The ministries of National Defence and Interior have ordered members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) with the honorific title “oknha” to choose between serving in the military and keeping their title, the ministries’ spokespersons said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the move while speaking at the Central Committee meeting of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Thursday at the capital’s Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Writing on his Facebook page on Friday, Hun Sen said: “All armed forces such as soldiers, police and military police personnel are banned from having the honorific title of oknha anymore. In the past, some of them have taken the role to run illegal rackets.”
Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat told The Post on Sunday that the ministry was investigating which personnel had the honorific title and will make them choose between being oknhas or serving in the armed forces.
“We are acting on the orders of Samdech Hun Sen. We have personnel with the honorific title of oknha. Samdech made the remarks and if no one had the titles, he wouldn’t have done so. Hence, we must follow the orders and we’re working on it now,” he said.
Minister of National Defence Tea Banh told The Post on Sunday that the prime minister’s orders were in line with armed forces reforms which seek to reduce the number of personnel who hold different positions. “In the future, there will be no officials who have the title oknha.
“Soldiers and police must have only one position. More than that is too much, as it becomes difficult to carry out their duties. This reform serves to restore order,” he said.
RCAF General Command spokesman Thong Solimo said the unit would investigate which personnel had the title of oknha. But he said there were not many.
“They must drop one as Samdech [Hun Sen] remarked. They will have to choose the title of oknha or a position in the armed forces,” he said.
Neither Banh nor Socheat could provide a figure of how many oknha were serving at the ministry.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Sunday that the ministry would work on the matter at the behest of the prime minister.
“We will instruct oknhas not to use the title anymore. We have four or five people. They have had the title lawfully bestowed on them and we cannot deny them that.
“But if you are an oknha, you cannot take the rank of general. If you are a general, you cannot take the title oknha,” he said.
Transparency International (Cambodia) senior programme director Pech Pisey welcomed Hun Sen’s directive, claiming that certain armed forces personnel with the honorific title had used their power to pressure people and seize their land.
“When public officials have the title oknha, it can create a conflict of interest. I support and welcome the measures because we can reduce conflicts of interest and illegal rackets,” he said.