Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fresh round of promotions add to RCAF's 'bloated' upper ranks

Fresh round of promotions add to RCAF's 'bloated' upper ranks

Members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces attend an inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh in 2013. A royal decree issued last month outlines plans to promote over 100 RCAF personnel to one-star generals.
Members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces attend an inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh in 2013. A royal decree issued last month outlines plans to promote over 100 RCAF personnel to one-star generals. Pha Lina

Fresh round of promotions add to RCAF's 'bloated' upper ranks

The government has approved a new mass round of military promotions, elevating 120 officers to brigadier general, giving two stars to a further 87 generals and elevating two people to lieutenant general status.

Published in the government’s June royal book, the 210 promotions add yet again to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces already “bloated” upper echelons, with one national security analyst estimating the military has in excess of 3,000 generals.

Contacted yesterday, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the advancements were based on merit and capacity and followed requests by commanders within RCAF units.

But observers, and one insider, were yesterday quick to slam what they saw as yet another example of rewarding loyalty within the Kingdom’s unwieldy armed forces, whose top brass have recently drawn condemnation from the United States for their partisan support of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

According to the sub-decrees, signed off on by King Norodom Sihamoni and Council of Ministers Secretary-General Soy Sokha late last month, the Interior Ministry, which controls the nation’s police, also added 20 new one-star generals, three two-stars and three lieutenant generals.

Both organisations have a history of mass promotions. In 2011, Defence Minister Tea Banh was even forced to put a temporary freeze on handing out general stars, conceding there was a gap between some officers’ ranks, experience and knowledge. At the time, he said the disparity had made cooperation with other militaries difficult, given that men of ostensibly the same rank had far different capacities.

But defending the recent wave of advancements yesterday, Socheat, of the Defence Ministry, said the problem had been “solved”, allowing promotions to resume. “The promotions were done according to hierarchy and their capacity, background and requests from their units,” Socheat said, saying the Ministry of Defence also screened the officers before they were advanced.

“We have no nepotism and we do it according to the hierarchy with an evaluation from the discipline council. There are no family connections.”

However, a member of the diplomatic community with in-depth knowledge of Cambodia’s armed forces yesterday dismissed the idea that those promoted had met any stringent requirements.

“The ranks are meaningless,” they said. “In most cases, they are promoted to the next rank without any increase in responsibility or function . . . it’s become almost an expectation that you should be promoted as a reward for loyalty.”

National security analyst Long Kim Khorn said he saw the moves as a way to appease commanders in the context of looming elections, but warned that long-time rank and file soldiers passed over for advancement would likely become disgruntled.

“Hun Sen has to use the armed forces to protect his power . . . but it creates a lot of consequences when those who have worked for years and years are not promoted over the core that is well-connected,” he said.

Lending credence to the suggestion, a soldier in Preah Vihear province, who requested anonymity to speak freely, yesterday complained that promotions were based on “family and money”.

“If we do not have money or kin with powerful people, it takes a long time for command to promote us. It takes years and years and, if we get a promotion, it’s a small one,” he said. “The commander never sees our hard work, but they see only money or their benefit.”

Socheat said the military was attempting to raise military wages to support soldiers. He also responded to questions about RCAF’s bloated general ranks compared to the militaries of developed countries by saying Cambodia was ruled and managed differently.

In a sense, that’s true, said academic Paul Chambers, a professor of international relations at Thailand’s Chiang Mai university who has studied Cambodia’s armed forces.

“Hun Sen’s pattern of civilian control has always been based upon personalised, partisan domination over Cambodia’s security forces,” Chambers said, via email.

“Promotions are based solely upon loyalty first, professionalism and efficiency second. Reshuffles to ensure this constant have especially occurred during times of turbulence, just prior to elections as well as a reaction to them.”

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