Former military commander and leader of the Khmer National United Party (KNUP) Nhek Bun Chhay has been stripped of his government adviser title, a position equivalent to deputy prime minister.
A royal decree requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen and signed by King Sihamoni on June 4 – the day of commune elections – ordered “to end His Excellency Nhek Bun Chhay from [his position as] adviser to the government, which is equal to deputy prime minister”.
The sacking came on the same day as what appears to be a surrender of firearms from Bun Chhay to the Ministry of Defence.
According a Banteay Meanchey provincial police document, dated June 4, Eoth Ratha, a soldier at the Ministry of Defence, brought 10 firearms to be surrendered to the provincial police.
Among them were seven pistols, all requested by and registered to Bun Chhay since April 2, 2014, as well as three unregistered rifles and 12 packets of ammunition – a total of 454 bullets.
The reason for the guns being handed over remained unclear on Friday, as did Bun Chhay’s whereabouts. He could not be reached by phone yesterday.
A security guard at Bun Chhay’s Phnom Penh home on Friday said some local authorities had been stationed at the residence on June 4 and 5. Another man at Bun Chhay’s home, who claimed to be his assistant but declined to give his name, said Bun Chhay had left for Thailand.
However, Sing Kiri, deputy leader of the KNUP working group in Banteay Meanchey and a member of the party’s permanent committee, said Bun Chhay remained in Cambodia.
“He is still in our country…I just came from his [Banteay Meanchey] home at about 2pm,” Kirisaid.
KNUP, newly formed last year after Bun Chhay quit the royalist Funcinpec party, was the only minor party to claim a commune chief seat, winning in Banteay Meanchey’s Thma Puok commune. Former Funcinpec commune chief Da Chhean, who defected to Bun Chhay’s party, was re-elected in the local poll last week.
Sao Ny, head of KNUP’s provincial executive in Banteay Meanchey, said he had not been able to reach Bun Chhay since June 5 and he did not know why Bun Chhay’s advisor position had been terminated. He said he had heard authorities “confiscated weapons” but did not know further details.
“Through Facebook, it says that His Excellency Nhek Bun Chhay had betrayed to join with Cambodia National Rescue Party,” he said, citing social media rumours of a defection to the main opposition party. “But when I worked and walked with him, he never talked about the Cambodia National Rescue party — I very much doubt this.”
“I was very shocked after learning about the ending of his position and I do not believe it…On June 3 he had talked with Samdech [Hun Sen] but I did not know what they talked about.”
Ath Khem, Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief, laughed off the matter and said he knew nothing about the gun handover to his own police department.
“Please do not believe their propaganda," he said.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat did not respond to messages on Friday afternoon.