A police general who served under the late Hok Lundy and is an in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been selected to lead the nation’s police force, following a deadly helicopter crash Sunday.
Gen. Neth Savoeun, who has served in the police as well as the Ministry of Interior and is married to Hun Sen’s niece, was officially decreed as national police chief late Monday.
The former chief, Hok Lundy, a powerful Cambodian People’s Party general who continually faced allegations of serious human rights abuses, died Sunday night, when a helicopter transporting him to his home province of Svay Rieng crashed.
“King Norodom Sihamoni officially signed the decree to appoint Gen. Neth Savoeun late Monday as the national police chief to replace Hok Lundy,” Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday. “I and all Cambodian police welcome the new appointment. Neth Savoeun has a lot of experience in the police.”
Neth Savoeun, 52, was police chief of Phnom Penh during the State of Cambodia, served as the head of the justice department in the Interior Ministry’s Penal Crimes Division after the 1993 elections, and recently became a deputy national police chief under Hok Lundy. He married Hun Sen’s niece, Hun Kimleng, in the early 1990s.
Contacted Tuesday, Neth Savoeun declined to comment on his appointment, saying he was busy with funeral ceremonies for Hok Lundy, who is scheduled to be buried in Svay Rieng’s Rumduol district Saturday.
“I’m not thinking about who [specifically] is appointed,” Chan Soveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc said. “But I want the person appointed as the new general of national police to have a good background, not to be involved in corruption, not be involved in human trafficking, or drug trafficking, or involved in killings. So I hope that the government has decided to appoint Neth Savoeun because his background is not involved in these.”
During his 14-year tenure as chief, Hok Lundy was accused of all these crimes, including collaboration in the 1997 grenade attack on opposition supporters, which killed 16 people, and extrajudicial killings during the 1997 CPP coup. He was denied US entry on suspicion of human trafficking in 2006, but had in recent years become an ally of the FBI for regional counterterrorism.
Under Hok Lundy, the national police force was routinely criticized for torture, corruption and abuse of power.
Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said Neth Savoeun lacked qualifications.
“As I’ve known him before, he has not graduated from the Police Academy, and his rank comes from his relations to a high-ranking official, or nepotism,” said Kem Sokha, who was arrested by the national police in 2006 and spent 17 days in jail on charges of defamation.
Asked whether Neth Savoeun could reform the national police, Kem Sokha said, “I don’t think it depends on Neth Savoeun. Whatever the national police chief did before, it was dependent on the government. [Police] weren’t independently allowed to do anything.”