Who Was Who in the Khmer Rouge, Part 1

Updated October 26, 2021 | Borgna Brunner

Beyond Pol Pot and Ta Mok

This article was posted in March, 1999.

In the two decades since the regime was toppled, not a single Khmer Rouge has been tried in a court of law.

The Khmer Rouge, the radical Marxists who controlled Cambodia for four nightmarish years from 1975–79, are infamous for their state-sponsored massacre of between 1 and 2 million Cambodians. They are also known for their impunity— in the two decades since the regime was toppled, not a single Khmer Rouge has been tried in a court of law.

Pol Pot, the regime's "Brother Number 1," has become, along with Hitler and Stalin, synonymous with brutal despotism. His death from natural causes on April 15, 1998, deprived the world of a sense of justice and closure to the Khmer Rouge era.

Because neither Pol Pot nor any his followers were ever held accountable, the weight of their crimes has fallen on the last of the Khmer Rouge leaders —General Ta Mok, who was captured on March 6, 1999. Although Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has for years allowed many of the highest-ranking Khmer Rouge officials rejoin Cambodian society without as much as a slap on the wrist, it is clear he plans to exploit Ta Mok as a scapegoat, pinning the atrocities of an entire regime on him.

Hun Sen will thereby short-circuit any plans for a full Nuremberg-style accounting of war crimes. The unrepentant Ta Mok—whose name is easily pronounceable by Westerners and whose sobriquet, "The Butcher," is equally media-friendly—is a convenient rogue to pay for the sins of Marxist excess.

The press' focus on Pol Pot and Ta Mok has provided a protective cloak of obscurity over other high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders, a remarkably cohesive group who have operated together from the Khmer Rouges' ideological inception, through their four-year reign of terror, and then in the jungles where they retreated after defeat.

After the Khmer Rouges' downfall, the "Party Center" and its soldiers waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Cambodian government from the remote northwestern region of Cambodia. But by 1996, growing factionalism caused the Khmer Rouge to self-destruct, and by March of 1999, all remaining troops had at least nominally surrendered. Their leaders had either given themselves up, died, or been captured. What follow are profiles of some of the party faithful.

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