RCAF General Ke Kim Yan, the long-serving commander in chief of the Cambodian armed forces, was “terminated” from his post Thursday by a royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni.
The removal of the RCAF chief comes close on the heels of a circular issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for stronger enforcement of the mandatory retirement age of 60 for government workers.
As a result of that order, Supreme Court President Dith Munty—who is in his late 60s—is among those who will have to retire, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said Thursday.
In addition to their posts in the court and military, Ke Kim Yan and Dith Munty are both members of the elite standing committee of the Cambodian People’s Party, with Ke Kim Yan ranked number 14 and Dith Munty number 19 within the ruling party apparatus.
The royal decree removing Ke Kim Yan cites, among other things, the recommendation of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and resolves in its first article that “Ke Kim Yan is terminated from RCAF commander-in-chief.”
Replacing Ke Kim Yan is Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Pol Saroeun, according to the royal decree. Like Ke Kim Yan, Pol Saroeun is a member of the CPP standing committee, sitting just one place behind his former boss in the party rankings.
The decree also appoints seven deputy commanders-in-chief, which is three more than there were previously.
Those appointed as deputy chiefs include: Kun Kim and Meas Sophea, who both already held the post; military intelligence chief Mol Roeup; tactical department chief Chea Dara; Royal Cambodian Navy commander Ung Samkhan; national military police commander Sao Sokha; and the prime minister’s personal bodyguard chief, Hing Bun Heang.
Speaking by telephone Thursday, Defense Minister Tea Banh confirmed the removal of Ke Kim Yan but said he was not sure why he had been removed.
“I do not know the reason,” Tea Banh said. Tea Banh said he also did not know what Ke Kim Yan’s new role might be.
“[Ke Kim Yan] has no position,” Tea Banh said.
Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim also said he did not know why Ke Kim Yan had been removed, before declining further comment.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Thursday evening that the removal was “a normal reshuffle,” and the normal course of things after an official has served in a certain capacity for a long time.
Ke Kim Yan became RCAF commander-in-chief in 1999.
Khieu Kanharith said he also does not know what Ke Kim Yan’s future role will be.
Ke Kim Yan could not be reached for comment.
Asked by telephone to comment on his promotion to commander-in-chief Thursday, Pol Saroeun said only,” I will comply with the royal decree.”
When pressed on whether he had any plans for the military under his watch, Pol Saroeun said that having just been appointed he hadn’t yet had time to think about such things.
He declined to comment on Ke Kim Yan’s removal.
In a separate subdecree issued Thursday, control of the navy has been given to deputy navy commander Tea Vinh, who replaces the newly promoted Ung Samkhan. Tea Vinh is the brother of Defense Minister Tea Banh.
Also on Thursday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said that Hun Sen has ordered the Ministry of Justice to retire Supreme Court President Dith Munty.
“[Dith Munty’s] name is correct, it also has his name,” Ang Vong Vathana said, referring to a list of retirement-age judicial officials that has circulated through the legal system this week.
According to a prosecutor at the Supreme Court, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the retirement list contains the names of 21 judges, five prosecutors and one clerk, and it was sent to the Justice Ministry on Tuesday.
Ang Vong Vathana noted that the prime minister’s order mandating retirement at age 60 had been sent to not just the courts but to all government’s institutions.
The minister added however, that even though Dith Munty was on the list to be retired, he was not sure of what legal procedure to follow to enforce the prime minister’s retirement order.
“I don’t know how to do it; I will contact Ngo Hongly first,” he said, referring to the secretary-general of the Council for Administrative Reform at the Council of Ministers. Ngo Hongly could not be reached Thursday.
Dith Munty could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, Saing Soenthrith, and Yun Samean)