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
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".