Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is reported to have more than doubled the number of four-star generals in the country’s armed forces, drawing criticism from a rights group which said that the move essentially sanctions the use violence by the military against the country’s civilians.
Hun Sen approved the promotion of 29 lieutenant generals to the rank of four-star general based on a request submitted last week by Defense Minister Tea Banh, according to a statement obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service from the Ministry of Defense on Wednesday.
“This is a request to promote to the rank of four-star general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces [RCAF] those whose names are listed below,” said the Jan. 30 dated document, addressed to Hun Sen and signed by Tea Banh.
The request, which Hun Sen marked as “approved” the following day, lists a secretary of state at the Ministry of Defense, 10 under-secretaries of state, and 18 RCAF deputy commanders-in-chief.
The Ministry of Defense statement on Wednesday did not provide any details about the candidates’ qualifications for promotion.
Among those promoted were Tea Banh’s brother, Tea Vinh, a three-star general in the navy; Lt. Gen. El Vansarath, secretary of state and member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) central committee; and Keo Pong and Sok Pheap, former senior military commanders with the murderous Khmer Rouge regime who defected to join the RCAF in the 1990s.
Also included was Lt. Gen. Dom Hak, who was arrested in 2003 on charges of producing and trafficking illegal drugs, though he was later released due to lack of evidence.
In addition, Khieng Savuth, the former commander of the National Military Police, Chhin Chanpor, the former Phnom Penh municipal police commander, and Lt. Gen. Nem Sowath, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs received a promotion.
The Cambodia Daily reported that the promotions would more than double the number of four-star generals in the RCAF.
It said that Hun Sen’s approval followed calls by Tea Banh last month for Cambodia’s military to defend the prime minister’s government against anyone who might try to unseat him.
Sam Rainsy’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has called on Hun Sen to resign and hold fresh elections after allegations of irregularities in the July 2013 elections in which his CPP was declared victor by the government-appointed election body, which has dismissed calls for an independent probe into the polls.
Attempts to contact Ministry of Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat, who was also among those promoted, were unsuccessful Wednesday, but Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA that the move was aimed at “rewarding hard military work.”
“The promotion complies with the law,” he said.
“We aren’t doing this arbitrarily, they deserve it for the work they have done.”
Phay Siphan said that the promotions were not part of a bid to “buy allies in the military.”
Ny Chakriya, chief investigator for the rights group Adhoc, told RFA that promoting members of the military so soon after a crackdown on striking garment workers last month left four dead, was “unacceptable” and would give the country a bad image.
“The government is promoting a military-style leadership,” Ny Chakriya said. “The promotions show that the government values the military more than the law.”
“The government is showing the local and international community that it supports rights abuses.”
Cambodia’s government has frequently used the country’s military police and other forces to clamp down on protests in the capital and around the country, occasionally with violent consequences.
Last week, police used electric batons and smoke bombs to break up a protest by supporters of independent Beehive Radio angered over the government’s refusal to grant the station licenses to expand its broadcast range and establish a TV station, leaving at least seven people injured.
Also last week, at least 10 people were injured in Phnom Penh when security forces, including military police, clashed with protesting activists, trade union leaders, and laborers demanding higher wages and the release of 23 people arrested in an earlier crackdown on striking workers.
On Jan. 3, military police were involved in the fatal shooting of four people during a strike by garment workers in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and provided backup during the violent dispersal of CNRP supporters at the capital's Freedom Park after they demanded that Hun Sen step down.
Surplus of generals
According to the Cambodia Daily, Tea Banh announced a suspension on the promotion of generals in November 2011, saying that the military’s hierarchy had become too top-heavy.
It said that the RCAF had reported more than 2,200 generals of all ranks in 2010—some 1,500 more generals than in the entire U.S. military.
Ahead of last year’s elections, hundreds of Cambodia’s military officers were given new ranks, including Hun Sen’s two eldest sons.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.