The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia for three years, eight months and 20 days (about 44 months) from April, 1975 to January 1979. In his victory speech Pol Pot said his goal was to create a "prosperous country with an advanced agriculture and industry" so that "our people's standard of living will be rapidly improved." Cambodians refer to the period as the “Pol Pot time.” The first 10 months after the evacuation of Phnom Penh were particularly horrific.

Pol Pot believed the greatness of Angkor was based on the production of great amounts of rice. Everything else in his view was useless. With the aim of creating a “new Angkor” he imposed mass collectivization and abolished almost everything else. Five Year Plans were not ambitious enough. In 1976, a Four-Year Plan was hastily thrown together that aimed to triple Cambodia’s agricultural yields without fertilizer, modern tools and capitalist incentives.

Money, trade, culture, and families were all viewed as intrinsically evil and outlawed; borders were sealed; religious objects were desecrated; schools were closed; children were taken from their parents; and everyone was put to work, even small children. The Khmer Rouge destroyed most of the contents of the National Library of Phnom Penh, wiping out most of what was known about ancient Khmer and Cambodian civiization. They also killed all but three of the 60 librarians that worked there.

According to to Lonely Planet” “Upon taking Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted; its goal was a pure revolution, untainted by those that had gone before, to transform Cambodia into a peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. Within days of coming to power the entire population of Phnom Penh and provincial towns, including the sick, elderly and infirm, was forced to march into the countryside and work as slaves for 12 to 15 hours a day. Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution. The advent of Khmer Rouge rule was proclaimed Year Zero. Currency was abolished and postal services were halted. The country cut itself off from the outside world. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Khmer Rouge Rule

The forty-four months the Khmer Rouge were in power was a period of unmitigated suffering for the Khmer people. Although the severity of revolutionary policies varied from region to region because of ideological differences and the personal inclinations of local leaders, hundreds of thousands of people starved, died from disease, or were executed. "New people" (the intelligentsia and those from the cities — those new to the rural areas), being considered politically unreliable, were special targets of terror and of a harsh, unremitting regime of forced labor. In 1977 Pol Pot launched a bloody purge within the communist ranks that accounted for many deaths. The slaughter of the Vietnamese minority living in Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge's aggressive incursions into Vietnam led to fighting with Vietnam in 1977 and 1978. In December 1978, Vietnamese forces invaded the country. On January 7, 1979, they captured Phnom Penh and began to establish the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). The Khmer Rouge fled to isolated corners of the country and resumed their guerrilla struggle, which continued in the late 1980s. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]

Immediately after occupying Cambodia's towns, the Khmer Rouge ordered all city dwellers into the countryside to take up agricultural tasks. The move reflected both the Khmer Rouge's contempt for urban dwellers, whom they saw as enemies, and their utopian vision of Cambodia as a nation of busy, productive peasants. The leader of the regime, who remained concealed from the public, was Saloth Sar, who used the pseudonym Pol Pot. The government, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea (DK), claimed to be seeking total independence from foreign powers but accepted economic and military aid from its major allies, China and North Korea. *

Without identifying themselves as Communists, the Khmer Rouge quickly introduced a series of far-reaching and often painful socialist programs. The people given the most power in the new government were the largely illiterate rural Cambodians who had fought alongside the Khmer Rouge in the civil war. DK [Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge] leaders severely restricted freedom of speech, movement, and association, and forbade all religious practices. The regime controlled all communications along with access to food and information. Former city dwellers, now called "new people," were particularly badly treated. The Khmer Rouge killed intellectuals, merchants, bureaucrats, members of religious groups, and any people suspected of disagreeing with the party. Millions of other Cambodians were forcibly relocated, deprived of food, tortured, or sent into forced labor. While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians. *

The Khmer Rouge also attacked neighboring countries in an attempt to reclaim territories lost by Cambodia many centuries before. After fighting broke out with Vietnam (then united under the Communists) in 1977, DK's ideology became openly racist. Ethnic minorities in Cambodia, including ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, were hunted down and expelled or massacred. Purges of party members accused of treason became widespread. People in eastern Cambodia, suspected of cooperating with Vietnam, suffered severely, and hundreds of thousands of them were killed. While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians-more than one-fifth of the country's population. *

Politics and Purges under the Khmer Rouge

By the April 1975 communist victory, Pol Pot and his close associates occupied the most important positions in the KCP and in the state hierarchies. He had been KCP general secretary since February 1963. His associates functioned as the party's Political Bureau, and they controlled a majority of the seats on the Central Committee. Khieu Thirith's management of youth groups meant that Pol Pot had ample reserves of zealous young cadres, "the nucleus and wick of the struggle," committed to imposing the party center's will throughout the country. But his domination of the revolutionary movement was not complete. In different areas of the country, especially in the Eastern Zone, pro-Vietnamese and veteran Khmer Issarak commanders were jealous of their independence. They questioned, and at times openly defied, his policies of revolutionary terror and hostility toward Vietnam. The highest ranks of the party were not free of dissension. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Like Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s and in the 1930s, Pol Pot initiated a purge of his opponents, both imagined and real. In terms of the number of people liquidated in relation to the total population, the Khmer Rouge terror was far bloodier than Stalin's. Through the 1970s, and especially after mid-1975, the party was shaken by factional struggles. There were even armed attempts to topple Pol Pot. The resultant purges reached a crest in 1977 and 1978 when hundreds of thousands of people, including some of the most important KCP leaders, were executed. *

According to Lonely Planet: In the eyes of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge was not a unified movement, but a series of factions that needed to be cleansed. This process had already begun with attacks on Vietnamese-trained Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk’s supporters, but Pol Pot’s initial fury upon seizing power was directed against the former regime. All of the senior government and military figures who had been associated with Lon Nol were executed within days of the takeover. Then the centre shifted its attention to the outer regions, which had been separated into geographic zones. The loyalist Southwestern Zone forces under the control of one-legged general Ta Mok were sent into region after region to purify the population, and thousands perished. [Source: Lonely Planet +]

“As the centre eliminated more and more moderates, Angkar (the organisation) became the only family people needed and those who did not agree were sought out and destroyed. The Khmer Rouge detached the Cambodian people from all they held dear: their families, their food, their fields and their faith. Even the peasants who had supported the revolution could no longer blindly follow such madness. Nobody cared for the Khmer Rouge by 1978, but nobody had an ounce of strength to do anything about it…except the Vietnamese.” +

Kampuchea Communist Party: the Elusive Party

To most people inside and outside Democratic Kampuchea, the communist party was known simply as the Angkar Loeu. The party's commitment to revolution was expressed in the terminology of the 1976 Constitution, but no mention was made of a specifically Marxist-Leninist ideology. The KCP's real leaders and identity were kept closely guarded secrets from non-members until 1977. Head of state Khieu Samphan was a front — Sihanouk describes him as a "bit player" — for the most important leader, Saloth Sar, whose appearances and speeches were not publicized in the official media. Under the name Pol Pot, Saloth Sar was elected to a seat in the KPRA in March 1976 as a representative of rubber plantation workers, and he became Democratic Kampuchea's prime minister the following month. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The histories of most revolutionary movements contain a clandestine theme, but rarely have any approached the near-paranoia of the Cambodian communists. In part, this reflected the profound distrust with which Pol Pot and his associates regarded people outside their small, closed circle that had begun its association in Paris in the 1950s. Also, there may have been an unwillingness to risk the support of a still-conservative peasantry by publicly embracing Marxism-Leninism. The most important reason for the obsession with secrecy, however, was intraparty strife — the KCP's continuing failure to resolve factional differences and to achieve consensus on its mission and policies. Even more than the future, however, the past was a focus of bitter controversy: how much should the KCP acknowledge its debt to the Vietnamese communists?

On September 18, in a speech mourning the death of Mao Zedong, Pol Pot announced that the Angkar was "Marxist-Leninist" and that it enjoyed "fraternal relations" with the Chinese Communist Party. But it was not until a year later, in September 1977, that Pol Pot revealed the existence of the KCP and its history in a five-hour recorded radio speech. He stated that the KCP was seventeen years old and that its founding date had been September 30, 1960. He noted that the KCP's decision to disclose its real identity had been encouraged by "foreign friends" (the Chinese) who wanted the KCP to take credit for the revolutionary victory. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] Pol Pot's mention of the September 1960 founding date was extremely significant. Within the party ranks, September 30, 1951, traditionally had been recognized as its founding date. This was the day when the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) was established following the reorganization of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The September 1960 meeting had been considered the KPRP's second congress, but in the September-October 1976 edition of the party's official journal, Tung Padevat (Revolutionary Flag), the date of birth of the KPRP was given as September 30, 1960. Tung Padevat declared that the new founding date was adopted because "we must arrange the history of the party into something clean and perfect, in line with our policies of independence and selfmastery ." Pol Pot's speech a year later gave official sanction to this view. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Another party journal, Tung Kraham (Red Flag), mentioned the traditional founding date, September 30, 1951, in its September 1976 issue. The argument over the birth date reflected deep factional divisions within the KCP. Backers of the 1951 birth date, if not pro-Vietnamese, were at least willing to recognize their movement's past dependence on Vietnamese support. Pol Pot and his associates adopted the 1960 birthday to emphasize the party's Cambodian identity and to distance it from any association with the Vietnamese communists. The party's official history, or "Black Book," published in 1978 after pro-Vietnamese elements had been liquidated, stated that the KCP had severed fraternal party relations with the Vietnam Workers' Party as early as 1973. Intraparty Conflict

On the eve of its 1975 victory against the Lon Nol forces, the KCP was, in terms of personnel, ideological viewpoints, and factional loyalties, quite heterogeneous. Etcheson, in The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, identifies six factions: the Pol Pot group (members of which he labels "Stalinists"); internationalists (pro-Vietnamese elements who were based in Hanoi after 1954, and who returned to the country when the FUNK united front was declared in 1970); veterans of the leftist Khmer Issarak (who remained in the country after 1954, mostly in the southern and in western parts of the country); veterans of the Pracheachon Party founded in 1954 (which had contested Sihanouk's Sangkum openly until being driven underground in the 1960s); pro-Chinese or Maoist elements (including Paris-group intellectuals Hou Yuon and Hu Nim); and the pro-Sihanouk Khmer Rumdo. Ben Kiernan, another analyst of Cambodia, identifies three factions: the Pol Pot faction, the pro-Vietnamese communists, and the adherents of the Chinese Cultural Revolution model. The roles of ideology and of conflicting party lines in factional struggles, however, should not be overemphasized. Behind doctrinal differences lay the dynamics of personal rivalry and the strong sense of patron-client loyalty that has always characterized Cambodian politics. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Establishing Democratic Kampuchea

The communists had exercised real power behind the facade, since its establishment in 1970, of the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea, (Governement Royal d'Union Nationale du Kampuchéa — GRUNK). It remained formally in control of the country until the proclamation of the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea on January 5, 1976. Three months later, on April 2, Sihanouk resigned as head of state. Sihanouk remained under comfortable, but insecure, house arrest in Phnom Penh, until he departed for China on the last flight before Vietnamese forces captured the city on January 7, 1979. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Khieu Samphan described the 1976 Constitution as "not the result of any research on foreign documents, nor...the fruit of any research by scholars. In fact the people — workers, peasants, and Revolutionary Army — wrote the Constitution with their own hands." It was a brief document of sixteen chapters and twenty-one articles that defined the character of the state; the goals of economic, social and cultural policies; and the basic tenets of foreign policy. The "rights and duties of the individual" were briefly defined in Article 12. They included none of what are commonly regarded as guarantees of political human rights except the statement that "men and women are equal in every respect." The document declared, however, that "all workers" and "all peasants" were "masters" of their factories and fields. An assertion that "there is absolutely no unemployment in Democratic Kampuchea" rings true in light of the regime's massive use of forced labor. *

The Constitution defined Democratic Kampuchea's foreign policy principles in Article 21, the document's longest, in terms of "independence, peace, neutrality, and nonalignment." It pledged the country's support to anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World. In light of the regime's aggressive attacks against Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao territory during 1977 and 1978, the promise to "maintain close and friendly relations with all countries sharing a common border" bore little resemblance to reality. *

Khmer Rouge Government

Governmental institutions were outlined very briefly in the Constitution. The legislature, the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly (KPRA), contained 250 members "representing workers, peasants, and other working people and the Kampuchean Revolutionary army." One hundred and fifty KPRA seats were allocated for peasant representatives; fifty, for the armed forces; and fifty, for worker and other representatives. The legislature was to be popularly elected for a five-year term. Its first and only election was held on March 20, 1976. "New people" apparently were not allowed to participate. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The executive branch of government also was chosen by the KPRA. It consisted of a state presidium "responsible for representing the state of Democratic Kampuchea inside and outside the country." It served for a five-year term, and its president was head of state. Khieu Samphan was the first and only person to serve in this office, which he assumed after Sihanouk's resignation. The judicial system was composed of "people's courts," the judges for which were appointed by the KPRA, as was the executive branch. *

The Constitution did not mention regional or local government institutions. After assuming power, the Khmer Rouge abolished the old provinces (khet) and replaced them with seven zones; the Northern Zone, Northeastern Zone, Northwestern Zone, Central Zone, Eastern Zone, Western Zone, and Southwestern Zone. There were also two other regional-level units: the Kracheh Special Region Number 505 and, until 1977, the Siemreab Special Region Number 106. The zones were divided into damban (regions) that were given numbers. Number One, appropriately, encompassed the Samlot region of the Northwestern Zone (including Batdambang Province), where the insurrection against Sihanouk had erupted in early 1967. With this exception, the damban appear to have been numbered arbitrarily. *

The damban were divided into srok (districts), khum (subdistricts), and phum (villages), the latter usually containing several hundred people. This pattern was roughly similar to that which existed under Sihanouk and the Khmer Republic, but inhabitants of the villages were organized into krom (groups) composed of ten to fifteen families. On each level, administration was directed by a three-person committee (kanak, or kena). KCP members occupied committee posts at the higher levels. Subdistrict and village committees were often staffed by local poor peasants, and, very rarely, by "new people." Cooperatives (sahakor), similar in jurisdictional area to the khum, assumed local government responsibilities in some areas. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Pol Pot in Power

Pol Pot didn't acknowledge publicly that he was the leader of Cambodia until 1977, when he gave a rambling five hour speech and used the name Pol Pot for the first time. He ruled Cambodia with the help of an inner circle of comrades and aides, most of whom who had been with him since he was in France or was a schoolteacher. Most of what the public knew of him came in the form of turgid public statements.

Pol Pot stayed out of the spotlight. He made few public appearances; changed his residences frequently; and donned disguises. As time went on he grew more and more paranoid. Once when he came down with a stomach ailment he claimed his cooks were trying to poison him. Another time, when the power went out in his house he ordered the execution of several maintenance workers.

The purges and executions that took place within the Khmer Rouge are believed to have originated with Pol Pot. He once told a party cadre, "We search for the microbes within the party without success; they are buried. As our socialist revolution advances, however, seeping into every corner of the party, the army and among the people, we can locate the ugly microbes."

Khmer Rouge Leaders and Major Figures in the Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge leaders included Hou Yuon, who was born in 1930, who was described as being "of truly astounding physical and intellectual strength," and who studied economics and law; and Hu Nim, born in 1932, studied law.

Son Sen was the Khmer Rouge’ Defense Minister, and ultimately was the man responsible for Tuol Sleng prison (See Below). Son Sen, born in 1930, studied education and literature. He was a school teacher like Pol Pot and was the leader of the offensive into Phnom Penh and was the one who, following Pol Pot's orders, emptied Phnom Penh.

Ieng Thirith was the wife of Ieng Sary and and sister-in-law of Pol Pot (her sister was married to Pol Pot). Dubbed the “first lady” of the Khmer Rouge regime, she served as the minister of social affairs for the Khmer Rouge. She studied in France and was the first Cambodian to receive a degree in English. Upon her return to Cambodia, she joined CPK and was allegedly appointed Minister of Social Affairs in Democratic Kampuchea. Khieu Ponnary, Ieng Thirith’s sister, was married to Pol Pot. All four—Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Ponnary, Ieng Thirith—studied together in Paris in the 1950s.

Khieu Samphan

Khieu Samphan was the public face and nominal leader of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. He was well mannered and erudite and was educated in Paris. Khieu Samphan acted as one of the Khmer Rouge's most powerful officials. Considered "one of the most brilliant intellects of his generation," he was born in 1931 and specialized in economics and politics during his time in Paris. Before joining the Khmer Rouge, he was Secretary of State for Trade for the Sihanouk regime in 1962. Under threat of Sihanouk's security forces, Samphan went into hiding in 1969 and emerged as a member of the Khmer Rouge in the early 70s. He was appointed Democratic Kampuchea’s Head of State and succeeded Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge in 1987.

Khieu Samphan claims he was not involved in any of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “But experts who have sifted through thousands of the Khmer Rouge regime's documents concluded that he was far from an innocent bystander. They say the archives show Khieu Samphan attended high-level meetings that planned bloody purges and not only knew that atrocities were being committed, but encouraged lower-ranking officials to execute prisoners. He "was aware of the policies of arresting, torturing and executing purported enemy agents," Stephen Heder, a British expert on Cambodia, and Brian Tittemore, a U.S. lawyer specializing in war crimes, concluded in a 2004 report. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007]

"I know, myself, that I never did anything that could damage my nation," Khieu Samphan said. "I have examined myself. I have done my duty toward my country. Without the Khmer Rouge, I think the present Cambodia would not exist. It would already be under the control of the communist Vietnamese."

See Khieu Samphan After the Khmer Rouge Was Ousted and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Nuon Chea

Nuon Chea was the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologue and the No.2 man to Pol Pot during the waning years of the Khmer Rouge. He helped Pol Pot seize control of Cambodia’s Communist movement on the 1950s and 60s and them became the movement’s top ideologue. Commonly known as "Brother Number Two," he survived the Khmer Rouge years and is now in detention awaiting a United Nations trial for crimes against humanity for his role in the genocide.

Brought up in a wealthy Chinese-Cambodian family under French rule, Nuon Chea was born as Lau Ben Kon at Voat Kor, Battambang in 1926. Nuon's father, Lao Liv, worked as a trader as well as a corn farmer, while his mother, Dos Peanh, was a tailor. Lao Liv was of Chinese ethnicity while his mother was the daughter of a Chinese immigrant from Shantou and his Khmer wife. As a child, Nuon Chea was raised in both Chinese and Khmer customs. The family prayed at a Theravada Buddhist temple, but observed Chinese religious customs during the Lunar New Year and Qingming festival. Nuon Chea started school at seven, and was educated in Thai, French and Khmer. [Source: Wikipedia ++]

In the 1940s, Nuon Chea studied law at Thammasat University in Bangkok and worked part-time for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He began his political activities in the Communist Party of Siam in Bangkok and and returned to Cambodia to join Pol Pot's Maoist insurrection in the 1950s. He was elected Deputy General Secretary of the Workers Party of Kampuchea (later renamed as the Communist Party of Kampuchea) in September 1960. In Democratic Kampuchea, he was generally known as "Brother Number Two." Unlike most of the leaders of Khmer Rouge, Chea did not study in Paris. ++

As the recently-proclaimed state legislature, the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly held its first plenary session during April 11–13, 1976, Chea was elected President of its Standing Committee. He briefly held office as acting Prime minister when Pol Pot resigned for one month, citing health reasons. He was forced to abandon his position as President of the Assembly, along with all others as the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh in January 1979. ++

Nuon Chea’s charges included Phnom Penh's S-21—the notorious interrogation and torture center. It is estimated that Nuon Chea is responsible for the death of 1.7 million people during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

"I acknowledge there was killing," Nuon Chea told the Chicago Tribune. "But who controlled it?..."I was aware of some killing — just some killing — but how could I have controlled it? There were too many factors," Nuon Chea said, softening his one-time denial that he never knew of any deaths. Nuon Chea said the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in 1969-73 had taught his people to use any force necessary. "That bombing was the primary factor that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge," he said. [Source: Evan Osnos, Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2006]

See Nun Chea After the Khmer Rouge Was Ousted and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Ieng Sary

Ieng Sary (pronounced yeng sah-REE) was Pol Pot's right-hand man and the foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge. Born in southern Vietnam in 1925 and known as Brother No. 2, he was Khmer-Chinese and a high school classmate of Pol Pot. The two men joined the Communist Party together in the 1950s and became brothers-in-law when they married sisters. Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary’s wife and Pol Pot's sister-in-law, was Khmer Rouge’s Minister of Social Affairs.

Another member of the Paris student group. was Ieng Sary, he attended the elite Lycée Sisowath in Phnom Penh before beginning courses in commerce and politics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in France. Sary allegedly joined the Khmer Rouge in 1963. He joined the French Communist Party in 1951 while studying in France. Upon his return to Cambodia, he joined CPK. When the Khmer Rouge took control in 1975, Ieng became the Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Ieng Sary was born on Oct. 24, 1925, in Tra Vinh Province in southern Vietnam, to an ethnic Cambodian father and an ethnic Chinese mother. His birth name was Kim Trang, and he later used the revolutionary name Van. He worked for a while as a history and geography teacher. He was one of a group of future Khmer Rouge leaders, including Pol Pot, who received scholarships to study in France. After returning to Phnom Penh in 1957, he taught history in high school and became an underground member of the Communist Party of Cambodia. He fled to the jungle in 1963 when people suspected of being communists were being arrested.

According to Khmer Rouge leader Van Rith, Ieng Sary's father was a Chinese businessman, his mother a Vietnamese, so Sary had never known hardship, having subsequently lived only in Phnom Penh and France. When Sary went into the jungle in 1963, it was very difficult for him, and he immediately fell very ill, unable to do much. He was older and more theoretically sophisticated than Pol Pot, but Pol Pot had already established a much stronger base of support among the veterans, including Sao Pheum, creating a front among veteran and other elements, unifying them under his line. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia]

In 1970, as the Khmer Rouge gained momentum and as war raged in neighboring Vietnam, Ieng Sary went to Hanoi to establish a radio station for his revolutionary movement. He then flew to Beijing, where he was given a permanent base in 1971, according to testimony in the trial. He returned permanently to Cambodia in April 1975, a moment known as Year Zero, when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and began transforming the country.

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Ieng Sary was deputy prime minister for foreign affairs and a permanent member of the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s Standing Committee during the Khmer Rouge’s rule over Cambodia, which it then called Democratic Kampuchea. A brother-in-law of Pol Pot, he was part of an inner circle of Paris-educated communists who led the movement, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million people from starvation, overwork and execution during its rule from 1975 to 1979. As foreign minister, Mr. Ieng Sary helped persuade hundreds of Cambodian diplomats and intellectuals to return home from overseas to help the new revolutionary government. The returnees were sent to “re-education camps,” and most were executed. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 14, 2013]

See Ieng Sary After the Khmer Rouge Was Ousted and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Ta Mok

Ta Mok, known as "The Butcher," had one leg and was one of the last Khmer Rouge leaders to be caught. Born Ek Chhoen, a son of peasants, it was said he lacked the intellectual polish of his foreign-educated cohorts in the Khmer Rouge. Ta Mok was imprisoned after he was arrested by Cambodian soldiers. He died in 2006 while facing trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

In his obituary, Associated Press reported: Ta Mok “was a military leader of the Khmer Rouge and briefly led the radical Communist group during its final days. Ta Mok had been in government custody since 1999 and faced trial for his role in the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country. The victims were executed or died of starvation, disease or overwork as the Khmer Rouge tried to impose its vision of an agrarian utopia. [Source: Associated Press, July 21, 2006]

Born into a peasant family in the province of Takeo in southern Cambodia, as a teenager he joined the resistance against French colonialists in the 1940’s. His real name was believed to be Ung Choeun. He was an early follower of the Communist Party built up by Pol Pot, who later led the Khmer Rouge, and took the nom de guerre Ta Mok, meaning Grandfather Mok.

Ta Mok was reportedly involved in several massacres during the five-year civil war that led to the Khmer Rouge’s taking power in 1975. After the civil war victory, he headed the Khmer Rouge’s southwestern zone, an area that became infamous for executions, torture and slave labor in the rural communes set up by the group. In 1978, as the Khmer Rouge regime was plagued by rivalries and infighting, he was sent to conduct a purge in the eastern zone bordering Vietnam.

See Ta Mok After the Khmer Rouge Was Ousted and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea (RAK) and Power Centers of the Khmer Rouge

Although the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea (RAK) was "reestablished" in July 1975 to bring all Khmer Rouge units formally under central authority, real control of regional armed forces remained in the hands of the zone party committee heads. The most important center of regional resistance to the Pol-Potd- ominated party center was the Eastern Zone, comprising part or all of the old provinces of Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kandal, and Kampong Cham that adjoined Vietnam. Its leader was So Phim, a proVietnamese internationalist. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Differences between the Eastern Zone revolutionaries and the other Khmer Rouge were readily apparent by 1975. While the uniforms of Pol Pot loyalists and their allies were black, the uniforms of the Eastern Zone were a distinctive green. In addition, cadre behavior toward the civilian population in the Eastern Zone was generally exemplary. It seems that some of the Eastern cadres were sympathetic to Sihanouk; refugee Molyda Szymusiak wrote that during the evacuation of Phnom Penh, a "Sihanouk Khmer" soldier advised her relatives (who were distantly related to the royal family) to accompany him to Prey Veng Province on Cambodia's southern border.*

At least two coups d'état against the center were attempted — in July and in September, 1975. The latter incident involved Eastern Zone troops. After April 1975, Hou Yuon, one of the original Paris group, disappeared. His colleague, Hu Nim, who was tortured and killed in the Tuol Sleng detention center in 1977, indicated in his confession that Hou Yuon had been liquidated for opposing the extremism of the center's policies. *

Pol Pot loyalists occupied most of the important positions in the new government that was formed after the March 20, 1976, elections; however, Vorn Vet, a pro-Vietnamese leader, was appointed second vice premier with responsibility over six ministry-level economic committees, and he also headed the special Phnom Penh capital zone. So Phim, a longtime rival of Pol Pot within the communist movement, was first vice president of the presidium and a member of the KCP Political Bureau. (The second vice president, Nhim Ros, was a Pol Pot loyalist who commanded the Northwestern Zone.) The year 1976 appears to have been a time initially of retreat for the faction led by Pol Pot. Many communists were alienated by his authoritarian behavior. Article 4 of the Constitution, "Democratic Kampuchea applies the collective principle in leadership and in work," apparently reflects this opinion. In relation to what had gone before and what was to come, policies during 1976 were moderate. The terror eased. Relations with Hanoi were placed on a friendlier footing. Trade and diplomatic relations were expanded. *

Good Points of the Khmer Rouge?

Van Rith evaluated the DK [Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge] regime's good point as its nationalism, the fact that there were "no foreigners," that things were "set up independently, without relying on foreigners." Even more importantly, the regime was absolutely dedicated to preserving Cambodia's territorial integrity, absolutely opposed to any seizure of Cambodian territory by the Vietnamese and totally determined not to let anyone look down on Khmer. Rith insisted that the Vietnamese intended to swallow Cambodia and make it part of an Indochinese Federation. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]

He maintained that Democratic Kampuchea had succeeded in frustrating the Vietnamese desire to defeat Cambodia militarily in one blow, by being able to maintain Cambodia's UN seat through military resistance after 1979, having previously foiled Vietnamese efforts to overrun Cambodia, at least in places. He further stated that Democratic Kampuchea's infliction of casualties on the Vietnamese was the main reason for the ultimate signing of the Paris Agreements.

Rith said it was a huge mistake not to have accepted any aid from the West or China after liberation. When Pol Pot went to China, he asked Mao only for 2,000,000 hoes, refusing Mao's offers of rice and other assistance, saying the people would sort this out for themselves, by farming the fields themselves. On the other hand, citing articles in Entratevi (issues 44 and 80), Rith also declared that the Kamping Puoy reservoir, built during 1976 and inaugerated in 1977, and the Trapeang Thmar reservoir are still in operation and appreciated by the people today, demonstrating that DK did achieve some useful things, there was good with the bad. He conceded thousands or tens of thousand of people conscripted for reservoir construction died, noting it has been alleged that this was the regime's fault because it should have used machinery.

Problems with Khmer Rouge Governing

Van Rith reported: “One problem with the regime was the arbitrary reality of appointments to local positions of power. In practice, the line calling for appointment of poor peasants as village, cooperative and subdistrict cadre meant that anyone of that class background was appointed, even if the reason for their poverty was that they were hooligans, people who had sold off their family inheritance to pay off gambling debts. Once in power, the ignorant poor – having no idea how to make a proper living — were even more oppressive than their predecessors, Rith maintained. This was what led to slaughter, as a result of internal contradictions and infiltration by Vietnamese intelligence, because the Vietnamese had originally appointed most of these local cadre, who acted like overseers, not cadre. Rith said that 18-19 members of his (extended) family died because of these know-nothing cadre. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]

The opposition to expertise was another bad point. Cadre appointed on the basis of class background meant that no one had technical expertise, the concept of which including basic skills like bookkeeping. In fact, Rith said, cadre had neither technical nor political knowledge. Rith maintained that recognition of the incapacity of cadre in technical matters led to the decision not to put money into circulation.After the money was printed in China, brought to Cambodia via Hanoi and was about to be put into circulation, it was explained in meetings that this was in fact no simple matter, requiring zone and sector cadre with banking skills and an understanding of counterfeiting. There was also concern that these cadre would take advantage of their control of money to make themselves rich by stuffing it in their pockets. So it was decided not to go ahead. The intention was originally there, but the policy was reversed.

Reasons for Poor Khmer Rouge Governing

Rith attributed the CPK's wrong decisions above all to Pol Pot and other leftists in the leadership who considered everything modern as feudal-capitalist and began attacking others for being petty bourgeois and intellectuals. They were not in favour of expertise or of knowledge and know-how. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]

Rith contended that those most victimized by the regime were the petty bourgeoise, especially democrats who joined the revolution, because they wanted to exercise their freedom of expression, to put forward their views, but could not do so. Rith himself was in this category, but lasted a long time because he was seen as one united front cadre who could organize specific things with regard to foreign trade, things that only someone with education could do. However, Rith said, his days were numbered. Generally, it was the uneducated who ill-treated the educated, especially in some villages, districts, sectors and zones where those in charge declared themselves talented proletarians, making a distinction between those who knew only how to talk and those who really knew how to get things done. They had become haughty and highhanded with everybody they considered an intellectual or petty bourgoeis, no longer thinking about gathering forces like before. This, Rith declared, was what got people killed.

Internal Squabbles Among the Khmer Rouge Elite

Rith recalled that in 1975, there had been a move to dismiss Sary was foreign minister because he was not accepted internationally, neither by the Chinese nor the Thai, and to replace him with Khieu Samphan. This did not happen, but left hard feelings, and from then on, there was a fear that Ieng Sary would try to win over some armed forces to make a coup, hard feelings that underpinned the situation that finally emerged in 1996, building on earlier conflicts, those of 1963-1964, or even those back in France, from which time Ieng Sary had wanted to be the leader. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]

Sun Ti was married to Rith's cousin by birth, having joined the revolution via his uncle. So – Rith insisted – he could not have been a KGB. He was forced to "confess" this to implicate unit chiefs in the foreign ministry in order to get to Son Sen and arrest him. This was when Son Sen was in the East, and was trying to convince Pol Pot to ease tension, not to fight, not to be so aggressive, as there was no international support. He came with a memorandum, but Pol Pot refused to see him. The "confession" aimed to implicate Ni Kân and Thim, thus getting to Son Sen.

“Rith himself was falsely implicated in 18 documents extracted from kids working for him, but the reality was that he was considered as somebody still influenced by the Democrat Part ideas of his youth, and he had indeed joined the revolution precisely because he detested rule by a mysterious interconnected factional group. Moreover, he had discovered that the revolution had made his mother thin as a rail, being forced to eat boiled hard maize, even though she had no teeth. He met her, and she said this was the last time they would meet, because there was nothing more to eat. Upon return from seeing her, Rith informed Khieu Samphan, who was in charge of Commerce, that at least in Sector 25 there was nothing to eat, asking him why – given the sector's richness in fish, bananas, morning glory, etc – arrangements were not made for the people there to trade these items with Takeo and Kampung Speu for rice, or to allow the people there simply to go ahead and eat bananas and fish. Rith spoke extensively to Khieu Samphan about the misery of the people, revealing this hidden reality at a time when the radio was talking about a phenomenally great leap forward, proclaiming everyone was comfortable and happy, getting yields of ten to 20 tons. He pointed out that growing paddy was not the solution to everything.

After this, he was furiously hated and had constant problems, and thus kids working for him were beaten and duped into implicating him in their responses. However, he could not yet be arrested, because there was no one at the Ministry of Commerce who could replace him, and luckily for him, in 1979, everything fell apart and everyone fled west, putting an end to everything for the time being, at least until things could be sorted out in the west. Before the fall, an ex-school teacher from Takeo, named Lonh Sen, was placed next to him at the ministry, but he knew nothing compared to Rith, who had studied banking and commerce, having a Third Degree certificate from a two year course and done a three year course in banking, as well as having worked in the Ministry of Finance. Combined with his military experience, this made him virtually irreplaceable. Compared to him, Rith insisted, the cadre around him were like blind men, some of them literally having only one eye.

“At the time of the Vietnamese invasion in late December 1978, a Chinese economy and trade delegation was visiting Cambodia, working with Rith on a wide variety of issues. At a soiree on 28 December, Chinese ambassador Sun Hao invited Ieng Sary and Rith to brief him on the situation. At this time the CPK was urgently strengthening its relations with Thailand to counter the Vietnamese threat, and Sun Hao conveyed a message from Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak Chunhawan that Thailand was prepared to allow its ports to be used to tranship any Chinese supplies Cambodia needed, and also to provide any other help. However, Sary said everything was alright, that there was no problem, and did not report the conversation to Pol Pot. The result was that there were no clear contingency plans when the Vietnamese arrived in Phnom Penh.

Cronyism and the Khmer Rouge

Given the severity of their revolutionary ideology, it is surprising that the highest ranks of the Khmer Rouge leadership exhibited a talent for cronyism that matched that of the Sihanouk- era elite. Pol Pot's wife, Khieu Ponnary, was head of the Association of Democratic Khmer Women and her younger sister, Khieu Thirith, served as minister of social action. These two women are considered among the half-dozen most powerful personalities in Democratic Kampuchea. Son Sen's wife, Yun Yat, served as minister for culture, education and learning. Several of Pol Pot's nephews and nieces were given jobs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of Ieng Sary's daughters was appointed head of the Calmette Hospital although she had not graduated from secondary school. A niece of Ieng Sary was given a job as English translator for Radio Phnom Penh although her fluency in the language was extremely limited. Family ties were important, both because of the culture and because of the leadership's intense secretiveness and distrust of outsiders, especially of pro-Vietnamese communists. Greed was also a motive. Different ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, were controlled and exploited by powerful Khmer Rouge families. Administering the diplomatic corps was regarded as an especially profitable fiefdom. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Rith stated that advancement at Ieng Sary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs depended on supporting and exalting Ieng Sary. Rith also recalled the case of Reuan, the wife of Seua Vasy alias Deuan, maintaining that she rose to a high position because of her husband's status, which she used in a factional way to do whatever she wanted, thus provoking Laurent Picq's ire, whom Reuan mistreated because Reuan, like Deuan, was a factory worker. Rith pointed out that the only person Picq wrote positively about was Ni Kân, explaining that he treated her relatively well because he was relatively intellectual, whereas the others treated her badly, behaviour that Rith attributed to Ieng Sary.[Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]

Flattery, Pol Pot, Executions and Starvation

As for Khieu Samphan, Rith stated that "he only knew what was going on at the summit, the theory of it, not being one of the lower downs who was actually doing things." Pol Pot, Rith declared, thrived on flattery (si chor), reacting to it by increasing the action which caused the flattery. To tell him the truth was fatal. He only liked those who came with reports of phenomenal development and great leaps forward. He was furious when Rith, who had previously believed the propaganda published in Kampuchea magazine and broadcast over Democratic Kampuchea radio, reported the reality of starvation in S'ang. This was the reality the led the veterans of the Viet Minh-era struggle to oppose the regime with the slogan, "farm with rain, eat rice; farm with irrigation, eat gruel," and also led to opposition by the East Zone. The post-war line of socialist construction caused one to divide into two, a split, leading to turmoil, resulting in measures being taken against opposition, with the people being the victims of uneducated cadre.

In this regard, Rith cited Nate Thayer's interview with Pol Pot in asserting that the Party Secretary had executed 14,000 cadre who had wrongly implemented the line by killing Cambodia's own people, cadre who had been prohibited from doing so but disobeyed. Their victims, he explained, lived outside of Phnom Penh, in grassroots governed everywhere by the kind of cadre Rith described. Nothing worked in any of the zones. The Centre gave them instructions about the exercise of political and economic power, but implementation was up to the zones themselves, so everything depended on the kinds of persons who were in charge of the zones, because they put their links in place as subordinates in the sectors, which did the same in the districts, which did the same in the cooperatives and subdistricts. The military at the zone and sector levels similarly were links of those above them. If the Centre gave them a hard time in a way that adversely affected their interests, there could be a blow up, as in the first such case, with the North Zone when measures were taken against Koy Thuon, who refused to follow orders, who when ordered things left then right, and was a rightist especially when it came to women, song and drink.

Rith insisted that Koy Thuon indeed had problems with regard to such matters, noting that he had known Koy Thuon for many years, since their days as students together at Lycee Sisowath and later when Koy Thuon attended Normal School and worked as a teacher. They were like childhood friends. Rith insisted that Koy Thuon was roguish and had links to Hang Thun Hak and others of that ilk, links that continued during the 1970-1975 war and connected Koy Thuon to the Khmer Serei. He remained at the rear during the war, not accompanying his troops into battle, but going around with a troupe of teenaged songstresses, while cutting down people's trees to build wide roads. As his witness, Rith named Si, a medic in Kampung Cham. Then, when measures were taken against Koy Thuon, it affected his subordinates, because whenever measures were taken against a boss, it affected the lower downs. This was the case whether it was a zone or a sector, but wherever this happened, there was unrest, as those lower down concluded if they did nothing, they would be dead.

At the same time, Rith contended that lower level cadre believed that because Pol Pot expressed support for the Gang of Four in China, they concluded that they should do what was done during the Cultural Revolution, such as knocking down pagodas. Because the leadership was leftist, subordinates behaved in a leftist manner, taking Radio Beijing accounts of what the Gang of Four advocated as their cue. This caused splits within the ranks of which traitors took advantage, in Rith's view, to burn things to a crisp on the outside while leaving things raw in the middle, in order to open the way to a Vietnamese invasion, which the people also therefore applauded. But the root cause was leftism, manifest among other ways in indiscriminate attacks on intellectuals, including those who had given up everything for the revolution and who tended to be in favour of democracy and liberty, regardless of whether they had studied in Phnom Penh, France or the US, and spoke out, as a result of which they were grievously victimized.

Work and Management Under the Khmer Rouge

Vanthan: Who was mobilized to work on Trapeang Thma Dam? People were from Svay Sophon, Thma Puok, Phnom Srok, and Preah Net Preah districts. There were a few people from the far east of Svay Sisophon district. A large influx of people came from Phnom Srok and Preah Net Preah districts. People from Thma Puok district worked in the mobile unit.... No machinery, only human labor.[Source: Interview with Im Chem, District Chief of Preah Net Preah, Banteay Meanchey Province Interviewed at O-Angre Village, Trapeang Tav Sub-district, Anlong Veng District, Oddar Meanchey Province March 4, 2007, Documentation Center of Cambodia]

Vanthan: How long did people work? And what time were they allowed to take a break? Im: Work started at 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. and then people took a break. At 2 p.m., people started working again. From 2 p.m. until 5 p.m...Im: They did not work at night. There were groups of people. While the younger groups were working, the older groups took a rest at their own houses. [The younger ones] slept at the sites.

Vanthan: And, what about the food? Food was distributed. Those on the front lines were provided with rice. One person received a can of rice per day. The distribution was based on the number of workers and the availability of rice. Everything was collected from the growers in the village and transferred to the construction sites... The food rations…were tackled in a practical way. In some places, a can of rice was boiled and each person could get a bowl of rice porridge. So, the ration was a bowl of porridge. That was the ration. Porridge, which was thick porridge; [we didn’t have] rice often.

Vanthan: You received the policy directly or through letters or messengers? Im: They called us to a meeting to receive the plan. For example, one month, there was an assignment to dig canals to start summer rice transplantation. So, we prepared the forces at the back to transplant rice at the front. I divided forces into two groups: one at the construction sites and another one at the back taking responsibility for growing summer and rainy season rice...I did not supervise, but my management duty was that each district was assigned to take control of each target...The policy was made hierarchically. For example, it was from district to sub-district...

Vanthan: Did you have to build the dam? Im: Yes, we had to build the dam. During the rainy season, the water became high. Thus, we dug canals to connect the dams. Fish from the Tonle Sap came into the dams at O-Chik....I built the dam at the upper level. We built a canal 30 meters wide and 10 kilometers long that connects from Trapeang Thma down to the O-Chik River. So, there are a lot of fish. In the meantime, the dam still exists. Looking to the east, it connects with Leaph mountain. I worked there at that time. I had a discussion with my people on the plans…[Im Chem answers the phone]...I’d like to tell you about the work at that place.

Vanthan: You said there were a lot of fish after building the dams. How about other farming? Im: I was able to do the farming because I divided the workforce into two. The young worked at the front. When I arrived at that place, I found it horrible to see youths at the construction site. They were ill and thin. I saw the evacuees from Phnom Penh with no food and being ill. They stayed in the houses because of their illness and lack of food. Generally, the vegetables growing near the houses bore no leaves. When I got there, some people were poisoned when they cooked leaves for food. That was the hardship of the people of Preah Net Preah district before I arrived there.It was said that those growing vegetables at the back had put their production in warehouses: rice, pigs, and coconuts. Everything produced was put in the warehouse, but those who produced it had nothing to eat. But cadres working at the sub-district, district and provincial levels could consume the production. Those producing palm sugar could only produce it. So, when I arrived there, people kept me alive and supported me or called in supporting forces. That’s why when I fled to the mountains, 4,000 people went along with me.

Vanthan: What was your solution to tackle the difficulties? Im: After identifying these problems, I divided the human forces into two. I came up with a plan. I knew that during the rainy season, knee-deep water flooded National Road 6. Those senior-level cadres who favored me gave me some advice that if you built a dam crossing National Road 6, Tik Cho, Prasat, and Phnom Leap sub-districts would not be flooded. So, I asked them how many dams should we build? They said it would be 30 meters wide, 15 meters at the end, and 20 meters in the middle. People could bring their cows, pigs, ducks and chickens there during the rainy season. During the dry season, I built the dams there to let the water flow through the 10 kilometer dams. There were a lot of turtles and fish: a single net spread could catch half a basket. I drove the boat along…I assigned the first force, who worked on the dams for only three months. Within just that period, I completed the dams.

It was because of that that I let those who were ill and thin look for food freely. They could fish in the river. So each group was released and could survive with their fishing poles. They could catch fish and cook food freely. When I visited there, people’s excrement looked like that of white herons. They ate fully until they got diarrhea. They ate, worked and slept together. The young people lived separately. I was from a provincial unit. Then I confiscated guns from militiamen and district militiamen. Those who were ill were assigned to fish for food, while others were mobilized to work at the construction site.

Decision-Making Under the Khmer Rouge

Vanthan: When you came up with the plan, did you ask for permission from the upper Angkar? I asked for people’s comments. I raised the plan because I had just moved in. The upper Angkar also paid attention to my work...I made the plan and forwarded it to the upper level. After the upper level approved it, it would be sent back. For example, on parallels 8 and 9, I wanted to build the dam in the district. The dam stretched from the east to the west to enable people to live comfortably. I carried out the plan until the time I fled to the mountains. Another dam had not been started; only the dam in Preah Net Preah sub-district was completed. [Source: Interview with Im Chem, District Chief of Preah Net Preah, Banteay Meanchey Province Interviewed at O-Angre Village, Trapeang Tav Sub-district, Anlong Veng District, Oddar Meanchey Province March 4, 2007, Documentation Center of Cambodia]

Vanthan: Who gave most of the approvals? Im: Generally, approval came from the zone, but they kept track of me. All the reports were sent to the highest level of the central committee. Having seen the proposed plan, they were discontented with me. They said I needed the dam and canals to transplant rice. They called me to a meeting in an attempt to arrest me, but they failed to do so.

“After the approval, I assigned some forces to farm and build dams, while other forces dug canals to prepare for the summer and rainy season rice planting. Other groups grew potatoes. I transported potatoes from the mountains, where there were military bases, to the borders. There were two trucks to transport the potatoes for the people. Another truck was sent to Kien Svay to take potatoes from my friends. Two trucks took the seeds from Angkor Chey and Koh Andet districts, Takeo province.

“Those from Mrech and Pursat districts always helped me. Pou Sarun gave me two trucks of sugar. I distributed it to the people because I saw their difficulties. Some became ill in their houses. That’s why I opened all the warehouses. Pigs were raised, but not for slaughter. They were so thin. So, I did not permit anyone to slaughter them for food. At that time, there were plans made by the upper level to celebrate a party for the people to eat rice. I approved the 10-day, 20-day and 30-day parties. Rice and sugar in the warehouses were distributed equally in every sub-district because they had their own warehouses. Those who produced palm sugar could consume palm sugar.

“People did housework in the back, while from 7 till 11 a.m. there would be communal work. From 12 till 1 p.m., people could grow vegetables near their houses. Within one year, people could have sugar canning and potato-grinding machines. Children could dry the potatoes at home. Their parents could go to work. I monitored them properly, but did not stay in one place. So many people were able to survive. Some left for their home villages, while others came along with me to the mountains. That was a reflection of what I did. I did not flee alone. How could I do something wrong if I did not know that place in advance? When I arrived there, I was under surveillance. I was about to be arrested by people possessing eight guns. They failed to capture me because people who considered me as their mother prevented me from being arrested.

“Ta Mok... met with me, about plans. At first, he believed the report that I was stubborn about because I used to transplant rice at dams in Takeo. I was accused of being too stubborn. I was accused of letting cows eat a bunch of rice while walking on the dams. In fact, it was true. I assigned others to take care of it. Ta Mok believed in them. After they were arrested, Ta Mok came and met with me. Then, I asked him, what was the matter? He sent me to welcome guests at Svay [Sisophon]. I refused [the order]. He asked me why I refused to go. I said no to him. [I said] When I was there [in Takeo], you assigned me to resolve people’s issues. Now, I made the plan with you for three years. I said that within three years, I would tackle people’s issues here. If I failed, you can send me back [to Takeo]. How could you want me to change my workplace if I did not resolve those issues? If you did so, people said it was bad. After I prepared for everything, the Vietnamese came and I fled to the mountains.

Vanthan: During the regime, while you worked at the Trapeang Thma, did you ever welcome any delegation or those at the central level who came to visit here? Im: Chinese and uncle Khieu Samphan also came and visited there...Pol Pot visited occasionally, but Khieu Samphan did often.

Vanthan: Weren’t the people afraid that the upper level would persecute them? “No. They relied totally on me, except those who were taken away without my knowledge. The first time, three of my forces assigned to work at the rice mills died; the rest turned to me for help. I helped them. The second time, my forces were called to be educated in Phnom Penh, but they disappeared. I felt regret at their disappearances. People from the Southwest [Zone] and the bases kept waiting for me when they realized that I had left. They feared that I might be killed, so they waited from daytime until the end of the time they expected me to return.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia,, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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