Cambodia concerned over Hun Sen bodyguard
Regular readers will know we have a keen interest in the progress of development in Cambodia. We still remain guardedly hopeful that Cambodia will emerge in a post-Khmer Rouge generation as a wise, vibrant, and robust democracy, but frequently we see challenges to this optimism. On our most recent visit there, we were pleased to see the improvements. The energy and industry of the Cambodian people was apparent. However, allegations of government corruption were also still rampant.
From our observations, it did seem as though there were rewards for those close to the government elite. The daily wage in Cambodia is only $1.51-$.67 (ASEAN Wages report, January 2009), but a rich upper class is not hard to identify. This elite has the best houses, drive luxury cars, and seem to enjoy a life of plenty. Talk to any Cambodian or ex-pat and privately they will bemoan the level of corruption endemic there. There are also increasing clamp downs on critics of the country, and sacrifices of human rights at the altar of economic development.
The latest development in many countries would not necessarily be of great concern, but against the backdrop of other issues in Cambodia, does make us take a second look. The Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued a sub-decree consolidating his personal bodyguard unit and giving it official recognition within the military. While such an arrangement is not unusual, it does raise the specter of the potential for a private militia under the direct control of Hun Sen. We have to wait and see if this arrangement curbs the allegations of past abuses by his bodyguard, or whether the trend is negative and an abuse of governmental authority. The jury is out, but the risks are easily apparent.
Minister of Defence Tea Banh said the sub-decree, which will form a distinct Bodyguard Headquarters for the premier’s personal protection, is aimed at clearly separating these units from Brigade 70, which provides security for all politicians and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officials.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s guards will be clearly separated from their former Brigade 70 and formed into one legal institution,” Tea Banh said, but denied that the move constituted a consolidation of security forces under the prime minister.
“Every country has a bodyguard headquarters. It is not strange.”
Tea Banh refused to divulge the exact number of bodyguards that would make up the newly formed unit.
In addition to being responsible for Hun Sen’s personal security, the unit will participate in other military duties.
“The bodyguard headquarters have a duty to also help protect the prime minister’s security and to intervene in other places [such as] defence work at the border,” said Ros Chhorm, deputy director general of the Defence Ministry.