Prime Minister Offers Fiery Defense Of RCAF Choice

Prime Minister Hun Sen swore a close adviser into a top military post Saturday, after delivering a fiery speech in which he lashed out at those criticizing his choice.

Speaking at RCAF Supreme Command Headquarters on Norodom Boulevard, Hun Sen defended his decision to appoint Kun Kim as one of four RCAF deputy commander in chiefs. The appointment has caused grumbling among some military officials and human rights groups.

“They said Hun Sen promoted men close to him,” Hun Sen said. “Of course. If you are untrustworthy, I would not even allow you to guard my house. If you are an opponent, no one would appoint you to the rank of general to cause trouble. It is the armed forces.”

Kun Kim, 43, has worked closely with Prime Minister Hun Sen for years, and on an official basis as an adviser since 1997. Prior to that he served as first deputy governor of Kandal province. He will oversee training and education in the army, despite the fact that he has not served in the military for more than two decades—a fact cited last week by military officials.

Kun Kim’s appointment “is part of strengthening the Cambodian military reforms,” Hun Sen said.

Kun Kim takes the new job as the military prepares to launch a major demobilization program and a number of other reforms aimed at moving the country through its postwar era. Kun Kim is one of Hun Sen’s closest advisers and he has proved his loyalty to the prime minister, many observers agree.

“I will try to work hard for the sake of the nation,” Kun Kim said, accepting the post. “I will im­pr­ove discipline, stay neutral and respect the will of the people.”

Government officials are in the process of weeding out thousands of “ghost soldiers” on the payroll and receiving benefits despite the fact that they do not exist. In addition, they are working to develop a comprehensive paper on the military, spelling out its role and form in the future.

In his speech, Hun Sen noted that military spending will be reduced from 3.8 percent of the GDP in 1999 to 3.5 percent in 2000. Almost all the money allocated for security is to feed the army and police, he noted. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, two of the most important donors for Cambodia, realize that the process of cutting the military budget and demobilizing “is hard,” he said

Hun Sen also attacked un­named generals quoted last week in The Cambodia Daily for complaining about Kun Kim, and criticized the newspaper for protecting the identity of sources.

Several army generals interviewed last week raised concerns about Kun Kim’s lack of formal military training.

RCAF Deputy Commander in Chief Meas Sophea and co-Defense Minister Tea Banh did not praise the appointment in interviews last week, but they did not directly criticize it either.

Hun Sen complained that The Cambodia Daily is “instigating” problems.

“You can scold the prime minister, go against the prime minister when you are out of government, out of the army, or out of the police. If you are in the army and you scold me, you are fired,” Hun Sen said Saturday.

“The telephone works too quick. [The Cambodia Daily] knows faster than I do,” he said sarcastically. “If it cites a general who asks not to be named, if you are good, give your name….The promotion of officials is the prime minister’s right.”

Some generals said they supported Kun Kim.

Speaking Saturday at the ceremony, RCAF Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan praised Kun Kim. He also highlighted the challenge of demobilization and said Kun Kim will help “strengthen” the military.

Neang Phat, director of the department of information for the Ministry of Defense, on Sunday downplayed any controversy in RCAF. He said that he “noticed that all commanders welcomed him” at the ceremony. “It is not about who men are close to or not, it is about work,” he said. “We need stronger leadership.”

Chea Saran, deputy commander of the army and also a deputy joint chief of staff, said on Sunday, “I pleasantly welcome him and wait to see his work. It is usual that a commander in the army needs to be loyal and patriotic.”

In his speech Saturday, Hun Sen also took aim at human rights groups. Last week, some said they were unhappy with Kun Kim’s appointment.

Some rights investigators said he has been linked to repression of CPP opponents during the 1993 national election campaign and also to events surrounding last year’s polls. However, Kun Kim denied last week that the allegations are true.

“I don’t need to ask human rights groups,” Hun Sen said. Human rights groups, he added, “want us to increase money for food for prisoners.”

“If the prisoners have better rations then police, everyone will go to prison,” he said. “Next time anyone wants to see prisoners, ask him or her to bring gifts. When they complain about poor conditions in prison, ask them for money for it.”

Hun Sen then singled out UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy for human rights Thomas Hammarberg, accusing him of speaking irresponsibly about Cambodia in New York—after visiting here and speaking “as if there were no problems.”

“Just one underage child is arrested and kept at a detention center, and he reported it in New York and stirred up the world,” Hun Sen complained. “Anyway, his mandate is nearly finished.” (Ad­ditional reporting by Adam Piore)

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