Sensing unease within the ranks of the armed forces, senior members of the RCAF officer corps on Wednesday moved to quash widespread rumors of a general purge of those loyal to former Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan.
Newly installed RCAF Chief General Pol Saroeun said current armed forces personnel, including the commanders of the military’s six regions and its infantry brigades, need not fear for their jobs, as their services are still needed.
“There will be no reshuffle at all,” Pol Saroeun said by telephone. “There will be no removal of any army chiefs because we still need them. We employ them as usual. What I say is for sure,” the new commander in chief said.
In a move that some interpreted as a possible consolidation of power within the ruling CPP, three-decade RCAF veteran Ke Kim Yan on Saturday was officially replaced by Pol Saroeun, while four other military officials close to Prime Minister Hun Sen were also installed as deputy commanders to the new chief.
A day earlier, Hun Sen had told a meeting of the Council of Ministers that Ke Kim Yan had been given his marching orders because he was allegedly involved in land disputes and because his private dealings were interfering with his military duties, said Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who attended the meeting.
Ke Kim Yan has not commented publicly since his removal, though at Saturday’s ceremony to transfer power to Pol Saroeun, the former commander in chief said health problems had led him to request being relieved of his duties.
Ke Kim Yan, a senior member of the CPP standing committee, has yet to be assigned a new role.
Word that allegiances to the ousted commander in chief could be the cause of further removals arose almost as soon as Ke Kim Yan’s ouster was announced last week.
Several Defense Ministry sources contacted Wednesday said they continued to believe that those with close ties to Ke Kim Yan, particularly those he had personally promoted, were facing a partisan reshuffle.
“Generally, if their bosses are removed, of course they will be removed from one position to another,” said a brigadier general who asked not to be named. “It is not a rumor. It is true,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another general, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said any further removals would be delayed, and that the rumors of a purge in the ranks were being circulated to cause a stir in the military.
“I don’t think any further removals will happen at this stage. The rumors are being circulated to cause an uneasy feeling among the army,” said the general.
Defense Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat also said the rumors should be disregarded.
“I am willing to bet money with you,” Neang Phat said. “I have heard no news of more RCAF generals in the provinces to be removed,” he said.
Defense Minister Tea Banh declined to comment.
As of Wednesday, the Defense Ministry Web site still listed Ke Kim Yan as RCAF commander in chief, noting that he was the recipient of five medals including the “White Elephant” medal awarded by the King of Thailand.