Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - RCAF's fractured past points to future

RCAF's fractured past points to future

RCAF's fractured past points to future

THE Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, poisoned by the July coup and its bloody aftermath,

is teetering between continued stability and division and violence, depending on

expected powerplays following the election.

Similair to their hopes for a resolution of the Bun Chhay-led resistance, critics

say that foreign diplomats are doing little more than crossing their fingers.

Said one Western analyst: "The split among the military is far more serious

than the diplomats realize... The international community's attitude seems to be

clear: get the elections over and declare it fair and peaceful.

"If Hun Sen wins, watch very closely. The potential dangers may be among the

ex-KP[NLF] and ex-ANKI units, and Bun Chhay's resistance forces if they're integrated


Other sources predict that an even worse scenario is a military split down CPP party

lines - a rumor long-held by some observers and long denied by the party.

The recent history of Cambodia's current military situation is rooted in the UNTAC-driven

integration of CPAF soldiers of the State of Cambodia and the resistance armies of

ANKI and KPNLF into the newborn RCAF in 1993.

The composition of RCAF has remained relatively steady since - given the additions

of mass Khmer Rouge defections and losses through demobilization: around 90,000 CPAF;

19,000 KPNLF and 26,000 ANKI, giving an RCAF troop strength of around 135,000.

Recent Khmer Rouge defections, including the most recent from Anglong Veng, could

add a further 25,000 to 30,000 troops or more, but most of them have remained in

their strongholds of Pailin and Phnom Malai.

Their loyalties are as yet untested and a matter of speculation. For now, it seems

their numbers can be penciled in with Second Prime Minister Hun Sen; but perhaps

penciled in very lightly.

Experts say that, in general, RCAF - under the stewardship of Gen Ke Kim Yan - had

a "honeymoon" period after 1993 when decades-old rifts and feuds among

former enemies were gradually softening, even if the make-up of individual brigades

and divisions remained largely partisan.

Sporadic armed clashes were often less to do with ideology, more with turf-protection,

and more often against police forces than against other RCAF units.

What kept things calm was that the RCAF was remarkably successful in carving up lucrative

timber, protection, prostitution, drugs and other money-making rackets among its


But the enmities, cat fights and revolts between Funcinpec and CPP politicians leading

up to last July damaged whatever healing was being achieved within the RCAF. Even

if the July coup had never happened, analysts say that molding the RCAF into a genuinely

non-partisan army would have taken a generation to accomplish.

Hun Sen's strike against Ranariddh was spearheaded by loyal special forces: National

Police Chief Hok Lundy's police units; the bodyguard units of Brigade 70; the Indonesian-trained

Regiment 911; and Military Region 3 troops serving under several commanders, including

former Khmer Rouge General Keo Pong.

Local newspapers reported at the time that Kim Yan had his house surrounded and was

isolated from any decision making during the coup. The Post has confirmed this since

from other sources.

Similarly, Gendarmarie Chief Kieng Savuth was sidelined - in Kampong Som - during

the fighting in favor of his second-in-command, Sau Sokha.

The bulk of Cambodia's armed forces were kept in their barracks. Regiment 911, loyal

to Kim Yan, became embroiled in fighting when the "incident" quickly escalated

- at the hands of ill-discipline and bloody zealousness from field commanders - from

that of a containment "sweep" of Funcinpec-loyal forces to killings and

the settling of old scores.

Immediately, former ANKI units splintered, sometimes down to individuals within brigade

and company levels. Some soldiers joined Bun Chhay and others remained in their barracks.

The ex-KPNLF forces, in the main, stayed put - but then, as now, their loyalty to

the CPP-dominated majority was severely tested and apparently remains paper-thin.

Tortures and executions, perhaps in the hundreds, have now been documented as systematic,

perpetrated on both sides but more widespread by the victors. They occurred all around

the country. "It will take years again to successfully reintegrate RCAF, years

to forgive and forget," said one source. "They are now enemies again and

the international community does not seem to realize this fact in its entirety.

"There is a tendency for [diplomats] to listen to, and believe, the speeches

and declarations about 'reconciliation' and 'unity', but this problem has much deeper


Even several months after the coup there were targeted executions of opposition military

figures who at least remained in their units and didn't flee with Bun Chhay.

Human rights workers say this culling was carried out in a planned manner, especially

against former MOLINAKA veterans, up until a few months ago.

The RCAF's "chain of patronage" is headed by CPP and National Assembly

president Chea Sim. It roughly follows to Defense Minister Tea Banh, then to Kim

Yan. Harder to categorize are Kim Yan's subordinates Meas Sophea and Pol Saroeun

- but both are considered closer to Hun Sen.

Cambodian sources say that Hun Sen, in an effort to dissipate the fierce loyalty

most RCAF units have to Kim Yan, is using Sophea to liaise with provincial and regional

military chiefs.

Both local and foreign sources told the Post that Hun Sen does not enjoy widespread

support within the RCAF, away from his special militia and police forces. The RCAF

is not a unified army that would follow any one politician, analysts say - but quite

how it would fracture given the worst circumstances is very difficult to guess.

In terms of armed power, Hun Sen relies most on his controversial chief of national

police, Hok Lundy.

Markedly since July, though it had been occurring long before, much money has been

pumped into police and security units whose task it is to protect the main figure

of power. Hun Sen's guard units, which include a tank brigade, are usually secreted

away in Takhmau and rarely seen publicly.

Sources say Cambodia in this regard is no exception to many other third world countries,

where faithful presidential guards and shadowy special force units tend to have the

best troops, the best weapons and the most money.

Unlike many of these countries, however, Cambodia's military is too fractured and

its commanders not sufficiently powerful enough to change or even question political

leadership or decisions by force of arms.

Ke Kim Yan was a respected fig-ure in 1993, as he is now. He was instrumental in

keeping the bulk of the RCAF neutral during last July's fighting, an act which earned

him the respect of the general population and diplomatic community, and the distrust

of Hun Sen. "Hun Sen doesn't accept 'neutral'," said one Cambodian source.

Although one of the younger members of the CPP Central Committee, Kim Yan is perceived

as a "moderate", firmly in the "Chea Sim camp". Analysts say

that Hun Sen has regularly attempted to replace Kim Yan - "every two months

or so these rumors come up," said one analyst - only to suffer rejection from

within the party's most senior committees.

Hok Lundy's name, and that of Kandal First Deputy Governor Kun Kim, are most often

those bandied around as strongly Hun Sen-loyal replacements.

If Kim Yan is replaced, analysts say the disturbance to the Chea Sim-led chain of

command could be a threat to Cambodia's future stability - especially if Hok Lundy

is favored with the job.

Kim Yan, say those who know him, does have a sense of military professionalism, trained

as he was in Vietnam, East Germany, Russia and the United States. He understands

the idea of a non-partisan army answerable to an elected commander-in-chief.

Some say he might even be determined to insist that the RCAF remain a neutral force

under Hun Sen, Ranariddh, Rainsy - or whatever permutation the elections will throw

up - after July.

Cambodia's provincial and district chiefs seldom show such professionalism, however.

The Post understands that Hun Sen has begun picking the Cabinet of what might be

his new government after July, and that it will again see Tea Banh as Defense Minister

and Kim Yan as Chief of General Staff.

Hun Sen may have to look at another Chea Sim stronghold - the Interior Ministry -

to reward the loyal Lundy with something more than police chief. Well-placed sources

say that Interior Minister Sar Kheng may be asked to go to Paris as ambassador.

If Chea Sim succeeds in resisting this, Lundy may be offered one a deputy prime ministership.

A Hun Sen electoral victory, along with a continuation of the Chea Sim chain of military

and interior influence, is enough to give most analysts cause for guarded optimism.

"The party is bigger than everything," one CPP official told the Post.

However, even a victorious Hun Sen will still be wary of former resistance fighters

within the RCAF having long memories and keen anger against him.

In the almost inconceivable event of a Hun Sen defeat, or in a Hun Sen victory that

later leads to the disturbance of the present military structure, prompts more pessimistic


If Hun Sen loses, one foreign source said, the bulk of the RCAF's ex-ANKI and ex-KPLNF

forces "may move to the winner, say Ranariddh. It is easy to see that happening.

Although many of them stayed within the RCAF [after last July's fighting], they are

not fanatical followers of the CPP".


  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Num banh chok pizza a new fusion hit

    Num banh chok is a traditional fish curry with fermented rice noodles, prahok fish paste, kroeung paste, flowering plants and seasonal vegetables that is arguably a strong contender for “national dish” status in Cambodia and typically served for breakfast or eaten as an afternoon snack.

  • Cambodia detects new Covid cases after 52 days: PM

    After 52 days of zero new Covid-19 cases, Cambodia has now detected new infections, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. In his special audio address to the nation late on June 28, Hun Sen said the new cases were detected on people who had undergone PCR tests

  • Higher education leaders tour US

    With support from the US Department of State, 10 Cambodian leaders in higher education participated in the 10-day International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) in three US states from June 19 to July 1. They included nine university rectors and directors of higher education institutions who are members of