Cambodian PM appoints son to head academy that will train spies fighting terrorism

The move is seen by analysts as part of Hun Sen’s continuing push to eliminate dissent and opposition in a country where opposition figures have been silenced

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said his government would continue to weed out opponents using agents both inside and outside of the security forces: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

Cambodia’s prime minister has appointed his son to head a school that will train spies to fight terrorism and “colour revolution” in a move that is seen as continuing his push to consolidate power ahead of next year’s election.

Hu Sen said on Tuesday that the new academy will be based in Phnom Pehn’s Prek Pnov district and will be headed by his son Hun Manith, currently the director of intelligence in the Ministry of Defence, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

The move comes in the wake of the dissolution of the opposition whose key figures have either been jailed or forced into exile. Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 after fleeing Cambodia, faces a slew of charges and convictions, while his former deputy Kem Sokha has been charged with treason and is languishing in prison.

In November, the supreme court passed a ruling that dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), effectively obliterating any opposition from the political landscape.

Rumours about ill health

Hu Sen said his government will continue to weed out opponents using agents both inside and outside of the security forces.

“I do not want spies to only provide information,” Hun Sen said, according to the Phnom Penh Post. “The spy needs to have skills to analyse fake news and news resulting from exaggeration . . . We need investigators that we call spies in all places and units.”

The prime minister also used the occasion to address rumours about his alleged ill health, saying he had pretended to be seriously unwell to try to catch people in his inner circle who leak secrets.

“This is something special about me,” he said, according to the Phnom Penh Post. “You cannot predict my steps and you cannot lay a trap for me.”

Phay Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, denied that the new academy was targeting the opposition and said the organisation is “an intelligence unit like the CIA”. He said the government had stepped up its intelligence-gathering operations in the wake of a “colour revolution”, a reference to political activists who are pushing for regime change.

Speaking at Tuesday’s event, Manith, who spoke before his father, said the new academy would train soldiers and police in intelligence-gathering and maintaining “covert identities”.

“Though there is external and internal disturbance from a hostile and ill-intended group of people, Cambodia has maintained high economic growth,” the Phnom Penh Post reported him saying.

“We need to control and share information to take action in time. The political and security situation and competition in the future will be more intense than in previous years.”

Cambodia has been ruled by Hun Sen for 32 years and has become increasingly autocratic, with the prime minister extending his government’s crackdown to critical and dissenting voices, including independent media. A critical newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, which had been in operation for 25 years, was slapped with a taxation bill of $6.3 million, forcing it to close business. Radio stations have also been shuttered.

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