Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the creation of a school to train spies to combat “colour revolution” and terrorism in Cambodia yesterday, tapping his son and Ministry of Defence Intelligence Director Hun Manith to lead it.
In front of an audience of hundreds of military and police officials, Manith said the facility will train soldiers and police in intelligence-gathering and maintaining “covert identities”.
“Though there is external and internal disturbance from a hostile and ill-intended group of people, Cambodia has maintained high economic growth,” Manith said in his speech in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district where the facility will be built.
“We need to control and share information to take action in time,” he added. “The political and security situation and competition in the future will be more intense than in previous years.”
Though Manith did not explicitly name the “ill-intentioned group”, the government recently dissolved the country’s only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, over widely derided accusations that it was fomenting a foreign-backed “colour revolution”. The move has since drawn near-universal condemnation from observers and the international community.
Manith, who is a lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said the school will also offer sniper training and later expand into a “strategy and research centre”.
Hun Sen, who spoke after his son, said the government is continuing to root out colour revolution using agents both inside and outside of the armed forces. “I do not want spies to only provide information,” Hun Sen said. “The spy needs to have skills to analyse fake news and news resulting from exaggeration . . . We need investigators that we call spies in all places and units.”
Hun Sen also claimed that he had pretended to be on his deathbed in the past to root out people in his circle leaking rumours. “This is something special about me,” he said. “You cannot predict my steps and you cannot lay a trap for me.”
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the new body appears to be another part of Hun Sen’s efforts to consolidate power over Cambodia’s military and security forces.
“The government has excelled in manufacturing non-existent threats, like a colour revolution, to justify its crackdown on human rights and civil society,” Robertson said in an email. “And now it’s going a couple steps further by creating permanent intelligence training facilities to combat these and other threats, like Islamic terrorism, which has also yet to appear in Cambodia.”
The two-building compound – situated on an 8-hectare plot – will cost between $2 million and $3.4 million, according to Manith, who said it will be funded by the government and donations. He said another $1.4 million will be spent repairing the Defence Ministry’s current intelligence headquarters and provincial facilities.
Manith, who is Hun Sen’s middle son, has been promoted to several high-ranking positions in the military and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party this year. In August, he was appointed to lead a new intelligence unit reporting directly to the Ministry of Defence.
Additional reporting by Daphne Chen