Who Was Who in the Khmer Rouge
On April 15, 1998, Pol Pot died. His body was hastily cremated without an autopsy, and there has been some speculation that his former comrades poisoned him. He died without remorse, having declared during the past year, "My conscience is clear."
In 1997, Pol Pot was suddenly in the news again: he had reportedly arranged for the murder of his longtime comrade, Son Sen, and his relatives, accusing him of being a traitor. In an internal coup, Ta Mok retaliated against Pol Pot by usurping the Khmer Rouge leadership.
The world community began calling for the handover of Pol Pot, but in July 1997 the Khmer Rouge staged their own show trial, at which they sentenced Pol Pot to lifetime house arrest. The broadcasted trial gave the world its first glimpse of Pol Pot in nearly two decades—old, frail, and suffering from malaria.
Less than a year later, on April 15, 1998, Pol Pot died, reportedly of a heart attack. His body was hastily cremated without an autopsy, and there has been some speculation that his former comrades may have poisoned him. He died without remorse, having declared during the past year, "My conscience is clear."
Pol Pot's second-in-command and chief ideologue, Nuon Chea has been called Pol Pot's alter ego and his most trusted associate. Formulator of Cambodia as a Marxist agrarian utopia composed of a "purified" Khmer race, he is believed to have instigated many of the mass killings.
After arranging an immunity deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Nuon Chea defected with Khieu Samphan in December 1998. The Prime Minister warmly welcomed them back into mainstream Cambodian society, but after a vociferous criticism from the press, Hun Sen equivocated about whether he had in fact granted the pair immunity.
The two returned to the Khmer Rouge-controlled enclave of Pailin after taking a brief vacation at a Cambodian resort, where Nuon Chea was goaded into accounting for his crimes. He responded, "We are very sorry, not just for the human lives but also animal lives that were lost in the war." A Buddhist response perhaps, but chillingly insensitive in this context.
He became the first high-level Khmer Rouge leader to break ranks, defecting in 1996 with 3,000-4,000 former soldiers, more than half of the estimated guerillas who had remained in the jungles. Prime Minister Hun Sen granted him amnesty over the strong objections of the international community.
Ieng Sary is currently a leader of the Pailin enclave, which is a stronghold of former Khmer Rouge guerillas, and where he has grown wealthy from the logging and gem trades. Ill with heart disease, Ieng Sary is reportedly providing sanctuary for a number of top Khmer Rouge leaders, including Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, and Pol Pot's first wife, Khieu Thirith.
Son Sen had been reportedly negotiating with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was reviled by most Khmer Rouge because the Vietnamese had installed him as a puppet ruler after ousting the Khmer Rouge. Two of Son Sen's relatives had defected earlier and Pol Pot believed Son Sen was planning to follow them.
In 1991, after the Khmer Rouge had signed a U.N. peace agreement, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen returned to Phnom Pen for the first time in more than 20 years. They fled immediately after mobs attacked them.
After he came under Ta Mok's rule in 1997 (after Ta Mok's coup of Pol Pot), he and Nuon Chea negotiated safe passage and an immunity deal from Prime Minister Hun Sen and defected in December 1998. Their brief sojourn in Cambodian society was accompanied by angry mobs of Khmer Rouge victims. After being prodded at a hostile press conference, Khieu Samphan apologized for the killing fields (but did not accept personal responsibility) and urged that Cambodians "let bygones be bygones."
Ta Mok ("Ta" is equivalent to "Uncle" or "Grandfather") took over the reins of the Khmer Rouge from Pol Pot in 1997, after Pol Pot murdered Son Sen. Ta Mok then orchestrated the show trial of Pol Pot in July 1997, in an apparent bid to distance himself and the remaining Khmer Rouge followers from the brutal history of Pol Pot's regime.
A Khmer Rouge hardliner to the end, Ta Mok was captured near the Thai border on March 6, 1999, and is expected to be brought to trial in Phnom Pen within the year.