Defence officials say sub-decree will separate PM’s guards into a distinct unit within RCAF.
PRIME Minister Hun Sen has issued a sub-decree consolidating his personal bodyguard unit and giving it official recognition within the military, defence officials said on Monday.
Minister of Defence Tea Banh said the sub-decree, which will form a distinct Bodyguard Headquarters for the premier’s personal protection, is aimed at clearly separating these units from Brigade 70, which provides security for all politicians and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officials.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s guards will be clearly separated from their former Brigade 70 and formed into one legal institution,” Tea Banh said, but denied that the move constituted a consolidation of security forces under the prime minister.
“Every country has a bodyguard headquarters. It is not strange.”
Tea Banh refused to divulge the exact number of bodyguards that would make up the newly formed unit.
In addition to being responsible for Hun Sen’s personal security, the unit will participate in other military duties.
“The bodyguard headquarters have a duty to also help protect the prime minister’s security and to intervene in other places [such as] defence work at the border,” said Ros Chhorm, deputy director general of the Defence Ministry.
According to one bodyguard officer, who declined to be named, the plan to create a distinct bodyguard unit first came up when military reforms began at the start of this year. Under the new sub-decree, he said, Hun Sen’s bodyguards will carry out their own administration and exist as a separate institution under the orders of Hun Sen and his personal bodyguard commander, General Hing Bunheang.
The reshuffle follows a string of harsh criticisms from human rights activists, who have alleged Brigade 70’s involvement in “atrocious” human rights violations.
During a US Congressional rights commission hearing on September 10, Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the unit was involved in protecting those responsible for the 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 16 members of the political opposition.
Local rights workers, however, were divided on whether the reshuffle would clarify the status of Hun Sen’s personal guards.
Chan Soveth, an investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the formation of the unit would help regulate bodyguards and stop people from posing as the premier’s employees to further their own interests.
“This will help reduce the illegal action done by some people who have pretended to be one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards in order to intimidate other people,” he said. “They shall work for the public, not for individuals.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, said, however, that unless the new unit exercises control over all the army’s bodyguard units, disorder will continue.
“If this bodyguard headquarters is created only for its own sake and does not govern every bodyguard ... the old problems will continue,” he said.