said. “From the perspective of local and international civil society, he was promoted because of his father.”