At least three relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen will sit on a national security “working group” created quietly by the premier in September, with one member yesterday comparing the body to the White House’s National Security Council.
According to an order published in the Royal Book, the advisory group will be led by four-star General and Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith, and includes the premier’s sons Hun Manet and Hun Manith, and his son-in-law Dy Vichea.
According to the premier’s directive, the group will give recommendations on “protecting social order, national security, public property and other important national development projects”.
Reached yesterday, Sinarith said the group has no decision-making power, and will only advise on general security matters, both domestic and foreign.
He compared the group to the White House’s National Security Council – a group of advisers picked by the US president, which includes the US secretaries of state and defence, among other experts.
“The important thing is to ensure that we have stability and peace – these are crucial things,” Sinarith said.
In the months since the body’s creation on September 1, the government has dissolved the main opposition party and targeted NGOs in the name of preventing an alleged “colour revolution”, often using rhetoric evoking the need for “stability”.
Instructions on preventing such a plot – which also pointed the finger at a wide range of NGOs, media outlets and foreign governmental organisations – were disseminated throughout the country at the provincial level.
However, Sinarith insisted the group’s “focus” will not be on investigating demonstrations, but on “general security”. He added that the working group may choose more members in the future “to help the country develop well”.
“It mainly gives ideas to make sure the security is good and people can live comfortably,” he said.
San Chey, the country director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the appointments gave the appearance of favouritism.
“It looks like the PM believes and trusts the people from his family only,” Chey said, adding that he should “not only depend on the persons from his own family”.
The other members of the committee are Ministry of Economy and Finance Secretary of State Vonsey Vissoth, Ministry of Justice Secretary of State Koeut Rith, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary of State Eat Sophea, Ministry of Economy and Finance tax head Kong Vibol and Ministry of Economy and Finance Customs Director Kun Nhem.
Many members of the group are known to be close to Hun Sen. Sinarith – head of the Interior Ministry’s powerful Internal Security Department – is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s central committee and propaganda committee. He also helped lead the investigation into the beating of two opposition lawmakers in 2015, which was carried out by at least three members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit.
Vichea, who leads the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Department under Sinarith, is married to Hun Mana, the premier’s daughter.
Rith, the Justice Ministry official, is one of the youngest members of the CPP’s central committee and is reported to be the legal mind behind much of the controversial legislation produced by the CPP. He is widely expected to be the next minister of justice.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said it seemed likely that the premier wants to use the committee to root out threats to his power – one reason why it is packed with “relatives and other loyalists”.
“By binding people closer to him through this kind of committee, he expands the numbers of eyes and ears that are assisting him to spot potential challenges to his rule from both inside and outside the country,” Robertson said in an email.