Monday, 14 February 2011

Strongman father dreams of glory for 'heroic' son

via CAAI

Published: 10/02/2011 

Hun Manet is no stranger to the Thai military. Even ordinary Thais know about the eldest son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen from the border conflicts near Preah Vihear temple. The Thai military top brass has kept a close watch on Hun Manet since he went to West Point in the United States more than a decade ago.

The Cambodian strongman attended the graduation ceremony of his son at the famous US military school in 1999. Since then the Thai army has known that Hun Sen has a long-term plan to place his son in control of the Cambodian armed forces and succeed him in the top job of the Cambodian government.

The first step was fulfilled when Hun Sen defied criticism from opponents to promote Hun Manet to the rank of a two-star general, as deputy chief of the unit assigned to specifically protect Hun Sen.

Senior Thai military officers noted that Hun Sen was also using his son as a military link between Phnom Penh and Washington - as seen in the increased military aid and training, including US anti-terrorism tactics, given to the Cambodian forces.

After graduating from West Point, now-Maj Gen Hun Manet pursued a Master's degree in economics in the United Kingdom, where he started building contacts with Thai students and officers studying there. His connections with Thailand expanded when he had several chances to attend military conferences in Thailand and made numerous trips to Bangkok.

"Hun Manet is down-to-earth even though he is the prime minister's son. He is an easy-going guy and very friendly," one of his Thai friends in the army said. "We all know that he is destined to be the next Cambodian prime minister.

"Hun Sen loves his son, always listens to him and sometimes gives his son some advice," the same officer added.

It is believed that Thai army officers used their personal contacts with Maj Gen Hun Manet to convince his father to help the 7 Thais, including Democrat Party MP Panich Vikitsreth, after they were arrested by Cambodian security authorities on Dec 29.

His name is now well-known among the Thai people after he was given his new assignment: commander of the Cambodian forces fighting Thailand in the present conflict over the 4.6 square kilometre area. The Cambodian media reported his participation - with Lt Gen Chea Mon, chief of the Cambodian army's fourth region, and Lt Gen Srey Duek, who is in charge of the Cambodian province of Preah Vihear - on Jan 28 after the Thai army pressured Cambodia to demolish a stone tablet bearing the statement "Here is Cambodia" at Keo Sikha Kiri Savara pagoda two days earlier, followed by a call from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that Phnom Penh remove the Cambodian national flag at Wat Keo Sikha Kiri Savara, which is situated in an area also claimed by Thailand as part of Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province. The tablet was destroyed but Mr Abhisit's counterpart, Hun Sen, refused to remove the flag. Instead, he ordered his son to be stationed at Preah Vihear to lead the Cambodian army in the border clashes instead of ordering him to return to Phnom Penh.

"Since then Thai intelligence officers who monitor Cambodia's military communication lines have heard his voice commanding Cambodian soldiers", including the communique on Feb 4 when the first clash took place, a Thai intelligence officer said.

After the second clash on Feb 6, the Thai army has not heard his voice, and there has been speculation that he has been injured. That rumour turned out to be false.

Another rumour was that his younger brother, Col Hun Mani, was injured on Feb 4 when his tank was hit by a Thai artillery shell which, according to the Thai army's claim, killed 64 Cambodian soldiers, damaged 15 other tanks, six artilleries and four BM 21 multi-rocket launchers.

But even this could not be confirmed.

Maj Gen Hun Manet took the leading role in the fighting on the night of Feb 6, in what the Thai army believes was in retaliation for the loss of Cambodian forces and the slight damage to Preah Vihear temple. The target of that raid were the Thai soldiers based at Phu Ma Khua, and he decided to launch the attack at night because he realised that timing and experience would give his troops an advantage. One thing gave the Thai army the upper hand: superior weapons.

There has been no report of any losses among the Cambodian soldiers as they were aware that radio communications had been intercepted by Thailand. On the Thai side, 14 Thai soldiers and two villagers were injured. One of the troops later died.

Thai army officers believe that Hun Sen's decision to send his son to lead Cambodian soldiers in the border clash was intentional. "Hun Sen wanted his son to get credit and recognition from the Cambodian people, to pave the way for him to be promoted in the army," one Thai army source noted.

Leading the fight against "Siam" has already put his name in the Cambodian history books, the source added.

After the latest clash on Feb 6, Maj Gen Hun Manet "approached" Thai army leaders including chief of the 2nd Army, Thawatchai Samutsakhon, and army C-in-C Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. "I have been in contact with Hun Manet. Both Thai and Cambodian commanders have already reached an understanding," Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

"I can confirm that Thai soldiers did not start the war. We got shot first. We never started any invasion and were on the defensive. But let me assure everybody that we are not the underdog," he said, speaking of the Thai position.

Whatever the outcome of the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, one sure thing is that Maj Gen Hun Manet has become a hero to his Cambodian countrymen.

Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.


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