Hun Sen speaks with Ke Kim Yan in the Jan 28 ceremony to mark new RCAF positions.
IT'S OFFICIAL. The Cambodian Peoples Party now calls all the shots - literally. When
Prime Minister Hun Sen resigned his position as RCAF commander-in-chief on Jan 28,
turning over the reigns of day-to-day RCAF control to Gen Ke Kim Yan, the move came
with a substantial reshuffle within the armed forces that now sees key CPP officers
in charge of the Office of the Chief of Joint Staff, all three military services-Army,
Air Force and Navy-and many other senior posts.
The RCAF shake-up comes with pledges of mammoth reforms that will test the government's
ability to make good on promises made to the international donor community, and,
if fully implemented, upset an in-bred system of corrupt practices involving crony
capitalists and RCAF officers on the take.
At the heart of the matter are a bloated, underpaid and unruly military that saps
budgetary resources, and widespread illegal logging which has cost the government
hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues in recent years, put the Kingdom
on a fast-track to rampant deforestation and is widely known to involve military
units all over the country.
The government is well aware of the problems and the Prime Minister in his resignation
speech promised to tackle them.
The government "must successfully implement military and police reform within
the next five years," said Hun Sen. "The armed forces must be reduced by
55,000 and the police must be reduced by 24,000."
Referring to "anarchy in logging" Hun Sen said, "My urgent request
to [Ke Kim Yan] after accepting the new position, is to launch a total operation
against illegal logging. All means must be used, including the use of military, against
businessmen who operate illegal businesses in Cambodia."
The prime minister also called for the elimination of "ghost soldiers"
and a continued crackdown on "armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, drug
trafficking, arms sales, illegal use of weapons, sex trafficking, etc."
However, the new command structure has left Funcinpec frustrated and, in some cases,
angry at what they see as a betrayal of the Protocol on Power Sharing signed between
the two ruling coalition parties last November.
Of the 26 senior positions within the RCAF command structure (see chart pg 3), Funcinpec
has been given three slots. They expected more including the position of Air Force
"Our original plan was to have seven Funcinpec people in the chart with Funcinpec
in charge of the Air Force," said one Funcinpec member of parliament who declined
to be identified.
Lt Gen Khan Savoeun, the former Funcinpec commander of Military Region IV based in
Siem Reap who fled to the jungles on July 6, l997 and later joined Gen Nhek Bun Chhay
in resistance-held O'Smach, is now one of four Deputy Commander-in-Chiefs, reporting
directly to Kim Yan.
Savoeun is said to be in charge of a yet-to-be defined "internal affairs"
portfolio on Kim Yan's staff with no direct line responsibilities to the services,
although he may be tasked with overseeing demobilization. He is "in charge of
nothing" said the MP.
Funcinpec Maj Gen Hun Phoeung takes one of five slots as a Deputy Chief of the Joint
Staff, and Maj Gen Mean Sarin, the former governor of Preah Vihear who also joined
Bun Chhay's resistance, has been slotted as one of four Deputy Army Commanders.
The lack of appointments for Funcinpec in the new RCAF hierarchy has party members
shaking their heads and "squabbling among themselves" according to one
Ministry of Defense official.
"Ranariddh is losing credibility among Funcinpec MPs," said the source.
With an expected debate on the formation of a new Senate due shortly, many Funcinpec
MPs are wondering what further compromises to expect and whether seats will be allocated
on a 50/50 basis. They are also concerned that an impending shake-up among provincial
governors will leave party hopefuls out in the cold without a paycheck or title.
There is some speculation that Prince Ranariddh may have given tacit approval to
the total control of RCAF by the CPP.
"Ranariddh is still disappointed with [Funcinpec] military elements who cost
him power," said one observer. "Maybe he gave his blessing" to the
Most significantly, two key Hun Sen loyalists have each been given two powerful hats
to wear. Lt Gen Meas Sophea will be a Deputy Commander-in-Chief as well as Army Commander,
a post giving him direct control over the Kingdom's infantry, tanks and artillery.
Lt Gen Pol Saroeun has also been appointed a Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Chief
of the Joint Staff.
The two hats for Sophea and Saroeun are said to have resulted from a bit of "a
dogfight" between the two over who would secure more influence within RCAF.
While Kim Yan has technically been "promoted" one military analyst said
he was being "set up for the kill" given his perceived lack of loyalty
to Hun Sen during the July 1997 fighting. The implication is that Kim Yan, tasked
with ending illegal logging in three months, now faces the impossible, especially
when so many senior RCAF officers down the ranks are alleged to have their hands
in the till.
Added to the new slate of top RCAF officials are three former KPNLAF generals. Lt.
Gen Khem Sophoan fills the fourth slot as a Dep Commander-in-Chief, Lt. Gen Chum
Chheang-who replaced Gen Dien Del as KP Chief of Staff in the early 90s-is one of
the five Dep Chiefs of the Joint Staff, and Maj Gen Kho Chhean-the former head of
Military Region V in Battambang-has been named a Dep Army Commander.
LTG. Pol Saroeun, commander-in-chief and chief of joint staff
LTG. Meas Sopheap, deputy commander-in-chief and commander of army
LTG. Khan Savoeun, deputy commaner-in-chief
LTG. Khem Sophoan, deputy commander-in-chief
Military analysts say that the new structure will give tighter control over RCAF
units and that if the proposed reforms are to have even the slightest chance of succeeding
a unified command, ultimately loyal to the Prime Minister, is needed.
"If you have power sharing, then you have problems again," said one analyst,
referring to the 1993-97 failed coalition government.
"You have a stronger chain of command," added another. If the government
is serious about reform "it could be good for the forests".
Many observers speculate that Hun Sen is intent on reforming the military and that
he had no other choice if the government wants to attract promises of foreign aid
at the upcoming Consultative Meeting in Tokyo on Feb 25.
But sceptics of the government's seriousness are not hard to find.
"It's all rhetoric," said one ambassador from a key donor nation this week.
"Hun Sen asked us to take on 1,500 soldiers to help demobilize them. There's
no way we can touch it."
Key questions loom large including ëWhat's the plan?' and assuming something can
be put together ëCan it be funded and implemented?'."
Military analysts cite a number of issues that need to be addressed if reform is
to be carried out properly.
At the top of the agenda is an in-depth analysis of RCAF's "strategic mission
statement", given the fact that the country finds itself at peace for the first
time in almost 30 years. What's needed, say sources, is a top to bottom re-definition
of what the military should be tasked to do. Will RCAF take on civil affairs activities
like the Bangladeshi army and go out to build wells in rural areas. Should they protect
the forests? What role will the navy have in defending Cambodian waters? Should the
Kingdom develop force capabilities that would enable it to participate in UN actions?
Given the apparent lack of both external and internal threats, are expensive armored
units even necessary?
A number of senior officers within RCAF are aware of the need for a massive "re-think"
and Co-Defense Minister Tea Banh is said to support the idea. But to date, little
effort has been spent on re-defining RCAF.
"We don't have any detailed plan. We need a ëWhite Paper' for regional and international
cooperation," said one RCAF officer.
Prior to the re-shufle, Maj Gen Chea Saran, as head of the Ministry's G-3 Department
(Operations) is said to have been in charge of developing a strategic plan but due
to lack of resources the effort collapsed. With his move to Deputy Army Commander,
Saran is now said to be "out of the loop". Analysts expect that the responsibility
may now fall on Gen Pol Saroeun's shoulders with Gen Tea Banh providing leadership.
A review of RCAF will likely involve other entities as well.
"We hope to produce a Defense White Paper soon," said Dr. Kao Kim Hourn,
director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) on Feb 3. "CICP
is just starting to look at this issue. Everybody is now zeroing in on military reform
Funcinpec MP Gen Dien Del, as chairman of the Assembly Commission on Interior and
National Defense, said his committee was looking at military reform.
"This morning we had a meeting of the commission to make a list of demands for
Interior and National Defense to give us the necessary information," Del told
the Post Feb 4. "We will ask how they plan to reform."
"We would like to have a real plan," Del said. "We are not obstructing
the government, we are in the coalition, but we are not a [rubber] stamp."
Even if a plan is produced, the tough nut to crack is how to pay for it.
Foreign donors began to tackle the issue of demobilization back in 1995. The World
Bank, with the assistance of the Australian government, helped produce a plan that
was submitted to the Tokyo CG in 1996. With funding from the German aid agency GTZ
an initial process of registering soldiers and isuing ID cards was begun but put
on hold in July, 1997. To date nobody has a clear idea of how many soldiers actually
The World Bank made a grant for $500,000 just last month to re-start the process.
While the cash is not flowing yet, a technical team from the Bank's Post-Conflict
Unit was here last week to hold extensive negotiations with the government on re-shaping
A tentative plan was discussed with donors Jan 27 at the Pre-CG meeting at the CDC.
A more complete proposal will be presented Feb 25 in Tokyo.
"Pledges may be made," says R. Natarajan, chief of the World Bank's Phnom
Penh office. "One way or another funds have to be found. I am sure there will
be considerable support for progress [on this issue]."
Natarajan says that 1999 would be a start-up year and that the Germans may come back
to support the effort. He notes that the Bank generally makes soft loans and that
the government would likely prefer outright grant assistance.
"If they do come to the World Bank we will seriously consider a request,"
he adds, noting that none has been received so far.
With a figure of $1,200 per demobilized soldier, which Natarajan says is a figure
arrived at after considerable scrutiny and one which would provide a "transitional
safety net" until full integration is achieved, donors may be asked to fork
over $66 million for the 55,000 soldiers Hun Sen says need to be cut in the next
Then again, if Gen Ke Kim Yan can end illegal logging in three months, the government
may be able to generate the revenue itself through an above-board logging industry.
With the CPP in charge of RCAF the real test is at hand and donors will be watching
closely. It is a challenge with risks as breaking time-worn rice bowls is a dangerous
Quipped one defense analyst: "If Ke Kim Yan goes hell bent on Hun Sen's six
points, we may have a lot of dead Cambodian bodies."