The surprise appointment of a Hun Sen confidante to a top post in the army has led to grousing among some in the military who say he is not qualified for the job.
The implications of Kun Kim’s appointment as deputy commander in chief of RCAF remained unclear Thursday, top military brass and analysts said. Kun Kim has not formally served in the military for more than two decades. His sole superior will be Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan.
But Kun Kim’s loyalty to Hun Sen has been repeatedly tested and proven in recent years, and he is widely viewed as part of the prime minister’s trusted inner circle, most agree.
When reached by phone, numerous top RCAF brass declined to comment. Others were cautious in their responses. But an undertone of concern was clear, as several referred to his lack of military background.
“The army will respect an order from the top,” said one CPP general, who asked not to be named. “He can look at a book and learn while he is working. Everyone has a similar lack of qualifications. Commanders and soldiers miss training in order to be soldiers and they can gain leadership skills by learning through paperwork.”
“I have nothing to think about this appointment,” said Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh. “No comment at all. Usually whatever King [Norodom Sihanouk] does is correct.”
Kun Kim, 43, has worked closely for years with Prime Minister Hun Sen and on an official basis since 1997, serving as an adviser for general affairs since 1998. Prior to that, he served as first deputy governor of Kandal province.
He will serve as one of four deputy commander in chiefs, supervising training and education for the army, despite the fact that he has no military training. The King signed the appointment Tuesday.
“This guy doesn’t seem very suited for the job,” said one military analyst. “That proffers the question, why is he there? We all know the answer to that: because the boss wants him there for whatever reason.”
“It has caused an absolute stir in the military,” said another military analyst. Top army leaders, he added, are “very upset.”
Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng defended the appointment Thursday and said Kun Kim will help reform the military. He maintained top military leaders were happy with the appointment.
“The military needs him,” Om Yentieng said.
Kun Kim dismissed any criticism, and said he will soon prove himself in his new position.
“They say I don’t know how to fight in combat, that’s right,” he said by telephone Thursday. “But I know how to kick and I know how to earn money. You have to be aware that among 1 million people, not all of those people like me. Bill Clinton also has people who dislike him.”
In recent years, Kun Kim has made a name for himself as a die-hard Hun Sen loyalist, most agree. According to one analyst, Kun Kim is believed to have delivered the order to mobilize the prime minister’s bodyguards against rival Funcinpec troops at the onset of the July 1997 fighting. RCAF Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan refused to mobilize the army, the analyst said.
Partially as a result, relations between Kun Kim and Ke Kim Yan have been strained, and Hun Sen lost some trust in his top military commander, the analyst said. Some have speculated that the appointment of Kun Kim could put pressure on Ke Kim Yan, diverting loyalty within the army to a man viewed by most as a personal representative for the prime minister.
Several others speculated that the nomination is a reward for Kun Kim’s past loyalty.
In addition to his alleged role in the factional fighting, Kun Kim is widely rumored within the donor and human rights community to have been involved in allegedly suppressing post-election protests last year, and of having had a hand in alleged extra judicial killings in the wake of the 1997 factional fighting.
He has denied any such violent activities.
His reputation as a street fighter extends to the government.
“Hun Sen has three strong men now. He’s got [National Police Chief] Hok Lundy, [Phnom Penh Governor] Chea Sophara, and Kun Kim,” said one senior Ministry of Interior official.
“He’s a very strong man, he’s very close with Hun Sen, and he is very good with the lower ranking men, they like him a lot,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle and Kimsan Chantara)