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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Autobiography of a mass murderer

Autobiography of a mass murderer

Ke Pok: "responsible for the deaths of many people" according to PM Hun Sen.

O

n Feb 15 Ke Pok, who held the rank of Brigadier-General in the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces since his defection from the Khmer Rouge in 1998, died in Anlong Veng

as a result of complications from liver disease. He had suffered a stroke the previous

week and, after returning from a hospital in Surin, Thailand, died in a town in which

he had passed most of the 90s fighting against the government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in anouncing Pok's death during a ceremony for the new bridge

in Kampong Cham, said: "It is sorrowful that Ke Pok died before the [Khmer Rouge]

trial. Ke Pok was responsible for the deaths of many people in this area."

Pok's death means that the list of those who might be prosecuted for crimes against

humanity during the period the Khmer Rouge were in power now shrinks by one. He was

among those listed in a report "Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability

for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge," written by Steve Heder and Brian Tittemore

and published in July, 2001. Pok called the report "fiction" when presented

with its findings.

The Post recently obtained a copy of an autobiography written by Ke Pok, describing

his near 50-year involvement with "the movement". It is instructive not

only for the level of intimacy Pok had with senior Khmer Rouge cadre - information

on which he can no longer be questioned - but also for the holes it leaves in describing

his direct involvement with the murderous organization he supported for so long.

The following is excerpted from the document.

I joined the struggle in 1949 during the Issarak era. At the time of the Geneva Agreements,

I quit the struggle and returned home. I remained at home until 1957, when Sieu Heng,

the party secretary, came to re-establish contact with me.

In 1957, I rejoined the struggle and joined the party in Khum Svay Tiep, Srok Chamkar

Leou. Tiep, the district secretary, sponsored my entry. But the party then was still

connected with the Yuon.

In 1958, after I joined the party, they had me return to conduct activities in Srok

Chamkar Leou, the district of my birth.

During late 1958, Sieu Heng and Pen Yut committed treason [against the party]. When

party secretary Sieu Heng betrayed [the party], contact between the countryside and

the city (Phnom Penh) was cut off.

In 1959, Tou Samuth rose to become party secretary. At that time Tou Samuth had been

disguising himself as a laborer. Then Sieu Heng betrayed (him) and told the government

security agents to arrest and murder Tou Samuth.

It was in 1963 before the countryside and Phnom Penh were re-connected. Then Phnom

Penh contacted my base [area]. Cadres named Samy - Son - Sovann came from Kampong

Cham to contact me.

In late 1964, Koy Thoun arrived and arranged a region (dambon) conference. It was

held in Sangkat Koki Thom. The conference appointed Koy Thuon as secretary. Individuals

under his command included Yong, Sath, etc. Sometime later, there was a dispute between

them, and they found a method to destroy Yong, and Koy Thuon was responsible; that

was in 1967.

By mid 1967, the zone [phumipheak] committee was organized with Koy Thuon as secretary,

myself as deputy secretary, and Deuan, Brang and Thaong Sam-ath as members. At that

time Brother Nuon went to organize in the middle of Prey Chhor town.

In 1970, Lon Nol released a number of red forces from prison. I assembled these forces

to build them; there was Chon, Tol, Khan, Phy, [illegible].

At the time of the 1970 coup, I was in Srok Chamkar Leou organizing the army there...

After I had finished organizing the forces above, in July 1970 upper echelon assigned

me to Siem Reap. Before I went, I organized a force of 60 to precede me and organize

village and commune authorities in Siem Reap. In early 1972, the Zone and the Center

ordered me back to Kampong Cham. I became the deputy zone commander and chairman

of the zone militia forces.

In February 1972, the Center had me cooperate with the Center force called Unit 39,

led by Brother Khieu, to attack and sweep the enemy around Kampong Thom.

In April 73, I went to meet Samdech Sihanouk at Angkor, then returned to attack Kampong

Thom.

In July 73, I organized forces to move toward highway 6; move in in segments, like

the Bakhom-Cheung Prey segment, the section from Skuon to Prek Kdam. At that time

the Center held a general conference; there was a plan to attack and sweep highway

6 from Prek Kdam all the way to Skuon, Tang Kouk, Kong Meas, Prey Chhor. We attacked

and swept it clean.

Those targets of mine were penetrated, but others were not. We controlled these sections

of highway 5 for half a month. Upper echelon decided to attack Udong again. But I

could not successfully take Udong, and [illegible] a boat with Brother Khieu to attack

highway 4, cooperating with Southwestern forces. As highway 4 was nearly liberated,

Special Zone forces surrendered to the enemy and led the enemy to retake it. Then

we turned to attack and seize Udong. We controlled it for a period. The contemptible

80th division from Phnom Penh came to attack and retake Udong. We counterattacked

and smashed them, and seized tanks, artillery, and a hundred tons of munitions.

After we broke the 80th division, Koy Thuon allowed the enemy to take highway 6 from

Siem Reap to Chikreng. Then the Center held a conference in July 74 and decided to

move me back to Siem Reap to defend Angkor. I resigned from my position of chief

of military staff of the zone, in order to defend Angkor at all costs, and let Koy

Thuon take command of my forces that attacked Phnom Penh.

After the whole country was liberated, the Center decided to remove Koy Thuon and

make him Minister of Economy and Trade. The Center took all the zone forces, leaving

only one division, Division 312. It was decided to send me back to Kampong Cham to

be responsible for policy, military, and economics, and to control the rubber plantations

as well. When I was back in Kampong Cham, Siem Reap and Uddor Mean Chey were broken

off into Dambon 35, led directly by the Center. The Central Zone was only western

Kampong Cham , Kampong Thom, western Kracheh, and the other bank of Muk Kampul. From

then on, the Center organized it as the Central Zone. I was the committee secretary

of this Central Zone, Sreng was the deputy, Tul a member, and Chon a member. Koy

Thuon and Deuan were already in Phnom Penh.

In the month of [blank] 75, the Center held a meeting in Phnom Penh to arrange a

change in policy. The line of national democratic revolution was finished, and it

was decided to organize the new line of socialist revolution.

When I returned, I organized a total of 500 cadres for the central zone conference

in Kampong Cham city. There were discussions. There were discussions about the removal

of the people from the city. (Only discussions, but the people had already been removed.)

I presented the opinion that it was enough only to remove [the old government] officials

and employees. The people should remain, and we would organize state authorities

to govern. But there was the opinion that only going that far was like simply changing

horses.

After the new policy line was broadcast, that is socialist revolution, [illegible]

in 1976 the Center held another meeting at Vihear Preah Keo. This was the four year

plan meeting. The essence of this four year plan was unanimously agreed to at the

meeting. The two important points were: Defend the country at all cost, don't let

the Yuon take it -2- Build the country quickly in a great and miraculous leap.

When the Center had decided these two plans, cooperatives had to be organized along

the experience of the five year war. The meeting totally agreed to organize this

line. For the cooperatives, 100 families would eat together. It was said this was

necessary so that there could be the army to defend the country, and the forces to

build the country and the dams and canals.

At this same time, a plan was organized to print currency. But after we had withdrawn

the markets it was decided not to use money.

From then on, the national defense [ministry] organized the forces to be sent to

the border. The [illegible] organized the cooperatives.

In early 1977, events happened continuously, and suddenly information was coming

out of Phnom Penh. That is I saw a document as thick as a finger, and in it was a

section blacked out so I could not read it. When I looked at the blacked out part

I saw the name of Koy Thuon. When I saw this I called the zone committee, including

Sreng, Tul, Sei, and told them not to say anything and be careful for their lives.

A little later, there were orders from Phnom Penh to arrest Hos (accused of being

a [traitor]), and to arrest Achar Vaen, a former monk from Phnom Penh who had been

built [trained] by Von Vet. At that time Achar Vaen was the secretary of Prek Prasob

district. Later he was the dambon secretary.

With the Khmer Rouge leadership in disarray in early 1998, Ke Pok "mutinied" against Ta Mok, who had earlier arrested Pol Pot. Pok defected to the government and (above) greeted Hun Sen on April 29, 1998 in his new RCAF uniform.

After Achar Vaen and Hos were arrested, and they had gotten interrogation reports

from Hos and Ven, there was a document from Koy Thuon that was sent to me by Phnom

Penh. At the time I was holding a conference for Dambons 41 and 42.

During the Dambon 41 conference, a nirasa from Phnom Penh came and had me prepare

my belongings for a trip to various places. [illegible] Phnom Penh, I met Pol Pot

and Brother Nuon Chea. Pol Pot and Nuon Chea showed me documents from all the dambons

and ministries. The accusations [chamlaeuy] were clear ... At that time Brother Khieu

was the security chairman and Duch was [with him].

Seeing this, I had to solve the [zonal] ministries, but the ministries were connected

to me. I said "This is difficult to say, because all these friends have lived

and died together. But if the Angkar leadership has already decided, I don't know

what to do." Some of these persons [illegible - possibly "served"

"me"] since 1968, but it was said they were CIA. I did not know what to

say, and said "I just knew to send them to upper echelon".

In February 77, a security vehicle from Phnom Penh came to arrest the ministry secretaries,

including the ministers of agriculture, industry, commerce, and public works. As

for the chairman of rubber plantations, I did not allow let them solve him, since

I considered him as a father. I let upper echelon call him to Phnom Penh personally

[individually?]. He was Ta Sath, and he did not go, he fled to the forests.

Also during 77, a security vehicle from Phnom Penh came and arrested 5 or 6 people

from the Dambon 41 committee, 5 or 6 from the Dambon 42 committees, and 5 or 6 from

Dambon 43. After the Dambon committee members were all arrested, they arrested the

heads of the dambon level ministries, since each dambon had its own ministries.

A little later, a security vehicle came from Phnom Penh to arrest the zone military

staff committee.

In summary, the dambon and ministry cadres totaled 50 to 60 persons.

A little later, in May 77, a security vehicle from Phnom Penh came to arrest the

district committees as well, two or 3 from each and every district. And then they

arrested some commune chiefs (not from all communes).

By June 77, the first round of arrests was complete. Then there was only me left.

My inspection of the Central zone showed there were no cadre left. Upper echelon

decided to move in cadre from the Southwest. Upper echelon brought in over 200 Southwestern

cadre, with Kong Chap as the number one. [They/he worked?] in the sports stadium

[pahu keilathan]. Then upper echelon organized the Central Zone and Dambon 35 into

a new Northern Zone, with me as secretary and Kong Chap as deputy. Ta An was a [zone

committee] member.

After running the zone committee for a while, reports [chamlaeuy] from Kampot that

said that Kong Chap's cadres must be arrested. They took one string of Kong Chap's

cadres back to Phnom Penh. Where they went from there I don't know.

From then on, the new Northern Zone was broken in two: Kong Chap took Siem Reap,

Uddor Mean Chey went directly under the Center. I went back to the Central Zone again.

As for the cadres from the Southwest that came to the Central Zone, those that were

not implicated in the interrogation reports [chamlaeuy] remained. Those that were

implicated were withdrawn to Phnom Penh. But these people were seen alive after the

Yuon came in.

Let me explain that [illegible sentence]. It was these people who damaged [pas-paol]

the masses [?] Chinese. For example there was a cadre named Ty from Kampot who came

to be secretary of Baray district. He ordered the arrest of more than 70 people from

Bak Snaa. He claimed they were bandits. When I went to look, I saw that they were

my guides from the resistance era. I asked them and they said they just kept arresting

people, they did not know what to do. I had Ty release them all. I arranged food

and held a meeting in Bak Snaa to celebrate.

Another example: The secretary of Sandan District also came from the Southwest. He

abused the people very strongly, burned them in ovens.

In general, bad cadres from the Southwest had a very bad impact on my base.

It was that time, that as I told Brother Khieu in 79 that I was [illegible ] because

they ruined my base cadre. Since 78 I informally told Brother Ieng Sary (But I did

not dare speak [of this] with Pol Pot) that it was bad that we acted like this. When

we had problems we solved them [illegible]. Ieng Sary said that he did not know what

to do, and that there had been those same problems during the great cultural revolution

in China.

Again, I understand that Pol Pot was wrong since, from 1975 when in 1975 he changed

to the new political line [meakea], the people had no rice, there was no foreign

aid, the cooperatives impacted [our] forces.

One day they were ready to harm me. At that time Ta An came. It was at the 1 January

Dam [tumnup 1 meakara]. At that time the contemptible Pong was also at the 1 January

dam. When it was time to return, the contemptible Pong had me ride in his vehicle.

He used a krama to cover the window. I asked why he was doing that. The contemptible

Pong said it was so they would not recognize [me/us]. I felt uncomfortable [illegible]

gun [illegible] me. At Skuon [I] got out of the vehicle to urinate. Suddenly guards

came and surrounded [illegible] buffalo boy [khmeing krabei]. I asked the contemptible

Pong again "Why do you do that? It is bad to do that." Then he asked me,

"Are there any guards from Skuon to Prek Kdam?" I said there were guards

all along the way. Continuing on from Skuon I saw there were soldiers all along the

road. So then he [A Pong] did not dare do anything. When we reached Phnom Penh, he

took me across [illegible phrase] many steps ["charoen choan"]. I thought

"Now I am going to die." But he took me to Pol Pot... I raised this matter

with Pol Pot, but Pol Pot said nothing.

When the 5th general conference opened at the assembly building [illegible] before

the Yuon came, [illegible sentence - at the ? meeting suddenly ? then / said a boat

floating ? went to look and saw only ?]. The conference closed. When it closed Pol

Pot told me to stay behind, and wait to see a movie I wondered about this, and went

to sleep in the Center's place. Suddenly at 1:00 PM, they arrested Ta Keu and Von

Vet. And Pol Pot asked "Did you see the movie?" I imagined a real movie,

but the movie was the arrest of Keu and Von Vet. They accused Von Vet that he got

along with the Chinese and with the Yuon as well, and was preparing to be the prime

minister.

When the Yuon came, and [I] was at the border... Pol Pot still led. But Pol Pot's

changing attitude that [illegible] from 84-85 continuously on. As for me, he called

me like [he] was to have me stop at once.

In 84 I was in Koh Kong, I was sent to Koh Kong for one month. One day Pol Pot's

nirasa came to call me to meet Pol Pot. Pol Pot asked me "Do you have a problem?"

I said no problem, only hear that [illegible]. It is only me alone in the north.

But since the Yuon came, [illegible] it is quiet. And he said to me that if [I] wanted

to join the election for the assembly in the future, I should buy a rice mill and

process the rice cheaply so that the people would vote for me.

The last time Pol Pot called me to join in a meeting to organize [illegible]. Then

I asked Mit Yan to meet Pol Pot. When I met Pol Pot [he] gave me 10,000 Baht. After

that I never met him again.

 

 

Reading

between the lines

 

Western scholars have been following the trail of Ke Pok for years, especially

his involvement in various purges that took place during the 75-78 DK era and his

role in mass executions.

When Steve Heder interviewed Pok in Feb 2001 and confronted him with documentary

evidence of his complicity in the East Zone killings in 1978, he replied: "Can

I please not look at it? This stuff gives me a headache whenever I'm reminded of

it."

Pok had good reason to have headaches. Ben Kiernan, in a Feb 21, 2002 article in

The Guardian, wrote "In May 1978, in concert with Mok's forces and Pol Pot's

centre units, Pauk's northern troops began slaughtering the suspect eastern zone

administration and population. In the largest mass murder in Cambodian history, they

murdered more than 100,000 easterners in late 1978."

Ironically, scholars say, Pok himself was on the purge list in late 1978, only six

months after he had helped purge the East.

After reviewing Pok's autobiography, Craig Etcheson wrote:

"In his retelling of events, he is at pains to minimize the extent of his

authority. That is most disingenuous. He purged the Chams in 1976, led purges of

the Northern and Central Zones in 1977, and of the Eastern Zone in 1978. He claims

that Pol Pot did not trust him, but Pol Pot trusted him enough to assign him to kill

untold numbers of people. You would scarcely know from a light reading of his biography,

but virtually his entire career during the Democratic Kampuchea regime seemed to

be focused on killing people.

"He claims his view in 1975 was that it was 'enough only to remove officials

and employees [but that] the people should remain'. Evidently he later changed that

view. The city people did not remain, either in the city, or alive at all, for that

matter.

"A lot of what he says about the influx of Southwestern Zone cadre to the Northern

Zone and the purges there in 1977 has the ring of truth. His sense of rivalry with

and resentment of Koy Thuon comes through very clearly. He had already thoroughly

infiltrated Thuon's Northern Zone by putting his relatives in positions of authority.

His description of the purge of the Northern Zone after the arrest of Koy Thuon in

the second half of 1977 also reveals his key role. And a bit later in 1977, of a

second round of Northern Zone purges, he says 'Kong Chap's cadres must be arrested.'

As Zone Chairman at that time, he was in charge of security. So it was actually him

who orchestrated this purge.

"Despite his attempt to depict the purges as something beyond his control, he

admits his decisive role in the 1977 purges of the Central Zone. After meeting with

Pol Pot and Nuon Chea and reviewing the 'accusations' against people there, he says,

'I had to solve the ministries.' He says 'I just knew to send them to upper echelon.'

He reveals what is meant by 'solving' in his description of one exception he made

to purge orders, the case of Ta Sath, who he allowed to escape when Santebal agents

came from Phnom Penh to collect five of his senior officials. 'I did not allow let

them solve him,' he says of Sath. The use of this euphemism is unintentionally revealing.

Killing is the solution."

How and with what evidence any potential prosecutor would have dealt with Ke Pok

is now a moot point. However, any testimony he might have given would no doubt have

been interesting, especially as he told Steve Heder back in Feb 2001: "I will

do and say anything that Samdech Hun Sen has me do or say, and won't do or say anything

he doesn't allow me to do or say."

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