17 Sep 07
By Srei Ka
Translated from Khmer and posted online
A high-ranking official of the Cambodian People's Party [CPP] said that Prime Minister Hun Sen and Armed Forces Supreme Commander Ke Kimyan seldom see eye to eye with each other. In 1997-98 Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan had problem with each other once before, but thanks to a timely internal reconciliation effort and also because he did not want the outside world to see that the CPP was rifting, Hun Sen accepted the party's internal arbitration since Ke Kimyan was also a fellow member of the CPP Permanent Committee. At that time, Ke Kimyan and Sar Kheng were not yet related by the marriage of their children, but when Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan fell out with each other, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Say Chhum, and Sar Kheng moved in to help find a settlement, in which all of them sided with Ke Kimyan.
According to the same CPP official, even Chea Soth, the most senior of the party's elders and sixth most powerful person in the party, also stood behind Ke Kimyan. For this reason, Hun Sen could not do anything to Ke Kimyan.
Some other CPP officials, too, agreed that Ke Kimyan and Hun Sen were not on good terms with each other but the CPP has made a great effort to prevent this problem from spilling over and leaking to the outside.
The CPP official said that Hun Sen announced his resignation as armed forces supreme commander, handing over this post to Ke Kimyan and even presenting him with a gold-handled pistol, a gift from an Indonesian army chief, during the first ceremony to destroy weapons held at the Olympic Stadium the following year. However, this was merely a diplomatic ploy to hoodwink the world and prevent it from seeing that there was a rift inside the CPP. Anyway, the command of armed forces was still solely in Hun Sen's hands.
The same CPP official said that Hun Sen was also worried after he announced the handover of the supreme commander's post to Ke Kimyan, fearing that CPP military commanders would listen to Ke Kimyan's orders. Therefore, he hastily appointed Kun Kim as deputy supreme commander of the armed forces. This invited a mixture of criticisms as Kun Kim had never been a military commander nor was he trained by any military academy before. After Kun Kim was appointed there was a strong expression of discontentment from Tie Banh, Meas Sophea, and Pol Saroeun. However, Hun Sen then resorted to the trick of beating the cart to spite the oxen by not directly blaming Tie Banh, Meas Sophea, or Pol Saroeun but instead blaming the Cambodia Daily, which interviewed these army chiefs, saying that this newspaper was stirring up trouble.
According to the CPP official, after appointing Kun Kim and more or less settling the problem inside the party, Hun Sen sent Kun Kim to attend a brief course at a military academy in Vietnam to shut up his critics from accusing him of appointing a man who did not go through a military school as an army chief.
The same source said that in the situation in which the CPP was dealing with its internal crisis, a number of moderate army commanders stood on the sideline, belonging to no particular faction. These included Pol Saroeun, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and chief of the joint staffs, and Meas Sophea, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and Army commander. But now, these two top-leveled commanders appear to have drifted away from Hun Sen.
The high-ranking CPP official said that at first Hun Sen wanted to intimidate Ke Kimyan by pounding on him like someone squashing a nit. However, the situation has turned out to be different from what he thought, for not only is Ke Kimyan related to Sar Kheng by the marriage of their children and is openly a man of Chea Sim several army chiefs have also lent him their support. This is because several veteran CPP army chiefs seem to be very annoyed with the way Hun Sen has been appointing and promoting the young generations. Some of the latter are businessmen who do not even know which direction the barracks faces are already given a general's stars. It is true that the signing of the promotion for an officer must go through the Supreme Command and the minister of national defense. However, some cases ordered by Hun Sen are difficult for Ke Kimyan and Tie Banh to decline. The two have to obey.
Some military observers and diplomats concurred that recently Ke Kiyan and Hun Sen appeared to be in disagreement again. This is because at a few public forums where the majority of CPP ministers and army chiefs were seen escorting Hun Sen but Ke Kimyan was conspicuously absent. As a matter of fact, recently either Pol Saroeun or Kun Kim was seen playing the role of acting supreme commander of the armed forces.
An officer at the Supreme Command said that normally when Ke Kimyan is absent from the Supreme Command it is Pol Saroeun who acts in his place. But now, even in the absence of Ke Kiyan, Pol Saroeun, too, is not always present. Instead, it is Kun Kim who more frequently acts as supreme commander.
According to the CPP official, the party elders are trying to reconcile the rift inside the party between Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan, but their effort apparently has not borne fruit. Therefore, the Hun Sen-Ke Kimyan confrontation is suspected to be flaring up inside the CPP again.