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Comment: Ieng Sary's role in the Pol Pot Regime

YALE University's Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) and the new Cambodian NGO, the

Documentation Center of Cambodia, are preparing a translation of a secret diary of

the Khmer Rouge (KR) Foreign Ministry under Ieng Sary from 1975 to 1979. The translation

is to appear in a bilingual Khmer and English edition. Initial excerpts from the

diary will soon be posted on the CGP Website (

This anonymous diary was discovered in early 1979 by a Cambodian returning to Phnom

Penh from the countryside, who found it and a number of other documents in a house

apparently vacated by Ieng Sary during the collapse of the Democratic Kampuchea regime

headed by Sary's brother-in-law, Pol Pot. The finder allowed me to copy this small

archive, which included confidential minutes of 1975-76 meetings of the Standing

Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), of

which Ieng Sary was a leading member. The minutes appear to have been Ieng Sary's

personal copies. (For a listing, see Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, Yale University

Press, 1996, p. 324 n.60, and the CGP's Cambodian Genocide Bibliographic Database.)

The author of the dairy is unnamed. But a reading suggests that it must have been

a trusted senior aide to Ieng Sary. It is Ieng Sary's revolutionary pseudonym, 'Van,'

which appears frequently in the diary, followed by comments attributed to him. Very

likely, the major part of the text is a summary record of speeches and documents

prepared or distributed by Ieng Sary.

For instance, the following speech, recorded in the diary as having been made at

a congress of Party cells of the Foreign Ministry on 18 January 1977, was probably

delivered by Ieng Sary or in his presence:

"1976 was key year. Our enemies are now weakening and are going to die. The

revolution has pulled out their roots, and the espionage networks have been smashed;

in terms of classes, our enemies are all gone. However, they still have the American

imperialists, the revisionists, the KGB, and Vietnam. Though they have been defeated,

they still go on. Another thing is that the enemies are on our body, among the military,

the workers, in the cooperatives and even in our ranks. To make Socialist Revolution

deeply and strongly, these enemies must be progressively wiped out." (p. 126

of the text)

The text is handwritten, often in shorthand and abbreviated form on 152 double-pages

of a blank diary printed by the Lon Nol era Societe Khmere des Distilleries. An initial

section appears to be missing. The first handwritten date is 21 May 1976 (on page

7), and the last, 5 January 1979, two days before the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime.

The other major inside source of information on the DK Foreign Ministry is Laurence

Picq's Beyond the Horizon (Patricia Norland, trans., St. Martin's Press, New York,

1989), an account of working in the Ministry by the only foreigner to survive the

DK regime. Also, Y Phandara, in his Retour a Phnom Penh (Paris, 1982), describes

Ieng Sary's deputy in the DK Foreign Ministry, a man named Hong listed on p. 12 of

the diary, as the 'right arm of Ieng Sary and nephew of Pol Pot.'

Sources on the CPK hierarchy '75-'79: There has been some controversy regarding the

rank of Ieng Sary in the hierarchy of the ruling Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK).

In 1975-76 at least, Ieng Sary was no. 3, after Pol Pot and Nuon Chea. In August

1975, Sary was publicly named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs,

and held that position throughout the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime. His party

rank, however, was not made public. A description of the evidence for it follows.

On 18 April 1975, the day after Phnom Penh fell to the KR, an anonymous source reported

by Associated Press, Bangkok, listed the leaders of the newly victorious but still

secret Communist Party of Kampuchea. These were, in order; Saloth Sar, Ieng Sary

'Son' [Son Sen?], Nuon Chea, and So Vana alias 'Poem' [So Phim].

When General Nguyen Xuan Hoang visited Phnom Penh as a member of a Vietnamese delegation

in July 1975, he was informed by Cambodian Party officials of the following rank

order of the Standing Committee of the CPK Central Committee: Saloth Sar [Pol Pot],

Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, So Vanna [So Phim], Sombat [Moul Sambat alias Ros Nhim], Vorn

Vet, and 'Ta' Mok [Chhit Choeun]. (Interview with Ben Kiernan, Hanoi, 4 November


The first three rankings were confirmed by the account of a Democratic Kampuchea

helicopter pilot, Pech Lim Kuon, who defected to Thailand on 30 April 1976. Kuon

told Bruce Palling in an interview (Bangkok, 3 May 1976) that the top five in the

CPK hierarchy were, in order: Saloth Sar, 'Nuon', Ieng Sary, Son Sen, and 'Yan' [So


The minutes of the 9 October 1975 CPK Standing Committee meeting, which 'allocated

tasks and operational matters,' also list Ieng Sary in third-ranking position in

the hierarchy, with responsibility for 'both Party and State Foreign relations.'

Similarly, minutes of the CPK Standing Committee meetings of 3, 7 and 14 May 1976

all record the first four members present as follows: Comrade Secretary [Pol Pot],

Comrade Deputy Secretary [Nuon Chea], Comrade Van [Ieng Sary], Comrade Vorn [Vorn

Vet].' When 'Comrade Khieu' [Son Sen] was present, he was named next, just before

'Comrade Hem' [Khieu Samphan].

A translated excerpt from minutes of a CPK Standing Committee meeting on 11 April

1977, records that the following members were present: Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Phin [So

Phim?], Mok, Vorn Vet, Ieng Sary, Moul Sambath, Ke Pauk and Son Sen. (People's Revolutionary

Tribunal, Phnom Penh, August 1979, Document no 2.5. 23, French version, Khmer text


In August 1978, according to a member of the CPK Central Committee, the rank order

was: Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, 'Ta' Mok, Ieng Sary, Vorn Vet, Son Sen, and Keu. The first

five, including Ieng Sary, were full members of the Standing Committee of the Central

Committee of the CPK, the last two reportedly being candidate members. (Chap Lonh,

interview with Stephen Heder, Chanthaburi, 12 March 1980.)

Readers are invited to consult the entries on Ieng Sary and other CPK leaders in

the CGP's Cambodian Genocide Biographical Database, soon to be published on the CGP's

Website, and in the index of The Pol Pot Regime.
- Ben Kiernan is Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University



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