Party factionalism looms behind Ke Kim Yan sacking: observers
Written by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO and THET SAMBATH (Phnom Penh Post)
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Analysts say allegations the deposed army chief was involved in shady land deals are being used to whitewash a purge of the military in line with decades-old internal party disputes
OVERWHELMING success in last year's national election set the stage for a reopening of long-standing factional disputes in the ruling Cambodian People's Party, culminating in the removal of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander-in-Chief General Ke Kim Yan last month, according to some political observers.
According to a leaked document from a January 29 meeting of the Council of Ministers, Ke Kim Yan's removal - which also saw the sacking of military police Deputy Commander General Chhin Chanpor - was "due to reforms in the military based on job performances" and "due to him using his military position to profit from land deals".
But political analysts and military sources say such pretexts are being used to paper over significant power shifts in the ruling party.
"None of these explanations can be taken at face value," said Carlyle A Thayer, a political science professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney.
"The government says Ke Kim Yan's removal was a normal reshuffle, but this is belied by allegations he was involved in shady land deals and was not effective in support of [RCAF] troops during the border dispute with Thailand."
Cold War rivalries
Thayer said that internal disputes within the CPP - pitting one group loyal to Hun Sen against another loyal to party President Chea Sim - have plagued the party on and off for years, but that until recently the two factions had reached a stable modus vivendi.
However, with the defeat of its long-time foe Funcinpec at last year's national election, the party has begun to rearrange itself along the predominant factional fault lines.
"Hun Sen is set for another five years. He faces the problem of what to do with so many CPP deputies who have time on their hands, [which is] fertile ground for a revival of intense factionalism within the CPP," he said.
In the run-up to July's elections, historian David Chandler told the Post that an overwhelming victory of the CPP would be a double-edged sword for the ruling party, since it would "no longer [have] to look over its shoulder at opponents", and could be beset by "over-confidence".
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said it was possible that increased power had triggered fresh internal disputes but that it was "too early to say" how success would affect the CPP.
" FOR THE MOMENT, GENERAL POL SAROEUN IS HUN SEN’s STALKING HORSE, [but] GENERAL KUN KIM COULD PROVE TOMORROW’s man. "
But the trigger for the shake-up, according to Thayer, was the death of National Police chief Hok Lundy in a helicopter crash in November, which destabilised the status quo by diluting the power of the police force - a long-time bastion of support for Hun Sen.
"Hok Lundy's death removed one of Hun Sen's staunch loyalists. His passing means that the police may not be as strong a counterfoil to the military as it once was," he said.
"In this context, Hun Sen's move to capture the leadership of the military may be seen as an effort to gain control of another base of power within the political system."
Meanwhile, other observers said the emphasis on Ke Kim Yan's alleged land dealings was merely a way of detracting from the political motivations behind his removal.
Jacques Bakaert, a Belgian journalist who covered Cambodia during the 1990s, said the timing of the removal was a chance for the prime minister's faction to reassert control over the armed forces - previously dominated by Chea Sim loyalists - and that land was merely being used as an excuse.
"It was probably convenient, given the accusations against him, to get rid of him now when there are continuous questions about land grabbing," he said.
One RCAF general, who fought with the anti-Pol Pot resistance in the late 1970s but declined to give his name, told the Post that the removal of Ke Kim Yan for owning land was hypocritical, since "many" military commanders and government officials were involved in the land business.
"It is not right to accuse him alone of being involved in the land business. They have legal and illegal land ... [so] why are they still at the top?" the source said.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann agreed, saying that there were many - especially those "loyal to high-ranking officials" - who could potentially be charged with similar offences.
"This is an internal conflict in the CPP. When they are not happy with somebody in the party, they always accuse them of doing the wrong thing," he said. "The law should apply to everybody, not only those who oppose the ruling party."
Ke Kim Yan declined to comment when contacted Monday. Government officials, however, have consistently played down talks that the CPP is beset by factionalism.
Speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs February 6, Prime Minister Hun Sen denied opposition claims of a split in the CPP, saying that "it is the right of the premier to manage and control the military, police and other public administration".
Bun Seng, RCAF commander of Military Region 5, also told the Post that it was not up to him to judge the reasons behind Ke Kim Yan's removal.
"Right or wrong is up to the top leaders to decide," he said.
Purging the military
What is certain, however, is that the replacement of Ke Kim Yan and the appointment of seven new deputy commanders-in-chief, has consolidated the prime minister's control over the upper echelons of the armed forces.
General Pol Saroeun, the new army head, has been a staunch Hun Sen loyalist since he took part in the eastern zone-led revolt against Pol Pot in 1978.
In the mid-1980s, he was appointed party secretary of Takeo Province, where he became an early supporter of Hun Sen's economic reforms and supported the removal of Heng Samrin as party leader.
The other new appointees - including Generals Chea Dara, Mol Roeu, Meas Sophea, Hing Bun Heang, Kun Kim, Ung Samkhan and Sao Sokha - are also known for their loyalty to Hun Sen.
Kun Kim in particular has long stood in the wings, acting in Ke Kim Yan's absence and carrying out personal orders from the premier.
A Phnom Penh source who declined to be named said that the conflicts between Ke Kim Yan and the prime minister began in 1997, during that year's fighting between army factions loyal to the CPP and Funcinpec.
"At that time Hun Sen wanted to use the national military to [fight] Funcinpec, but Ke Kim Yan refused. He didn't think it was the right thing to do," said the source, adding that Ke Kim Yan was "marked" from that point on by his refusal to toe Hun Sen's line.
Kun Kim, on the other hand, played an active role in the suppression of the royalists.
Subsequently, when the prime minister appointed Kun Kim to the RCAF general staff in 1999, observers cast it as a move by the prime minister to tighten his grip on the army, and in an October 2005 speech, Hun Sen pledged to replace Ke Kim Yan with Kun Kim if he did not follow orders to repress a future coup attempt.
"I have been patient for too long.... The armed forces are in my hands," the premier said.
"If Ke Kim Yan does not do it, I will use Kun Kim. Ke Kim Yan has to do it. If not he will be removed."
But Thayer said that the military leadership had not been definitively settled and that more upheavals could yet be in store.
"For the moment General Pol Saroeun is Hun Sen's stalking horse, [but] General Kun Kim could prove tomorrow's man," he said. But he added that the appointment of Meas Sophea, another Hun Sen loyalist, indicates that the PM is "keeping his options open".
"Both men will have to demonstrate their continued loyalty to Hun Sen," he said.
In the meantime, RCAF sources say the removal of Ke Kim Yan - a genuinely popular figure amongst soldiers - was still rippling through the military, where many former colleagues feared removal from their own posts.
"We are sorry for him because we have fought together since the 1980s," the anonymous general said.
"Most of the soldiers today still support Ke Kim Yan in their hearts. But what can we do for him? No one dares to comment about him because they are worried of removal and demotion. One was our commander and one is still our prime minister, so we all have to shut up."
Court denies KE KIM YAN land investigations
STUNG Treng provincial court says it is yet to receive requests to open investigations into land owned by General Ke Kim Yan, despite unconfirmed reports the former army chief owns thousands of hectares in the province. A leaked report from a January 29 meeting of the Council of Ministers revealed Ke Kim Yan had been removed from his post in part for “using his military position to profit from land deals”, recommending he be investigated for land investments in Phnom Penh, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear. But police and court officials denied local media reports that they had been ordered to launch inquiries.
"I am surprised to hear your question that officials and courts in the province are working to investigate land deals involving Ke Kim Yan," said court director Sor Savuth. “I did not get any requests… to investigate this case.” Ke Kim Yan is listed as an advisor on the website of YLP Group Co Ltd, which is developing the Grand Phnom Penh International City satellite as a joint venture with Indonesian firm Ciputra. YLP Group, headed by Ke Kim Yan’s wife Mao Malay, also has planned developments in Preah Sihanouk and Kandal provinces.
THET SAMBATH AND HOR HAB