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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.
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 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 faced 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 felt the appointment was temporary
and a stepping stone for a “higher position,” saying she 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 had 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

hunsenFamilyTree-400

Graphic: RFA

The appointment also highlighted Hun Sen’s family involvement in the country’s administration and business.

Although
Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany holds no elected office, she is addressed as
“Lok Chumteav” (Her Excellency), a rank similar to secretary of state.

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 would 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.

source RFA

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Categories: Local News, Politic
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