Not just two, but all three of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit soldiers who confessed to viciously assaulting two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly were promoted following their release from jail, with one granted a general’s star, The Post has learned.
A recently obtained document shows that Chay Sarith, 34, was also elevated in rank in November along with Sot Vanny and Mao Hoeun, whose advancement to full colonels The Post reported in December.
Previously a colonel, Sarith, who can be seen in video footage kicking one of the victims in the head while they are slumped on the ground, was made a one-star general.
The decision was included in a November 18 royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni and Council of Ministers Secretary-General Soy Sokha, which also promoted another former colonel, Sun Menghai, to brigadier general status.
Reached yesterday, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat defended the promotion, as he did with Sarith’s co-accused.
“Their punishment has already been served through the court, they can go back to work and, for promotions, and it’s implemented according to individual [circumstances],” Socheat said, adding that the decision was approved by an evaluation committee.
Sarith, Vanny and Hoeun, all members of the premier’s elite guard, were released from prison in early November after serving 12 months of a four-year sentence, which was mostly suspended.
Each confessed to participating in a gang attack on CNRP lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun on October 26, 2015.
Socheat said the military only fired personnel whose actions “seriously” impacted upon the army and country’s reputation. The group’s conviction for aggravated assault against elected representatives, he said, was a “personal issue”.
“For the personal issue, they would not be fired,” he said.
The trio was among at least 16 men who emerged from a pro-government rally, ripped the parliamentarians from their cars and beat them bloody in the street.
In court, they claimed they lashed out in response to an insult by the victims. However the attack appeared well coordinated. The suspects used walkie-talkies and a photo emerged suggesting they were driven to the parliament from a Bodyguard Unit base in Kandal.
The absence of further arrests, the largely suspended sentences and the recent promotions have only served to fuel suspicions that the premier’s bodyguards were behind the assault.
Reached yesterday, Bodyguard Unit commander Hing Bun Heang said the “problem was over” and warned a reporter asking about Sarith’s promotion to “be careful”.
“For this issue, my side does not cause the problem, you are the one who causes the problem,” Bun Heang said.
“You are an inciter and naughty, the problem is over. Why do you keep poking the problem? You should be careful. Why do you cause problems all over the place?”
Saphea, whose nose was broken and eardrum ruptured in the attack, called Sarith’s promotion “disgusting”.
“According to the law, he should lose his job as a solider . . . in a country with the rule of law he would face serious punishment for beating a lawmaker,” Saphea said.
“Now he beats lawmakers and gets one star. If continues to beat top leaders, maybe he keeps getting promoted.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that the “outrageous” promotion was “sadly predictable”.
“If you want a current example of impunity to abuse rights in Hun Sen’s Cambodia, look no further than the promotion of Chay Sarith,” Robertson said.
“He committed heinous acts in that public attack against the two CNRP MPs, and now he’s getting the reward that being a loyal thug brings in this CPP-led government.
“Really the only unanswered question remaining is how high this scheme goes up in the CPP, and who are the real masterminds of this brutal attack.”