Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced plans to reform the country’s armed forces by reducing the number of generals.
Cambodia has one of the highest numbers of generals per capita in the world, with several thousand officers reportedly holding the rank.
The former opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, labelled the move a ploy to avoid a military coup, saying Hun Sen was using the pretext of a reform campaign as cover.
Rainsy said Hun Sen had only demoted generals “whom he did not trust” because he was “scared of a military coup, which may take place in the near future.”
The surprise announcement was made as Hun Sen attended the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last month.
He was reported as saying that in the future only the defense minister and army commander would be given the top rank of four-stars.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said the move was part of an ongoing program of reforms.
“This is an additional reform of the efficiency of the armed forces,” he said. “This is to avoid overlapping job responsibilities. At the moment, the government reform is not only on the political front. We reform all sectors.”
As of early 2018, Cambodia had more than 3,000 military generals presiding over its 125,000-strong armed forces.
Rainsy, who lives abroad in exile, has repeatedly called on the military and police to move to oust Hun Sen.
But his calls for a coup appear to have largely fallen on deaf ears.
“His remarks are just for public attention. In Cambodia, the people are calm and won’t heed his calls,” Siphan said.
At a five-day military training exercise that kicked off on Saturday, Hun Sen’s eldest son and the army commander, Hun Manet, said the event was a warning to “unfriendly forces” that the Cambodian army was loyal to Hun Sen's administration.