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