GENERAL Ke Kim Yan, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and long-time loyalist of Cambodian People's Party President Chea Sim, has been removed from his post in a sweeping reshuffle of the Kingdom's military leadership.
According to a royal decree broadcast Thursday on Apsara Television, Ke Kim Yan's deputy, General Pol Saroeun, has been appointed commander-in-chief, and seven officers have been bumped up to the post of deputy commander-in-chief, including Hun Sen loyalists General Kun Kim and General Meas Sophea.
When contacted by the Post Thursday, Pol Saroeun confirmed he had been promoted. When asked how he felt about it, he replied: "I am modest."
Nem Sowath, Cabinet chief for the Ministry of Defence, said that it was a routine reshuffle of the Kingdom's top brass. "There has been no problem," he said.
He added that Ke Kim Yan had led the army for many years and had made "enviable achievements" since being appointed to the post.
Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party , said the reshuffle was likely a result of internal CPP power politics.
"We have long heard rumours that Prime Minister Hun Sen had plans to remove Ke Kim Yan from commander of RCAF because of an internal dispute," he said, referring to speculation that has abounded since 1997 when reports of Ke Kim Yan's death in the factional fighting sent his family fleeing to Thailand. Although the reports proved erronrous, it later emerged Ke Kim Yan had disputed an order to deploy the army on the streets of Phnom Penh.
In 1999, when Hun Sen appointed Kun Kim to the general staff, observers cast it as a move by the prime minister to tighten his grip on RCAF.
A three-star RCAF general who declined to be named said that he was "very surprised" to hear of the transfer.
"If he was withdrawn from his post without real reason, there could be a reaction from soldiers and commanders," he said.
But Nguon Nhel, first deputy president of the National Assembly, denied the move was a sign of internal divisions in the party. "There is no such dispute in the CPP," Nguon Nhel said. "If there was a dispute, the CPP would not have such support."
Ke Kim Yan could not be reached for comment Thursday.