Vacated Bodyguard HQ Signals End of an Era

The former headquarters of late CPP President Chea Sim’s personal bodyguard unit, which was disbanded following his death in June, is now the office of a private security firm.

The large blue-and-red sign reading “Bodyguard Unit of Sam­dech Akka Moha Thamma Pot­hisal Chea Sim” above the entrance to the compound on Street 19 in Phnom Penh has been replaced by two posters flanking a metal gate—the image of a female security guard on one side, a male counterpart on the other—advertising the services of Libra Private Security.

While Chea Sim enjoyed the pro­tection of hundreds of armed bodyguards, his successor as president of the Senate, Say Chhum, has ta­ken a more relaxed approach to security, Senate spokes­man Mam Bun Neang said on Tuesday.

“Samdech Say Chhum does not have many bodyguards like Sam­dech Chea Sim,” he said. “I have seen that he has about five to six bodyguards, who go with Sam­dech whenever he goes anywhere.”

Mr. Bun Neang said members of Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit had been reassigned to Brigade 70—the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces unit tasked with providing security to high-level officials and foreign dignitaries.

Political analysts said there could be various reasons why Mr. Chhum’s security detail paled in comparison to his predecessor’s but agreed that Chea Sim’s massive force had little to do with his personal protection.

Political commentator Kem Ley, who last year founded the Khmer for Khmer grassroots advocacy group, said Chea Sim’s bodyguard unit was largely a legacy of the factionalism within the ruling party in the late 1980s and 1990s.

“This was the conflict, and the chairs and vice-chairs [of the CPP] tried to recruit many, many bodyguards until now,” Mr. Ley said.

“Say Chhum at that time was in the middle. So that’s why I hope Say Chhum will not recruit many bodyguards,” he said, adding that toward the end of Chea Sim’s life, his bodyguards served in various functions.

“The bodyguard is not only to maintain the security of their boss, but their business also,” he said.

Although he served a mostly honorary role within the CPP later in his life, Chea Sim created a sprawl­ing political patronage network in the 1980s that for more than a decade made him one of the country’s most powerful men.

In a statement released following his death last year, Human Rights Watch said the former interior minister would be remembered for creating a template for the misuse of state security forces.

“His legacy continues to this day, with unreformed security forces run for the interests of the ruling party instead of the public good,” the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said in the statement.

Chea Sim’s massive bodyguard unit and his long list of advisers were notorious for finding themselves in legal trouble, with his former bodyguard chief handed a 10-year prison sentence for a long list of crimes.

Chhoeun Chanthan, the disgraced bodyguard chief, was convicted in February 2012 of illegal weapons possession, ordering the use of weapons without proper authority, forging documents and us­ing forged documents. In the same month, a military court convicted him of illegally selling and destroying military property, as well as breach of trust.

Ou Virak, a political analyst and head of the Future Forum think tank, said bodyguards in Cambodia were largely a “power symbol,” and one that he was happy to see diminished in the case of Chea Sim.

“I think it was basically Chea Sim’s way of saying he was still important in the party. Say Chhum can­not demand the same thing, nor should he,” he said.

“Many of the Cambodian people who have bodyguards do not have them for protection of the body,” Mr. Virak said, pointing to Mr. Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, which numbers in the thousands.

“Does Hun Sen really need the bodyguard unit? You could have asked the same thing about Chea Sim,” he added. “The answer is no.”

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