IN A MILITARY with an already disproportionately high percentage of officers compared to regular soldiers, the Ministry of Defense recently promoted 80 colonels to one-star generals, while five brigadier generals received an extra star on their lapels. At the same time, three former Khmer Rouge commanders, Pol Ngorn, Khem Ngun and Khem Tem, were appointed brigadier generals.
General Tea Banh gives General Ou Kim Neun a new star
This latest series of promotions comes at a time when pending military reform threatens to reduce and restructure the Cambodian armed forces that are already heavily overstocked.
However, a military analyst points out that the move may not be completely contradictory to future demobilization and reform plans.
Half of the newly-promoted officers are not CPP-aligned, but are primarily Funcinpec loyalists who have been left out in earlier promotion bouts. Upgrading their ranks is an important step in creating a politically neutral and balanced military.
"From a military point of view, the promotions make no sense. There is nothing professional in them at all. But politically it has some positive points," says the analyst.
"The defense is heading toward some hard decisions in terms of demobilization and reform. This helps create a certain normalization before the restructuring begins."
Co-minister of Defense Tea Banh refused to comment on the promotions, saying that they had already taken place, so there was nothing to talk about.
Meanwhile, Senator Nhek Bun Chhay welcomed the move warmly. Among the promoted officers are several of the former rebel fighters that he led after the factional fighting in July 1997.
While almost all of Bun Chhay's 5,000 rebel soldiers were fully reintegrated in the armed forces in February this year, more than 100 officers have been waiting until now to receive their military identity cards and official commissions.
During the last two weeks, cards have been issued and positions delegated to all former rebel officers who are now waiting to be dispatched to military regions around the country - some with newly granted promotions in their pockets.
"This is very good news. Now everything will be just like before for the officers," Bun Chhay said last week.
He also contended that any remaining former rebel fighters will soon be reintegrated into RCAF as well. According to Bun Chhay, another 5,000 discharged soldiers are still waiting in villages near the Thai border and approximately 1,000 weapons have yet to be handed in.
The slow process of verifying names and identities of these 5,000 men continues. But the military analyst doubts that they will ever be allowed into the armed forces.
"These people were not on the nominal roles before the July 1997 fighting. They were recruited afterwards and have never been part of the army. I think it is most unlikely that they will ever be let into RCAF."