Prime Minister Hun Sen approved a request from Defense Minister Tea Banh last week to promote 29 lieutenant generals to the rank of four-star general, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense.
The promotions, which follow repeated calls from General Banh last month for the armed forces to defend Mr. Hun Sen’s government against anyone looking to replace him, would more than double the ranks of four-star generals in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).
“We request that those named below are promoted to the rank of General of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” reads the statement, dated January 30 and signed by Gen. Banh and Mr. Hun Sen. The statement lists one secretary of state at the Ministry of Defense, 10 under-secretaries of state, and 18 RCAF deputy commanders-in-chief.
Gen. Banh’s brother, Tea Vinh, currently a three-star general in the navy, has been recommended for a fourth star. Lt. Gen. El Vansarath, a member of the CPP’s central committee, is the one secretary of state on the list.
Also listed for an elevation are Keo Pong and Sok Pheap, former senior military commanders in the Khmer Rouge who defected to join government forces in the 1990s.
Lt. Gen. Dom Hak, who was arrested in 2003 on charges of producing and trafficking illegal drugs, has also been endorsed to become a top-ranking general. Lt. Gen. Hak was eventually released in the drug-trafficking case due to a lack of evidence.
Khieng Savuth, former National Military Police commander, and Chhin Chanpor, former Phnom Penh municipal police commander, also appear on the list.
Lt. Gen. Savuth was the chief of military police in 1997, when former U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg said that one of its branches, the Gendarmerie, should be disbanded for becoming “an agent of human rights abuses.”
Lt. Gen. Nem Sowath, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs, who is among the 29 generals recommended for promotion, said that he had “heard about [promotion] from my colleagues.”
Gen. Banh said he was busy at a meeting and could not comment on the promotions. Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat, also up for promotion, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In November 2011, Gen. Banh announced that the promotion of generals would be halted, as the hierarchy of the armed forces was becoming bloated.
“I announce that we now are stopping to promote generals,” Mr. Banh said at the time. “There are too many generals, and we now stop promoting generals for a while.”
In 2010, RCAF reported having more than 2,200 generals of all ranks, about 1,500 more generals than the entire U.S. military.
Experts have questioned the number of RCAF promotions and the exceptional speed at which the sons of high-ranking officials receive them when compared to countries with armies that vastly outsize Cambodia’s.
In the months before last year’s national election, hundreds of RCAF officers were promoted, including Mr. Hun Sen’s two eldest sons, Hun Manet and Hun Manith, who were promoted to lieutenant general and brigadier general respectively.
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