DEFENCE Minister General Tea Banh said yesterday that Lt Gen Hun Manet will be promoted as a General (four star) to match his new position as deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).
Manet has been given the role while retaining his current responsibilities – deputy commander of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit and head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit.
In his new role, the West Point graduate replaces General Kun Kim and General Meas Sophea, who are both stepping down to stand as candidates in the July 29 national elections.
Meanwhile, General Sao Sokha, an RCAF deputy commander and commander of the National Military Police, will now become acting commander of the RCAF, replacing General Pol Saroeun, who is also standing in the elections.
Speaking to about 500 soldiers during the groundbreaking ceremony for the High Command headquarters at the Defence Ministry, Banh said: “There must be a replacement, but this is not nomination – they are just acting officers. Before the transfer of power, there had been a lot of anxiety [both within the military and society] and rumours circulating,” he said.
Banh told reporters at the ceremony that RCAF and the Defence Ministry have full confidence in Manet and Sokha and that it was up to the next government to decide their roles after the election.
When asked if Kim, Sophea and Saroeun would return to their posts in the military if they failed to secure a seat in the assembly, he said: “For the three brothers-in-arms who are standing as candidates, no one dares to say in advance. It must be [decided] after the elections.”
He dismissed suggestions of favouritism or nepotism.
Manet had previously participated in negotiations during the 2008 dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, involving the area surrounding the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, while Sokha has long been the commander of the National Military Police and a deputy RCAF commander-in-chief.
Sokha is said to have forged close ties with the prime minister when he served as Hun Sen’s aide-de-camp in the 1970s.
Paul Chambers, a political professor at Naresuan University, said the promotions were not unexpected.
“The appointments are not unexpected, but they demonstrate that Hun Sen currently prefers individuals within or closer to his family to be in top military posts."
“As such, the RCAF becomes an ever more personalised mechanism of the prime minister,” he said.