March 09, 2009
The death of national police commissioner Hok Lundy last November may
have begun a colossal jolt to the power and money equilibrium within
Nevertheless, the risk of disturbing the equilibrium may be high.
Hok Lundy was one of the key footmen Vietnam had used to rule
Cambodia. From being a lowly spy of the Vietnamese backed forces in
1978, he experienced a meteoric rise especially after the Vietnamese
army defeated the Khmer Rouge. It would be unlikely that Vietnam would
let his untimely death rest without any investigation to determine a
real cause of the helicopter crash that killed its favourite.
His departure left a power vacuum that has attracted a series of
sudden manoeuvring in the past weeks, indicating a massive attempt to
fill it. Hun Sen could not afford to wait to find out when or how his
patron Vietnam would react to loss of the key footman.
What seemed to be a pre-emptive strike, Hun Sen moved to marginalise
the Chea Sim faction. First, he purged top military chiefs who were
close associates of Chea Sim, and replaced them with top generals who
were his confidants. Nineteen generals including the new commander-in-
chief and his deputies were appointed advisers to the prime minister,
in addition to their military duties. The government claims he now can
act on any matter without having to seek inputs from the defence
ministry and the military. Second, Hun Sen removed 507 soldiers from
Chea Sim’s bodyguard detail, leaving it only about one hundred. If
those bodyguards are for security, Chea Sim and his faction may now
find themselves more than ever in a vulnerable position. It makes
strategic sense that Hun Sen secures a complete control over the
military power, particularly when new national police commissioner
Neth Savoeun is a Chea Sim faction’s appointee; he may have a divided
The demise of Hok Lundy, who used to collect illicit monies of
reportedly up to US$10 million per month from all gambling dens, also
left a money vacuum. The recent swift move by Hun Sen to close some
gambling establishments is just to interrupt and lay a claim for the
collections that have been largely directed to the Chea Sim faction.
Hun Sen has already indicated he will later allow other forms of
gambling, which means his faction is by then in a position to collect
the monies and the gambling industry can return to normal. The
temporary closure is hence to merely ensure the Hun Sen faction is in
charge of the collections.
Nevertheless, the risk of disturbing the equilibrium may be high. If
patron Vietnam is satisfied that the crash was an accident or a murder
plot by the Chea Sim faction, it will bless the power rebalancing that
favours Hun Sen. Otherwise, Vietnam may see it as a move away from its
control, which will affect its inherent interests in Cambodia. Hun Sen
will then have to demonstrate his commitment to protecting his
patron’s interests, or facing unsavoury consequences that will come
from an invigorated Chea Sim faction.
Ung Bun Ang
“If one receives a plum one must return a peach.”