Heng Samrin_Small.jpg (42768 bytes)Heng Samrin was born in 1934 in Prey Veng province. He was little known until his installation as the president of the National United Front for National Salvation by the Vietnamese in whose name the Vietnamese used to justified its invasion of Cambodia in December 1978. Between 1976-1978, Heng Sarin served as political commissar and commander of Democratic Kampuchea’s fourth division stationed in the eastern zone. In May 1978, he was involved in a failed rebellion against Pol Pot’s leadership and fled to Vietnam to escape political purge.

Heng Samrin entered Cambodia with the Vietnamese invading forces and was appointed the president of the State Council and Secretary General of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea and served in that capacity until 1989. However, Heng Samrin did not have a strong power base consequently leading to the erosion of his power as the political climate in Cambodia changed. With anticipation of a comprehensive political settlement, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea transformed itself into the Cambodian People’s Party with Chea Sim as president and Hun Sen as vice president. Heng Samrin was then given a new ceremonial title of Honorary President.


Ranariddh_HunSen_Small.jpg (13328 bytes)Hun Sen (on the right) was born in 1952 into a peasant family in Kampong Cham province. As a teenager, Hun Sen joined the communist resistance, as he repeatedly mentions, in response to King Sihanouk’s appeal. After the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975, he became a regimental leader in the Eastern Zone. As the violent purge against eastern zone cadres intensified, Hun Sen, along with other zone leaders, fled to Vietnam.

In January 1979, Hun Sen returned to Cambodia alongside the invading Vietnamese soldiers and rose rapidly within the ranks of the leadership in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. He was appointed foreign minister in 1979 and prime minister in 1985. His role in the Cambodian People’s Party became even more prominent during the negotiation process leading to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements, when he served as the chief negotiator for the People’s Republic of Kampuchea and the State of Cambodia.

Although his party, the Cambodian People’s Party, lost the 1993 U.N elections, he was able to put pressure on the victorious party, the FUNCINPEC party, to share power, an arrangement in which his party had an upper hand. Although he served as the Second Prime Minister he was the de facto leader of Cambodia. From 1995, Hun Sen’s relations with Prince Norodom Ranariddh were extremely cool, leading eventually to fierce fighting in July 1997 during which Prince Ranariddh was overthrown in a coup d’etat. Since the 1998 elections, Hun Sen became the Prime Minister of Cambodia.


Ieng Mouly.jpg (7866 bytes)Ieng Mouly was vice president of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party. Upon the establishment of the coalition government in 1993, Ieng Mouly became the Minister of Information. Political splits within BLDP led Mouly to challenge Son Sann’s leadership by holding his own congress and attempting to get himself elected as the president of BLDP. But his attempt did not succeed. He then formed his owned political party called Buddhist Liberal Party and led this party to contest the 1998 general elections -- without any success.



IengSary_Small.jpg (6730 bytes)Ieng Sary was a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and was a deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1978. Like Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan, he won a government scholarship to study in France in 1950 and was drawn into communism. A few years after his return from France in the mid-1950s, Ieng Sary was engaged in clandestine revolutionary activities and worked as a schoolteacher. Facing intense crackdown on communists by the Sihanouk regime, in 1963, Ieng Sary, along with Pol Pot, left Phnom Penh for the remote jungle in the Eastern Cambodia.

He escaped to the Thai border after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 and continued to serve as the Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister in charge of foreign affairs. Ieng Sary transferred formal responsibility in foreign affairs to Khieu Samphan after the creation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in 1982. Although he did not hold any formal position within the Khmer Rouge leadership, Ieng Sary was a very powerful figure within the Khmer Rouge as he secured a personal command in Pailin, a gem and timber rich Khmer Rouge stronghold in western Cambodia.

As rifts within the Khmer Rouge intensified as a result of its failure to advance militarily after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 and the drying up of Chinese aid, Ieng Sary defected to the government in 1996 along with the forces he commanded. He was soon pardoned by King Norodom Sihanouk from the death sentenced passed on him in absentia in 1979 by the Vietnamese backed government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. Although Ieng Sary holds no official position, he is believed to be the de facto leader of this autonomous region.


Samphan_Sihanouk_Small.jpg (14321 bytes)Khieu Samphan (on the left) is believed to have been born in 1931 in Svay Rieng province. Because of his intelligence and hard work, Samphan won a government scholarship to study in France where like many other Cambodian students, he was drawn into Marxism. He earned a doctorate in economics for thesis on Cambodia’s economy. He was elected to the National Assembly twice, in 1962 and again 1964, and served one time in the Sihanouk’s cabinet. Khieu Samphan achieved a reputation as "Mr. Clean" because of his incorruptibility.

Facing intensely increased suppression by Sihanouk against the leftists, Khieu Samphan fled Phnom Penh to join Pol Pot in the jungle. He did not make public appearances until 1973 and during this period he was believed to have been killed by Sihanouk’s secret police. After the Khmer Rouge seizure of power in 1975, Khieu Samphan succeeded Sihanouk as the head of state. Since then he played a crucial role as the spokesperson for the Khmer Rouge, and thus his reputation is slightly better than of Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and other Khmer Rouge leaders. When the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea was created in 1982, Khieu Samphan became its vice president in charge of foreign affairs. Khieu Samphan represented the Khmer Rouge in peace negotiations leading to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 and served as Khmer Rouge representative to the Supreme National Council.

Like many other top Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan is now living in Pailin under the control of the Khmer Rouge forces loyal to his brother-in-law and former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary.


LonNol_Small.jpg (10825 bytes)Lon Nol was born on November 13, 1913 in Prey Veng province. He was a long time social servant first under the French colonial administration and later under Sihanouk. Because of his loyalty to Sihanouk, Lon Nol was assigned various important portfolios within the Sihanouk regime, including chief of police, governor, command-in-chief and minister of defense and prime minister twice from 1966 to 1967 and again in 1969.

In 1970, as Prince Sihanouk’s hold on power began to slip, Lon Nol with hesitation, collaborated with Prince Sisovath Sirik Matak to overthrow Sihanouk in a coup d’etat, abolishing the monarchy and declaring Cambodia a republic with himself as the president. Lon Nol proved to be an incompetent leader who made decisions based on mystical beliefs rather sound judgment when faced with stiff challenges from Vietnamese forces and Khmer Rouge. His government was ripe with corruption. In 1971, Lon Nol suffered a serious stroke. His regime was sustained by massive US military assistance and a long-term bombing campaign. He went into exile in Hawaii just days before the Khmer Rouge soldiers entered Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. Lon Nol lived there until 1979 and then moved to California where he died in November, 1985.


Sihanouk_Small.jpg (22136 bytes)Norodom Sihanouk was crowned king at the age of 18 by the French colonial authorities who thought that the young Sihanouk would make a tractable monarch. This judgment was proven wrong when Sihanouk later challenged the French to grant Cambodia independence in 1953. Since then, Sihanouk has played a central role in Cambodian politics, achieving both fame and blame for the fate of Cambodians as the country achieved peace and tranquility in the 1950s and 1960s and plunged into great tragedy in the 1970s.

In 1955, in order to release himself from royal ceremonial duties and in order to enter politics as a private citizen, King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated the throne. He then set up a political movement called Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People’s Socialist Community) that coopted all sectors of society. Through Sangkum, Sihanouk ruled Cambodia singlehandedly. He proclaimed himself to be the father of Cambodia in all fields and he referred to Cambodians as his children. With global geopolitical shift, Prince Sihanouk lost his political balance and was finally disposed by his own Prime Minister General Lon Nol in March 1970.

After he was overthrown, Sihanouk formed a government in exile called the Royal Government of National Union that included the Khmer Rouge. In actuality, the Khmer Rouge was in full control of the coalition and used Sihanouk to advance its course. When the Khmer Rouge seized power on April 17, 1975 in the name of the Royal Government of National Union, Sihanouk served as the head of state. He resigned the post in 1976 and was placed under house arrest at the Royal Palace by the Khmer Rouge. When the Vietnamese invade Cambodia in 1979, Sihanouk once again lived in exile. In 1980, he founded a political party, known by its French acronym, FUNCINPEC (National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, and Peaceful Cambodia), to fight against the Vietnamese occupying forces and the Vietnamese backed regime. His political force joined Son San’s Khmer People’s National Liberation Front and the Khmer Rouge to form the Coalition government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) with himself as the president.

In 1987, Sihanouk began to negotiate with Hun Sen for a solution to the Cambodian conflict, that lead to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement and paved the way for the 1993 United Nations sponsored elections. On September 1993, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was once again crowned King -- but this time one who reigns but does not rule. Since the 1993, Sihanouk has been sincere in attempting to lift Cambodia out of its past tragedy. However, Sihanouk’s role in Cambodian politics has been limited by his poor health and old age and continuing political conflicts. Despite these problems, Sihanouk has played a leading role in defusing political tensions in the Kingdom and mediating conflict between his son Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Sihanouk remains the symbol of national unity, a political icon with great dignity that commands respect from the majority of Cambodians.

NumChea.jpg (14233 bytes)Nuon Chea was born in 1925. He was deputy secretary of the Central Committee and a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. He was also believed to be Pol Pot’s right hand man. In this capacity, Nuon Chea played a critical role in initiation and implementation of policies of the government of Democratic Kampuchea. Recent archival research revealed that Nun Chea played a critical role in the purges during the DK period through the authorization of detention or execution of Khmer Rouge "enemies." He is now living freely in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in Northwestern Cambodia along the Thai-Cambodian border that is an autonomous region.


Pol Pot_Small.jpg (51452 bytes)Pol Pot was born in 1925 into a relatively prosperous farming family in Kampong Thom province in central Cambodia. As a young boy, he was sent to Phnom Penh to be raised by a cousin who was a member of the royal ballet. From his privileged background, Saloth Sar was able to enroll in the prestigious College Sihanouk in Kampong Cham. He was later given a scholarship by Sihanouk to study electronics in Paris. In Paris, Saloth Sar was drawn into Marxism and became a communist.

From 1954 to 1962, as an underground communist activist, Sar worked as a school teacher and was very popular among his students. In 1963, for fear of Sihanouk’s police, Sar, along with some of his closest comrades, left Phnom Penh for the jungle in eastern Cambodia. In 1970, he moved his base to Kampong Thom where he first began experimenting in radical revolution. His forces, known as the Khmer Rouge, fought a civil war against the US-backed Lon Nol government for the next five years. The Khmer Rouge force captured Phnom Penh in April 1975; then evacuated the city and began a radical revolutionary experiment. Under Pol Pot leadership, the Khmer Rouge are responsible for the death of over a million and a half Cambodians, and the near total destruction of Cambodia’s social, economic, and cultural foundations.polpot2_Small.jpg (6048 bytes)

After the Vietnamese invasion in 1978, Pol Pot and the remnants of the Khmer Rouge forces escaped to the Thai border where, with support from ASEAN and China, they set up resistance against the Vietnamese troops and the Vietnamese backed government in Phnom Penh. Throughout the 1980s and the first half of 1990s, Pol Pot continued to exercise leadership over the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces. He is believed to play a crucial role in influencing the movement to participate in the negotiation leading to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement and also to the subsequently boycott of the peace process and the elections supervised by UNTAC.

Failure of the Khmer Rouge make significant military advance against the post-1993 coalition government led to deep division within the Khmer Rouge ranks. This power struggle led to the demise of Pol Pot in 1997 when he was arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment by a "people’s tribunal." In April 1998, Pol Pot died in the remote jungle of Cambodia of an apparent heart attack and his body was "burned like old rubbish."

Prince Chakrapong.jpg (6847 bytes)Prince Norodom Chakrapong is a son of King Norodom Sihanouk. Prince Chakrapong entered the resistant movement with FUNCINPEC in the 1980s and became its military commander. Dissatisfied with FUNCINPEC’s new leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whom he criticized for his pursuit of wealth by any means, Chakrapong defected from the party and joined the CPP in 1992, becoming a politburo member and deputy prime minister in Hun Sen’s government.

When the CPP lost the 1993 United Nations sponsored elections, Chakrapong along with Sin Song allegedly orchestrated a secessionist movement in Eastern Cambodia to put pressure on FUNCINPEC to share power with the CPP. The tactic worked, resulting in a power arrangement in which the new government was headed by two prime ministers, first and second, whereas the government portfolios at the central and provincial levels were divided among the three major parties—the CPP, FUNCINPEC and the BLDP. In 1994, Chakrapong, along with other senior CPP military and security officials, organized an aborted coup to overthrow the government of Hun Sen and Ranariddh. He was arrested and sent into exile. He returned to Cambodia after the 1998 political deal between the CPP and FUNCINPEC and now is engaging in private business.


NorodomRanariddh_Small.jpg (42371 bytes)Prince Norodom Ranariddh was born in 1944 and is the eldest son of King Norodom Sihanouk. He obtained a doctoral degree in Public International Law at the University of Aix-en-Provence and then joined the faculty from 1976 to 1983. He quit his job to become actively involved in Cambodian politics. When Sihanouk became the Chairman of the Supreme National Council in 1991, Prince Rannariddh succeeded his father to become the president of the royalist FUNCINPEC party.

In 1993 after his party won the plurality of votes in the UN sponsored elections, he served as the first Prime Minister in a coalition government with Hun Sen as Second Prime Minister. He was ousted by Hun Sen, his junior partner, in a violent coup d’etat in July 1997 and was forced into exile. With active intervention from the international community and from his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, Prince Ranariddh was allowed to return to Cambodia and participate in the 1998 elections. Since then, he has served as the Chairman of the National Assembly and his party once again joined the Cambodia People’s Party to form a coalition.



Prince Norodom Sirivudh is a half-brother of King Norodom Sihanouk and a popular and prominent leader of FUNCINPEC. After the 1993 elections, he served as deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs. In 1995, the prince was arrested by then second prime minister Hun Sen on charges of attempting to assassinate him. With active intervention from King Norodom Sihanouk, the prince was sent into exile in France later that year. He was allowed to return to Cambodia after the 1998 agreement between FUNCINPEC and the CPP. In an effort to restructure and strengthen FUNCINPEC after years of factionalism, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, because of his popularity, was appointed by FUNCINPEC as its Secretary General in 2001. The prince is also Supreme Privy Council to his Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.


Sam Rainsy.jpg (6201 bytes)Sam Rainsy is a Khmer returnee from France where he was educated and worked as an investment banker. After the 1993 United Nations sponsored elections, he became FUNCINPEC’s minister of finance. As a minister, he attempted to transform the financial institutions in Cambodia and was committed to fight corruption and to increase government revenues. Because of his strong commitment against corrupt practices, Rainsy’s popularity rose, making him one of the best-known politicians in Cambodia. His strong stance against the existing establishment earned him many enemies both within his own political party and beyond. As a result, Rainsy was dismissed from his post as minister of finance in 1994, and from the National Assembly in 1995, by his party boss Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Sam Rainsy started his own political party called the Khmer Nation Party, despite the fact that there has been no law on the establishment of new political parties since the promulgation of the National Assembly in 1993. The government did not recognize this political party and thus its members were harassed by the authorities at all levels. It was internal factionalism that brought an end to the Khmer Nation Party. In the run up to the 1998 general elections, Sam Rainsy launched another political party named after himself, the Sam Rainsy Party. The Sam Rainsy Party ran on a platform of nationalism, of anti-corruption, and of fighting for justice for the poor and powerless. The Sam Rainsy Party won 14 of the 120 seats at National Assembly.


Sin Song was a senior CPP official and former minister of interior of the government of the State of Cambodia. Sin Song was actively involved in the political violence and intimidation against members of opposition parties during the 1993 United Nations sponsored elections. After the CPP lost the elections, Sin Song along with Prince Chakrapong allegedly organized a succession movement in eastern Cambodia to put pressure on FUNCINPEC to share power. In 1994, he and other senior CPP military and security officers led an aborted coup to overthrow the Ranariddh and Hun Sen coalition government. He then fled the country. He was convicted to absentia and was pardoned by King Sihanouk in 1998. He returned to Cambodia and died in 2000 of diabetes.


SonSann.jpg (6014 bytes)Son Sann was born in 1911 in Southern Vietnam. He was educated in France where he received a degree in commerce from the School for Advanced Commercial Studies. Upon completion of his education in 1933, Son Sann served in numerous positions under the French colonial rule and under Sihanouk regime including governor of the Cambodia’s National Bank, minister of finance, and prime minister. A veteran politician, Son Sann was regarded by many Cambodians as a true nationalist and a man of dignity and high intelligence. After Sihanouk was overthrown in 1970 by General Lon Nol, Son Sann left Cambodia and settled in Paris.

In 1980, Son Sann set up an anti-communist resistance movement, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF) in opposition to the Vietnamese occupying forces and its satellite government, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. The KPNLF joined the royalist FUNCINPEC and the Khmer Rouge to form a Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. Son Sann served as the prime minister of this government in exile. Prior to the 1993 supervised elections, Son San transformed KPNLF into the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party. This party won 10 seats out of a total 120 seats in the 1993 general elections. Son Sann served briefly as the Chairman of the National Assembly during which time he was actively involved in the supervision of the drafting of the new constitution. By the end of 1993 he retired from public life.

Son Sann died in 2000. The end of his life was marked with frustration when his attempts to introduce democratic pluralism to Cambodia were unsuccessful, and his political party was weakened and then disintegrated by factionalism. His subsequent political party, known as the Son Sann Party, failed to capture a single seat in the 1998 elections.


Son Sen.jpg (15319 bytes)Son Sen, like other members of the Khmer Rouge inner circle, was educated in Paris in the 1950s where he was drawn into communism. Upon his return from France, Son Sen, while working as director of studies at the National Teaching Institute, played a leading role in the clandestine activities of Communist Party of Kampuchea. Fearing Prince Sihanouk’s secret police, Son Sen fled Phnom Penh to the jungle and became Khmer Rouge chief of staff. During Democratic Kampuchea, he served as minister of defense and deputy prime minister. Recent archival research revealed that Son Sen was directly involved in the Khmer Rouge murderous activities and the radical policies that led to the deaths of over a million and a half Cambodians. He was relieved of his official duties in May 1992 because he advocated the idea of participating in the peace process outlined in the Peace Paris Agreements, but was latter reinstated. He, along with his nine children and grandchildren, were murdered in June 1997 by Pol Pot for intending to negotiate with the government.


Tamok.jpg (5908 bytes)Ta Mok, meaning "grandfather" Mok, is an alias for one of the most notorious Khmer Rouge military commanders, Chhit Choeun. Ta Mok is also known as "the butcher" for his role in the violent political purges during the Khmer Rouge rule between 1975-1978 when he served as the party secretary-general of the southwestern zone.

After the Khmer Rouge’s defeat by the Vietnamese forces in 1979, Ta Mok became the vice-chairman of the supreme commission of the national army of Democratic Kampuchea with his base at Along Veng in the northern part of Cambodia along the Thai border. In the 1990s, Ta Mok became very influential within the Khmer Rouge leadership because he commanded a large number of troops, roughly 70 percent of the Khmer Rouge army.

Suffering from factionalism and defection, Ta Mok’s stronghold at Along Veng was captured by the government forces in 1998 and he was driven deeper into the jungle. He was captured in 1999 and now is in jail awaiting trial on charges of genocide.

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