A close confidant to Prime Minister Hun Sen was appointed deputy commander in chief of RCAF this week, and vowed to “minimize inactivity” and “strengthen discipline” in the army.
But the announcement of Kun Kim’s appointment Wednesday raised concerns among some rights groups because he has a reputation for brutality. It also surprised some of the army’s top officials, a reliable CPP general said.
Kun Kim, 43, has worked closely on an official basis with Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1997, serving as an adviser for general affairs since 1998.
He was appointed to serve as one of four deputy commander in chiefs, filling the spot left vacant by the man tapped to serve as director general of the embattled Cambodian Mine Action Center, Khem Sophoan.
Hun Sen requested the appointment Nov 5, and it was approved by King Norodom Sihanouk on Tuesday.
“I am delighted,” Kun Kim said by telephone. “It is a surprise and something I could only dream about….I will try to minimize the inactivity and strengthen the discipline of the army. And I am determined to follow the government guidelines in cooperation with other RCAF officials.”
Reaction among military officials was mixed. Kun Kim has not served in the military for almost two decades. His only RCAF superior will be Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan.
Though one of Hun Sen’s closest advisers, Kun Kim is not on the CPP central committee, made up of 153 party members. His candidacy for the central committee was voted down in 1997.
Some in the human rights community expressed strong concerns. Though none could provide any evidence of wrongdoing, several noted that Kun Kim’s name has popped up in a number of negative stories involving political killings during the Pol Pot regime, and against opposition party members in recent years.
Kun Kim served as deputy governor of Kompong Cham province from 1983 to 1986. From 1990 to 1997, he was first deputy governor of Kandal province. He served in the Khmer Rouge during Democratic Kampuchea, but fled to Vietnam and fought to bring down the regime, he said.
“Oh my goodness,” said one human rights worker when told of the appointment. “He has a very bad reputation. It is really scary, very scary.”
Kun Kim admitted serving in the Khmer Rouge administration, like many government officials. But he strongly denied committing any atrocities, then or after.
“I was the district commerce staff for Tbong Khmom district [in Kompong Cham],” he said. “I am a person who fought Pol Pot, I resisted his killing of the people. I protected the people.”
Last month, the sister of slain actress Piseth Peaklica named Kun Kim as the man who picked her up and delivered her to secret rendezvous with Hun Sen when the two had the affair she says led to Peaklica’s slaying. But government officials have denied the affair took place. When asked about the accusation last month, Kun Kim declined to comment.
In April, Kun Kim was detained by Singaporean authorities for carrying a concealed weapon—a pistol with a laser sight—through airport security. He said at the time it was an accident.
An aide to a senior CPP general who asked not to be named praised the appointment, noting that Kun Kim has ability “because the top leaders have chosen him after they have thoroughly examined him.”
But Meas Sophea, also a deputy commander in chief and a CPP central committee leader, had a less enthusiastic reaction.
“I do not know whether he has had any military experience or not, please ask him,” he said, adding “we have to respect the orders from top leaders.”
Said the reliable CPP general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “I don’t understand…. He has no military experience.”
He added that Ke Kim Yan and Defense co-Minister Tea Banh were not informed in advance of this appointment. “But they do not go against the decision,” the general emphasized.
Kun Kim currently holds the rank of major general in the police, in addition to his title as adviser. He has not served in the military recently. But he received military training in Vietnam in 1979 after his stint in the Khmer Rouge. He has also honed his skills helping to combat the Khmer Rouge ever since, he said.
Serey Kosal, a security adviser to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said his party and the prince did not oppose the appointment. “If we are against him, it would mean we are disturbing the principle of reconciliation between both parties,” he said.
A local businessman who has had dealings with Kun Kim described him as a “family man.”
“I do not know his past. I don’t think many people know his past. But I think he’s a good guy,” said the businessman. “He takes care of his people.”
Kun Kim joins CPP appointees Meas Sophea and Pol Saroeun and Khann Savoeun of Funcinpec as RCAF’s deputy commander in chiefs. Officially, he will handle training and education for the army, military officials said.
Before 1997’s factional fighting, roughly half of the top spots in the army were filled by CPP generals and the rest by Funcinpec and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. But now, CPP loyalists dominate their ranks.
(Additional reporting by Adam Piore and Chris Decherd)