Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP in control of RCAF, major reforms promised

CPP in control of RCAF, major reforms promised

CPP in control of RCAF, major reforms promised


Hun Sen speaks with Ke Kim Yan in the Jan 28 ceremony to mark new RCAF positions.

IT'S OFFICIAL. The Cambodian Peoples Party now calls all the shots - literally. When

Prime Minister Hun Sen resigned his position as RCAF commander-in-chief on Jan 28,

turning over the reigns of day-to-day RCAF control to Gen Ke Kim Yan, the move came

with a substantial reshuffle within the armed forces that now sees key CPP officers

in charge of the Office of the Chief of Joint Staff, all three military services-Army,

Air Force and Navy-and many other senior posts.

The RCAF shake-up comes with pledges of mammoth reforms that will test the government's

ability to make good on promises made to the international donor community, and,

if fully implemented, upset an in-bred system of corrupt practices involving crony

capitalists and RCAF officers on the take.

At the heart of the matter are a bloated, underpaid and unruly military that saps

budgetary resources, and widespread illegal logging which has cost the government

hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues in recent years, put the Kingdom

on a fast-track to rampant deforestation and is widely known to involve military

units all over the country.

The government is well aware of the problems and the Prime Minister in his resignation

speech promised to tackle them.

The government "must successfully implement military and police reform within

the next five years," said Hun Sen. "The armed forces must be reduced by

55,000 and the police must be reduced by 24,000."

Referring to "anarchy in logging" Hun Sen said, "My urgent request

to [Ke Kim Yan] after accepting the new position, is to launch a total operation

against illegal logging. All means must be used, including the use of military, against

businessmen who operate illegal businesses in Cambodia."

The prime minister also called for the elimination of "ghost soldiers"

and a continued crackdown on "armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, drug

trafficking, arms sales, illegal use of weapons, sex trafficking, etc."

However, the new command structure has left Funcinpec frustrated and, in some cases,

angry at what they see as a betrayal of the Protocol on Power Sharing signed between

the two ruling coalition parties last November.

Of the 26 senior positions within the RCAF command structure (see chart pg 3), Funcinpec

has been given three slots. They expected more including the position of Air Force


"Our original plan was to have seven Funcinpec people in the chart with Funcinpec

in charge of the Air Force," said one Funcinpec member of parliament who declined

to be identified.

Lt Gen Khan Savoeun, the former Funcinpec commander of Military Region IV based in

Siem Reap who fled to the jungles on July 6, l997 and later joined Gen Nhek Bun Chhay

in resistance-held O'Smach, is now one of four Deputy Commander-in-Chiefs, reporting

directly to Kim Yan.

Savoeun is said to be in charge of a yet-to-be defined "internal affairs"

portfolio on Kim Yan's staff with no direct line responsibilities to the services,

although he may be tasked with overseeing demobilization. He is "in charge of

nothing" said the MP.

Funcinpec Maj Gen Hun Phoeung takes one of five slots as a Deputy Chief of the Joint

Staff, and Maj Gen Mean Sarin, the former governor of Preah Vihear who also joined

Bun Chhay's resistance, has been slotted as one of four Deputy Army Commanders.

The lack of appointments for Funcinpec in the new RCAF hierarchy has party members

shaking their heads and "squabbling among themselves" according to one

Ministry of Defense official.

"Ranariddh is losing credibility among Funcinpec MPs," said the source.

With an expected debate on the formation of a new Senate due shortly, many Funcinpec

MPs are wondering what further compromises to expect and whether seats will be allocated

on a 50/50 basis. They are also concerned that an impending shake-up among provincial

governors will leave party hopefuls out in the cold without a paycheck or title.

There is some speculation that Prince Ranariddh may have given tacit approval to

the total control of RCAF by the CPP.

"Ranariddh is still disappointed with [Funcinpec] military elements who cost

him power," said one observer. "Maybe he gave his blessing" to the


Most significantly, two key Hun Sen loyalists have each been given two powerful hats

to wear. Lt Gen Meas Sophea will be a Deputy Commander-in-Chief as well as Army Commander,

a post giving him direct control over the Kingdom's infantry, tanks and artillery.

Lt Gen Pol Saroeun has also been appointed a Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Chief

of the Joint Staff.

The two hats for Sophea and Saroeun are said to have resulted from a bit of "a

dogfight" between the two over who would secure more influence within RCAF.

While Kim Yan has technically been "promoted" one military analyst said

he was being "set up for the kill" given his perceived lack of loyalty

to Hun Sen during the July 1997 fighting. The implication is that Kim Yan, tasked

with ending illegal logging in three months, now faces the impossible, especially

when so many senior RCAF officers down the ranks are alleged to have their hands

in the till.

Added to the new slate of top RCAF officials are three former KPNLAF generals. Lt.

Gen Khem Sophoan fills the fourth slot as a Dep Commander-in-Chief, Lt. Gen Chum

Chheang-who replaced Gen Dien Del as KP Chief of Staff in the early 90s-is one of

the five Dep Chiefs of the Joint Staff, and Maj Gen Kho Chhean-the former head of

Military Region V in Battambang-has been named a Dep Army Commander.

from left:

LTG. Pol Saroeun, commander-in-chief and chief of joint staff

LTG. Meas Sopheap, deputy commander-in-chief and commander of army

LTG. Khan Savoeun, deputy commaner-in-chief

LTG. Khem Sophoan, deputy commander-in-chief

Military analysts say that the new structure will give tighter control over RCAF

units and that if the proposed reforms are to have even the slightest chance of succeeding

a unified command, ultimately loyal to the Prime Minister, is needed.

"If you have power sharing, then you have problems again," said one analyst,

referring to the 1993-97 failed coalition government.

"You have a stronger chain of command," added another. If the government

is serious about reform "it could be good for the forests".

Many observers speculate that Hun Sen is intent on reforming the military and that

he had no other choice if the government wants to attract promises of foreign aid

at the upcoming Consultative Meeting in Tokyo on Feb 25.

But sceptics of the government's seriousness are not hard to find.

"It's all rhetoric," said one ambassador from a key donor nation this week.

"Hun Sen asked us to take on 1,500 soldiers to help demobilize them. There's

no way we can touch it."

Key questions loom large including ëWhat's the plan?' and assuming something can

be put together ëCan it be funded and implemented?'."

Military analysts cite a number of issues that need to be addressed if reform is

to be carried out properly.

At the top of the agenda is an in-depth analysis of RCAF's "strategic mission

statement", given the fact that the country finds itself at peace for the first

time in almost 30 years. What's needed, say sources, is a top to bottom re-definition

of what the military should be tasked to do. Will RCAF take on civil affairs activities

like the Bangladeshi army and go out to build wells in rural areas. Should they protect

the forests? What role will the navy have in defending Cambodian waters? Should the

Kingdom develop force capabilities that would enable it to participate in UN actions?

Given the apparent lack of both external and internal threats, are expensive armored

units even necessary?

A number of senior officers within RCAF are aware of the need for a massive "re-think"

and Co-Defense Minister Tea Banh is said to support the idea. But to date, little

effort has been spent on re-defining RCAF.

"We don't have any detailed plan. We need a ëWhite Paper' for regional and international

cooperation," said one RCAF officer.

Prior to the re-shufle, Maj Gen Chea Saran, as head of the Ministry's G-3 Department

(Operations) is said to have been in charge of developing a strategic plan but due

to lack of resources the effort collapsed. With his move to Deputy Army Commander,

Saran is now said to be "out of the loop". Analysts expect that the responsibility

may now fall on Gen Pol Saroeun's shoulders with Gen Tea Banh providing leadership.

A review of RCAF will likely involve other entities as well.

"We hope to produce a Defense White Paper soon," said Dr. Kao Kim Hourn,

director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) on Feb 3. "CICP

is just starting to look at this issue. Everybody is now zeroing in on military reform

and demobilization."

Funcinpec MP Gen Dien Del, as chairman of the Assembly Commission on Interior and

National Defense, said his committee was looking at military reform.

"This morning we had a meeting of the commission to make a list of demands for

Interior and National Defense to give us the necessary information," Del told

the Post Feb 4. "We will ask how they plan to reform."

"We would like to have a real plan," Del said. "We are not obstructing

the government, we are in the coalition, but we are not a [rubber] stamp."

Even if a plan is produced, the tough nut to crack is how to pay for it.

Foreign donors began to tackle the issue of demobilization back in 1995. The World

Bank, with the assistance of the Australian government, helped produce a plan that

was submitted to the Tokyo CG in 1996. With funding from the German aid agency GTZ

an initial process of registering soldiers and isuing ID cards was begun but put

on hold in July, 1997. To date nobody has a clear idea of how many soldiers actually


The World Bank made a grant for $500,000 just last month to re-start the process.

While the cash is not flowing yet, a technical team from the Bank's Post-Conflict

Unit was here last week to hold extensive negotiations with the government on re-shaping

the program.

A tentative plan was discussed with donors Jan 27 at the Pre-CG meeting at the CDC.

A more complete proposal will be presented Feb 25 in Tokyo.

"Pledges may be made," says R. Natarajan, chief of the World Bank's Phnom

Penh office. "One way or another funds have to be found. I am sure there will

be considerable support for progress [on this issue]."

Natarajan says that 1999 would be a start-up year and that the Germans may come back

to support the effort. He notes that the Bank generally makes soft loans and that

the government would likely prefer outright grant assistance.

"If they do come to the World Bank we will seriously consider a request,"

he adds, noting that none has been received so far.

With a figure of $1,200 per demobilized soldier, which Natarajan says is a figure

arrived at after considerable scrutiny and one which would provide a "transitional

safety net" until full integration is achieved, donors may be asked to fork

over $66 million for the 55,000 soldiers Hun Sen says need to be cut in the next

five years.

Then again, if Gen Ke Kim Yan can end illegal logging in three months, the government

may be able to generate the revenue itself through an above-board logging industry.

With the CPP in charge of RCAF the real test is at hand and donors will be watching

closely. It is a challenge with risks as breaking time-worn rice bowls is a dangerous


Quipped one defense analyst: "If Ke Kim Yan goes hell bent on Hun Sen's six

points, we may have a lot of dead Cambodian bodies."


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