Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cop who led Veng Sreng crackdown promoted

Cop who led Veng Sreng crackdown promoted

Rath Sreang (centre), chief of the Phnom Penh military police, leads subordinates along a road in the capital’s Meanchey district in 2013 during a violent crackdown on protesting garment workers.
Rath Sreang (centre), chief of the Phnom Penh military police, leads subordinates along a road in the capital’s Meanchey district in 2013 during a violent crackdown on protesting garment workers. Vireak Mai

Cop who led Veng Sreng crackdown promoted

Phnom Penh’s military police chief, Rath Sreang, the commander who oversaw fatal crackdowns during the post-2013 election period, was recently among 28 members of the gendarmerie awarded a promotion, it emerged yesterday.

News of Sreang’s promotion renewed questions about the security services’ distribution of promotions, even as a high-ranking National Police official yesterday acknowledged that ranks within the force were being bought and sold.

Sreang – who commanded forces responding to minimum wage protests on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in January 2014, where security forces shot dead at least four people – was elevated from a two-star major general to a three-star lieutenant general, according to a royal decree signed on January 28 and circulated on local media.

One of a large group of security figures added to the CPP’s powerful central committee in 2015, Sreang was transferred to the capital in 2013 from his post as military police chief in Banteay Meanchey, where he ran a drug rehabilitation centre, which Human Rights Watch linked to abuses including forced blood donations.

His arrival in Phnom Penh followed unrest arising from the disputed 2013 ballot.

At the time, a senior military insider told the Post that Sreang’s predecessor was demoted for failing to stop riots on election day.

Sreang oversaw several crackdowns against protesters that erupted in the turbulent year after the election, more than one of which resulted in deaths, though yesterday, military police spokesman Eng Hy rejected the characterisation of “crackdown”, saying police were “keeping order”.

Hy went on to maintain that promotions within the gendarmerie were evaluated on their merits at a meeting of military police top brass.

“There is no corruption in rank promotions,” Hy said.

However, citing Sreang’s hard-nosed history, Am Sam Ath, of the rights group Licadho, suggested Sreang was being rewarded for his work during the unrest, and to ensure more loyalty in the future. “The government did this in order to encourage him to protect the government and the party,” he said.

Paul Chambers, an academic with the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs who has studied Cambodia’s security forces, also suggested yesterday that the promotions were motivated by a push for the “further entrenchment” of a “merged” ruling party and security apparatus.

But Sreang yesterday maintained his promotion was normal and noted it was shared with other officers before referring questions to the gendarmerie spokesman.

According to the same royal decree, three colonels were made one-star brigadier generals, 12 brigadier generals made major generals and 10 major generals made lieutenant generals.

News of the fresh round of military promotions came as National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith confirmed longstanding suspicions that many promotions within police ranks had been bought and paid for, with senior officials vowing to “put an end” to the practice as part of broader reforms.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with provincial officers at the Ministry of Interior yesterday, Chantharith said the National Police would crack down on bribes for ranks and develop a formal process for promotions to ensure hard work and experience was rewarded.

“My general [police commissioner Neth Savoeun] has informed all departments and provincial police chiefs to end this issue from today,” Chantharith said, adding anyone caught trying to bribe their way up the ladder would face the law.

Chantharith is far from the first official to acknowledge underserved promotions, something for which both the military and police forces have repeatedly come under fire.

In 2011, Defence Minister Tea Banh put a freeze on advancements within the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, admitting there was a “gap” between some officers’ experience and ranks.

Two years later Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose sons are both high-ranking military generals, chastised RCAF for unprofessionalism, following reports that unqualified officers had bribed their way to higher positions.

Chambers, the academic, said that the practice of buying ranks, like politically motivated promotions, was a trend across all of the Kingdom’s security bureaucracies.

“Paying for promotions is something that police, military police and army officers in Cambodia have endured. Yes, I heard about this from security officials I interviewed,” he said. “Such bribery is not uncommon in Cambodia’s bureaucratic kleptocracy.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer