Prime Minister Hun Sen has appointed his second son as the head of the army’s powerful military intelligence unit, according to a recent sub-decree circulated yesterday.
The decree, which was signed by the premier in late September, announces that Hun Manith will take over the role from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Deputy Commander-in-Chief Chea Dara.
“The minister in charge of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Economy and Finance, commanders of RCAF, the relevant ministers and secretaries of state have to implement this sub-decree from the date of signing,” Hun Sen wrote.
Dara had occupied the role since 2012, when its then-chief, General Mol Roeup, died after suffering from diabetes and a heart attack. At the same time, Manith was promoted to the position of deputy commander of the unit.
Political analyst and founder of the Future Forum think tank Ou Virak said Dara was only ever “warming the chair” for someone else to assume the position.
“For Hun Sen to feel comfortable to do this [promote his son], now is the best time. He needed to wait for the calm after the election,” he said.
Like Hun Sen’s other two sons, Manith received extensive foreign-backed military training.
In 2009, he was vetted by the US Embassy to study US-sponsored anti-terrorism training at the George C Marshall European Center for Security Studies, according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
While Virak said 34-year-old Manith had many of the credentials needed to assume the new position, “the main ingredient in the promotion is his connection to Hun Sen”.
“He is certainly moving up [the ranks] much, much quicker than anybody else at that age.”
He added that the promotion was likely a “strategic move” aimed at consolidating Hun Sen’s power, which was “maybe due to internal threats more than external threats”.
Both Virak and analyst Chea Vannath said the promotion was to be expected.
“I think that it is normal for the premier to appoint his sons or loyalists to key roles of the armed forces to be confident,” Vannath explained. “Especially in Cambodia, as a country that has not yet reached democratic maturity, it is normal.”
While few were surprised by news of Manith’s new position, concerns were quickly raised about its possible implications.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said that by giving the intelligence-gathering role to his son, “Hun Sen is providing him with both information and operatives that will give a step up on others and ensure that impunity to abuse rights continues across the generations of the Hun family.”