A direct phone call from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen alerted Phnom Penh city hall deputy Long Dimanche to his new role as the country’s envoy to South Korea.
The 36-year-old Dimanche will replace Suth Dina, the disgraced former ambassador who was arrested by Cambodia's Anti-Corruption Unit on April 4 and jailed in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison days later.
“I was a bit surprised when I received the call from the premier to serve in the new post,” he hold VOA's Khmer Service following the Saturday morning phone call.
The eldest son of Long Visalo, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and son-in-law to Nhem 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.
Dimanche said that although his father helped him pursue an education and find work, his appointment is 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.”
Some critics, however, disagree. Tep Vanny, a prominent Boeung Kak lake activist who has had many a run-in with city security forces over environmental and land title issues, said Dimanche is not a suitable candidate for the ambassador job because he was a “dishonest” spokesman for the municipality.
“He is not sincere in his words to reporters and the people," she said. "He seems to not have the ability to tell the truth or the will to serve the people who are victims, such as the Boeung Kak residents.”
Dimanche countered that the controversies he encountered during his city hall tenure taught him valuable lessons and that many of his critics are unaware of the behind-the-scenes work he had done with local communities.
Since late March, Hun Sen has pushed ahead with his controversial reform agenda with a midterm cabinet reshuffle in which eight ministers faced the axe, despite resistance from a bureaucracy used to getting its way and practiced in shrugging off allegations of nepotism and corruption.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.