Hun Sen Hands More Four-Star Promotions to 6 Police Chiefs

In case the 29 officers Prime Minister Hun Sen promoted on January 30 to four-star general were not enough, six Interior Ministry police chiefs were also promoted to the same top rank late last month.

A January 22 royal decree, obtained Wednesday, elevated the six lieutenant generals in the police force up to the highest rank presently available in the Interior Ministry. 

“[I] order the rank of four-star general to these police generals within the Ministry of Interior National Police,” the decree states. “Prime Minister Hun Sen shall be charged with implementing this royal decree from the date signed onward.”

The newly minted four-star generals include Interior Ministry Secretary of State Ouk Kimlekh, Secretary-General Khieu Sopheak and Mao Bunnarin, director general of logistics and finance. The other three, Chan Ann, Mao Chandara and Sok Phal, are all director generals of the National Police Commissariat.

Neither General Sopheak, who serves as the ministry’s spokesman, nor the other five new police generals, could be reached for comment.

Among the 29 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officers recently promoted to four-star general were Tea Vinh, commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy and brother of Defense Minister Tea Banh, and Dom Hak, who was arrested on allegations of drug trafficking in 2003 but released for lack of evidence.

A promotion also went to RCAF Lieutenant General Khieng Savuth, who was in charge of the military police in 1997 when then-U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg said the Gendarmerie, a branch of the military police, should be disbanded for its severe human rights abuses.

Mr. Hun Sen’s CPP government has argued that its frequent military and police promotions are strictly to fill vacancies and reward good work.

Analysts and observers, however, say the continued promotions in the top echelons of the armed forces is a means for Mr. Hun Sen to curry favor among loyalists in the military.

In 2010, Cambodia’s military already had more than twice as many generals as the U.S., which is the world’s most powerful military.

The latest round of top-tier promotions also come amid a tense political standoff between the ruling CPP and the CNRP, which is refusing to accept the CPP’s official victory in last year’s national elections, and follows mass protests calling for Mr. Hun Sen to resign.

Mu Sochua, head of public affairs for the opposition CNRP, said both the timing and high rank of the new promotions were troubling given the dubious record of some of the new generals.

“We are very concerned about the independence and the quality of the armed forces and the qualifications of the people who were promoted; and these are not small positions, they are positions at the very top,” she said.

Ms. Sochua said, too, that the promotions were an attempt to stave off defections in the military after the worst showing by the CPP at the polls in 20 years. Senior CPP military chiefs have recently exhorted troops to protect not just the country, but, specifically, Mr. Hun Sen’s position.

“Put it all together and I think this is building a force not for the protection of the country, as it should be, but to protect a group of people,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

© 2014, All rights reserved.