A direct phone call from Prime Minister Hun Sen alerted 36-year-old City Hall deputy chief of administration Long Dimanche to his new role as Cambodia’s envoy to South Korea.
Dimanche will replace Suth Dina, the disgraced former ambassador who was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Unit on April 4 on corruption charges and jailed in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison days later.
Speaking to VOA Khmer following his appointment, Dimanche said he had not expected to receive the call from Hun Sen.
“I was a bit surprised when I received the call from the premier to serve in the new post,” he said.
The eldest of two sons of Long Visalo, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and son-in-law to Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, Dimanche studied international relations in France before getting a job as assistant to then-Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema in 2005.
Since then successive ruling Cambodian People’s Party reshuffles have seen the young civil servant take on increasing responsibilities.
The most recent cabinet reshuffle saw his father, Visalo, the second-highest-ranking foreign ministry official, overlooked for the post of Foreign Minister to replace the outgoing Hor Namhong in favor of former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Prak Sokhon.
Visalo, then an academic, was jailed by the Khmer Rouge after returning to the country in 1975. As the only Cambodian the regime could identify identify who had geographic information skills at the time, he was put to work to draw up a new administrative map of the country. After his work was done he was sent to the infamous Boeung Trabek prison.
Dimanche said that although his father had helped him pursue an education and find work, his appointment was not nepotistic.
“The appointment is not based on blood lines as some people have suggested,” he said, adding that he would strive to serve Cambodian migrant workers in South Korea as the new ambassador.
“The corruption issue is an issue we have to solve,” he said. “Even when I worked in Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, I worked with transparency, collecting opinions from the public when there were allegations of irregularities.”
When Visalo was serving as ambassador to Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1982, Dimanche accompanied his father, going to elementary school in Havana for two years.
He returned to finish high school in Cambodia before attending Paris’s Dauphine University and later the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationale, from 1997 to 2004.
Chum Sounry, spokesman for the foreign ministry, told VOA Khmer that Dimanche’s experience and academic background in international affairs made him the perfect candidate for the role.
“The person who is going to serve in the role as ambassador needs to understand international relations, diplomatic relations, and have the ability to help Cambodian workers in South Korea,” he said.
He added that the former deputy chief of administration had also gained useful experience in land dispute settlement during his time with City Hall.
But housing rights activists from the Boeung Kak and Borey Keila communities begged to differ.
Tep Vanny, a prominent Boeung Kak lake activist who has had many a run-in with city security forces, said Dimanche was not a suitable candidate for the ambassador job because he had been a “dishonest” spokesman for the municipality.
“He is not sincere in his words to reporters and the people. He seems to not have the ability to tell the truth or the will to serve the people who are victims, such as the Beoung Kak residents,” she said.
Dimanche countered that the controversies he found himself at the heart of during his City Hall tenure had taught him valuable lessons and that many of his critics were unaware of the behind-the-scenes work he had done with local communities.
While he would miss working in Phnom Penh, he said that his appointment was a childhood dream come true.
He went on to admit, however, that while he had studied international relations and was confident he could fulfill his duties, he had little practical experience.
“I have learned the theories of international relations. But in reality I have no experience.”