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Hun Sen sounds off

Prime Minister Hun Sen defended his oldest son’s recent military promotion and lashed out at opponents suggesting a Tunisia-style revolution could come to the Kingdom in a characteristically wide-ranging address in Kampong Cham province today.

Speaking at an inauguration ceremony for a new building at the Kampong Cham provincial hospital, the premier said 33-year-old Hun Manet, promoted to a rank of two-star general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces earlier this month, was well-qualified to serve in his new position.

“He has been military age for 16 years already,” Hun Sen said. “The military is obliged to promote in accordance with its internal framework.”

At a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence on January 3, Hun Manet became a two-star general and deputy commander-in-chief of the RCAF infantry.

He is also director of the anti-terrorism department at the Ministry of Defence and was promoted in September to deputy commander of his father’s bodyguard unit.

Hun Manet has long been groomed for an apparent leadership role.

He graduated in 1999 from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his education was financed by the American government, according to The Associated Press.

He was reportedly granted one of the 10 spots that are reserved for foreign students at the military academy each year, later going on to earn a PhD in economics at Bristol University in the United Kingdom.

“Why develop human resources if you don’t put them to good use?” Hun Sen said today.

“What are we training our children for?”

At the promotion ceremony this month, Defence Minister Tea Banh, too, lauded the young officer’s credentials, pointing in particular to his West Point education.

“This school is recognised internationally for its distinction in political science, law and military affairs, and in his new position, Manet must use the skills he has learned,” Tea Banh said.

“We have to let the younger generation take over our work and ensure that our achievements are protected and that forces of evil who want to destroy our achievements are stopped.”

Hun Sen has previously stated that he does not want his son to enter politics in the future, claiming Hun Manet will instead focus on charity work and his military obligations.

Some observers, however, have seen Hun Manet’s swift rise through the army ranks as a sign that he is the chosen successor of his strongman father.

“Dynasties of this kind have happened,” said Son Soubert, a former member of the Constitutional Council.

“As for qualifications, he may be better than any other Cambodian high-ranking military [officers],” Son Soubert added. “Of course, it can be viewed as nepotism because he is the son of the prime minister, and other Cambodian citizens should be entitled to be sent to West Point.”

Another ruling party scion, Sar Sokha, is set to be promoted to the position of Phnom Penh municipal deputy police chief today in a ceremony at police headquarters in the capital, Phnom Penh deputy police chief Ben Rath said today.

Sar Sokha is the son of Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

Also today, Hun Sen lashed out an unnamed critic that he said had advocated a popular revolution in Cambodia on the model of Tunisia, where rioting and protests forced out long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last week.

“There is a guy saying that Cambodia should foment a Tunisia style-revolt. I would like to send you a message that if you provoke or foment a Tunisia style-revolt, I will close the door to beat the dog this time,” Hun Sen said, arguing that the North African nation faces “the prospect of civil war” as it attempts to hold together its fragile interim government.

“This guy, if he enters Cambodia, will face arrest. This guy has a bald head. This guy says Cambodia should look to the style of Tunisia: if you dare to gather [the people] to do that please come, don’t say such silly words … I will beat you on the head.”

It was not clear to whom the prime minister was referring. ADDITIIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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