Defence Minister Tea Banh, an outspoken loyalist of Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose opponents he has repeatedly threatened with violence, has been given the prestigious honorific of “Samdech”, joining a small elite group of high-ranking ruling party members with the title.
The title – which translates roughly to “lord” – was bestowed by King Nordom Sihamoni on Saturday, according to a royal decree, which says the honour was a reward for the minister’s services to “peace, stability, independence, development and the protection of democracy”.
His full new title reads “Samdech Pichey Sena Tea Banh”.
Banh, a former Khmer Rouge fighter who rose to co-defence minister for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party after the 1993 election, is a close ally of Hun Sen and among the most vocal critics of the opposition. Despite leading Cambodia’s ostensibly politically neutral armed forces, he last year threatened to “smash the teeth” of opposition protesters.
He becomes one of seven living non-royal laypeople with the “Samdech” title, along with Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany; National Assembly President Heng Samrin; Interior Minister Sar Kheng; Senate President Say Chhum; and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol. The late Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and CPP President Chea Sim also held the title.
In a statement, Banh thanked the prime minister and pledged to guarantee the country’s “peace” and “political stability”.
Meanwhile, academic Sok Touch, who last year started a probe into the accuracy of Cambodia’s border maps, has also received a promotion. A sub-decree says Touch was elevated to director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia.