PM's Son Faces Reform Challenge

Following his two-star general appointment, critics pressure Hun Sen’s son to clean up Cambodia’s military image.

hunsenmilitary305.jpg Hun Sen salutes during a military parade in Phnom Penh, Oct. 13, 2009.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has made his fast-rising son a two-star general amid pressure to reform the country's tainted military.

Hun Manet, a West Point graduate with a doctorate in economics, was appointed deputy infantry commander-in-chief in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

He currently serves as deputy chief of his father’s bodyguard unit as well as head of the anti-terrorist unit at Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense.

A key challenge facing Hun Manet is reforming the Cambodian military, which has been accused of human rights abuses by various organizations and the U.S. State Department.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, said Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit itself was involved in rights abuses and that Hun Manet faces an enormous challenge in any bid to clean up the military's tarnished image.

“He should … take on the human rights record of the RCAF because many of the units in the RCAF have abused human rights. So if he wants to take this on as a personal mission or as an objective in order to reform the Cambodian military, we would welcome that,” Robertson said.

“But we want to see some action, we don’t just want to hear words. We would want to see clear evidence that there are reforms taking place and that persons who have been responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable,” Robertson said.

Stepping stone

Outspoken Cambodian opposition MP Mu Sochua said she feels the appointment is temporary and a stepping stone for a "higher position," adding that Hun Manet might not seriously consider restructuring the infantry.

“I don’t oppose the promotion of Hun Sen’s son, because he is qualified for the job, but I’m concerned that he has too many positions,” said the parliamentarian for Kompot province.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit has been linked to a deadly March 1997 grenade attack on the political opposition.

Aside from the charge, various Cambodian military units have been accused of summary executions, arbitrary detentions, political violence, torture, illegal logging, and farmland seizures, Human Rights Watch said.

"Cambodian military personnel are not held accountable for serious rights violations. Instead, Hun Sen has promoted military officers implicated in torture, extrajudicial killings, and political violence," the rights group charged on its website last year.

Hun Sen, 58, is the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, having ruled Cambodia since 1985. Observers have long speculated, according to local newspaper The Phnom Penh Post, that Hun Manet is being groomed as a potential successor.

Executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy Hang Chhaya said that Hun Manet's promotion is “part of the prime minister’s attempt to consolidate power in politics,” the Post reported.

Family involvement

Graphic: RFA
The appointment also highlighted Hun Sen's family involvement in the country's administration and business.

Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany is addressed as “Lok Chumteav” (a title conferred on the wives of top dignitaries) and serves as the president of the Red Cross in Cambodia, an influential position in the country.

She has also worn a military uniform in public and received salutes from generals in the RCAF, despite a law that forbids civilians from wearing uniforms or impersonating soldiers.

Hun Sen’s eldest daughter, Hun Mana, serves as the general director of the pro-government Bayon Television station.

Hun Sen has promised that he will not let his son replace him. In a 2008 statement, he called Cambodia a democracy that has no place for nepotism in politics.

He has ruled Cambodia nearly uncontested for the past 25 years and said last year that he plans to serve as prime minister for at least 15 more years.

Reported and translated by Yun Samean for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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Jan 06, 2011 02:07 AM

Lok Chumteav is just a traditional title Cambodian used to call every wife of the high ranking official.

Jan 04, 2011 07:11 PM

He has promised that he would not let his son to replace him, but the country where people decide to elect their own leader.

Jan 22, 2011 01:59 AM

All Cambodian are sons of Hun Sen. If an honorable man has five sons, and four love him while one does not, does not the man of honor still love all five sons equally? If then, whether in truth or in fiction, this one son speaks up against his father, does the honorable father punish him and lock him up his his room for no else to hear? No he does not. The honorable man knows that truth is always more powerful than fiction, and that truth will always win out over the lie. At the end of the day, in allowing his one son to freely and openly speak his mind, the good father shows that he is indeed an honorable man. Is Hun Sen an honorable father toward his all Cambodian children?

Jan 07, 2011 07:19 PM

Hun Sen just set the example of North Korean style only. His half-bred son would be apparent-heir to his future transfering power. Do not worry Khmer, only 5years suffering then again you shall.

Jan 10, 2011 07:53 PM

This is the face of traitor Hunsen, now he trying to boost his family to stay in power.