Army commander Hun Manet appointed Mao Sophan, the leader of an elite military unit close to the Prime Minister, to serve as the acting commander to the Royal Cambodian Army on Monday, according to a letter signed on April 21 by Manet.
In late March, the ruling CPP announced Hun Manet, who is set to eventually succeed his father as Prime Minister, would run as the party’s top candidate representing Phnom Penh in the July national elections. To run for office, Manet must suspend his military duties. Political parties began submitting their candidate lists today.
Royal Cambodian Army spokesperson Mao Phalla confirmed the letter but declined to comment further on the “necessary task” cited by Manet as the reason for his suspension from military duties.
“Yes, the letter is true, normally when he [Hun Manet] is busy, he needs to ask for a permit and transfer for a person to continue working,” Phalla said. “It is beyond my responsibility, I don’t know [why].”
Sophan, who is the army’s deputy commander and led the elite Brigade 70 unit, will “lead command, manage, and handle daily work of the army from April 24 onward until I am present,” Manet said in the letter.
While Manet officially appointed Sophan, Hun Sen had already signaled Sophan would assume control of the army while Manet ran for office. “In case His Excellency Hun Manet comes out to do politics, the person who will hold the army is…Mao Sophan,” he said in March.
“I have the right to manage [appointments] like this by discussing with the High Commander and Minister of Defense,” Hun Sen added.
Mao Sophan commands the Brigade 70 unit, created in 1994 and originally known as Battalion 71. Until 2009, it included Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, Defense Minister Tea Banh and Mao Sophan did not respond to requests for comment.
“All civil servants, soldiers, as well as police, when nominated as a candidate of parliament must be suspended from their jobs,” CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told CamboJA on April 4.
The National Election Committee announced registration of political party candidates would run until May 8.
Additional reporting by Eung Sea.