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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Military reshuffle imminent

Military reshuffle imminent

A major shake-up is in the winds for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces hierarchy including

the replacement of Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan with one of his recently appointed

deputies Kun Kim.

A senior RCAF general said the move would definitely go ahead as would the replacement

of Army chief Meas Sophea by head of intelligence Moel Roep.

However he doubted rumors concerning the replacement of Co-defense minister Tea Banh.

He said there was talk of Tea Banh becoming the Minister of Agriculture but he believed

this was conjecture because the position was due to become available soon.

Another RCAF general said he had heard about the changes at the top but he was unable

to confirm when they would take place.

The moves would cement key Hun Sen loyalists into the top positions within RCAF but

would likely be unpopular among the troops.

One middle ranking officer spoken to by the Post said that Kun Kim had been throwing

money round among the commanders recently in what was perceived to be an attempt

to buy favor among them.

Meanwhile, Meas Sophea is said to have fallen out of favor at a high level of government.

Soldiers under his command believe it has been because of his involvement with illegal

logging and gem mining in the north-west of the country. The continuation of the

trade has allowed soldiers to maintain their income - a move popular with the

soldiers but which has angered the Government which is keen to be seen by donors

as having tackled the problem of illegal logging.

When spoken to by the Post, Meas Sophea said he was still in his job and his future

was "in the hands of high ranking people". A comment he repeated three

times.

He also doubted that Tea Banh would become Minister of Agriculture saying he did

not think the co-defense minister knew a lot about farming.

Meanwhile the swift ascension of Kun Kim is likely to be viewed with suspicion both

inside and outside RCAF. Kim has appeared on the periphery of a number of crucial

moments in recent times including the 1997 grenade attack, the coup and was named

in the diary of murdered actress Piseth Pelica.

Kun Kim is a close ally of Hun Sen. His appointment late last year caused widespread

unhappiness within the army - particularly among the highest levels who were

not consulted about the move.

At the time there was conjecture within RCAF that the move might be a stepping stone

to a more powerful position within the army.

Since taking up the job of deputy commander-in-chief in charge of education and training,

Kun Kim has kept a reasonably low profile though he has aquired a dual reputation.

One commander said of Kim: "He is more generous but also more frightening than

Ke Kim Yan."

Politically the move is good for Hun Sen but is likely to dismay Chea Sim and Sar

Kheng who blocked Kun Kim's bid to become a member of the CPP central committee.

Neither Ke Kim Yan nor Kun Kim could be reached for comment. And it is understood

that Tea Banh is in Australia at the moment as the guest of an oil company based

there.

Meanwhile foreign donors are concerned what effects the changes might have on the

current plans to demobilize a large percentage of the military.

The World Bank is currently formulating a plan which would slash RCAF's ranks by

50,000.

This number includes ghost soldiers, invalids and the elderly.

But while some donors are concerned another suggested that reforms might be accelerated

by the change in leadership.

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