Front man for the Anlong Veng defectors
Ke Pauk, the front man for the Anlong Veng defectors, is a seasoned Khmer Rouge
henchman implicated in massacres and purges during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime.
Pauk bears remarkable similarities to Ta Mok, the man he has turned against: both
are veterans of half a century of war, each first taking up arms for the Khmer Issarak
independence movement; both were poorly-educated but became faithful and brutal servants
of Khmer Rouge policy; they are the only two known surviving Pol Pot regime regional
secretaries; and the pair of them worked together in ruthless purges which saw them,
as one KR researcher put it, "up to their armpits in blood".
"Next to Mok, he is probably the single bloodiest of them all," said another
expert, genocide investigator Craig Etcheson. Expressing great concern that Pauk
would escape justice, Etcheson declared: "The new hero of Cambodian national
reconciliation is high among the worst of the worst".
Asked to compare Pauk with Ieng Sary, the former Pol Pot foreign minister who won
a Royal pardon in 1996, Etcheson said: "Both Pauk and Ieng Sary deserve responsibility
as being among the intellectual authors of the mass killing, but Pauk was also directly
involved carrying out and commanding the killings."
Pauk, in an interview in Siem Reap town last week, blamed other people for the deaths.
Aged in his 60s, Pauk said he has held no formal position in the KR since 1990, but
acknowledged that he was a senior official in the movement for nearly 20 years. He
was a Central Committee member from 1972-90, he said, but he denied ever being in
the powerful Standing Committee of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime.
A former Northern Zone and then Central Zone secretary during Democratic Kampuchea,
he said the Central Committee held no real power. Asked about the purges, he said
that it was only the Standing Committee which could "do something" during
Identifying the Standing Committee members as Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son
Sen and Ta Mok, he said: "The five Standing Committee members are responsible
for the killing between 1975-79."
Asked if he would be prepared to testify at an international war crimes tribunal,
he answered: "If they want to try the five standing committee members, I am
happy to testify." Asked about Ieng Sary, he laughed and said: "All five".
Pausing, he added that he wouldn't have to testify in person before any court because
he had already "told everything I know" to the small group of journalists
present at the interview.
According to the writings of historian Ben Kiernan, director of the US-funded Cambodian
Genocide Program, Pauk ranked No 13 in the DK regime hierarchy. Pauk's attendance
is noted on the minutes of at least one meeting of the Standing Committee: an April
11, 1977 meeting (the day after senior official Hu Nim was arrested) which resolved,
in part, to "continue the purge, pursue the enemy and carry out normal tasks".
Pauk's signature also exists on several files sent to him by DK secret police chief
Son Sen, according to Youk Chhang, director of the genocide-investigating Documentation
Center of Cambodia.
The files do not show that "Ke Pauk ordered the killing of people directly".
But Chhang argued that such documents, concerning people who were executed, were
only sent to Standing Committee members, who bore collective responsibility for their
Ke Pauk, who said he was aged 68 although Kiernan puts his year of birth as 1934,
began his revolutionary career in the Issarak movement fighting for independence
from France. The son of a "middle-class farmer" in Kampong Thom, he joined
at age 18 after getting the barest of educations, he told the Post. "I can read
and write a little," he said.
According to Kiernan's book How Pol Pot Came to Power, Ke Pauk, whose real name is
Ke Vin, was imprisoned for three years in the 1950s. Upon release, he continued his
political activities until he was attacked by police and fled with a small group
of insurgents into Bos Pauk forest, in Kampong Thom.
"Ke Vin would later assume the revolutionary name Pauk, in memory of this place
of refugee. He would also become notorious for the bloody revenge he took on anyone
who was associated, however loosely, with the political system that had driven him
there," Kiernan writes.
By the early 1970s, he was military commander of the KR's Northern Zone, quickly
establishing for himself a reputation as one of the "most brutal of the figures
of Pol Pot's regime".
By 1974, he joined with the Southwest Zone's Ta Mok to lead the KR capture of Oudong,
north of Phnom Penh. More than 20,000 people were led to the jungle, virtually all
school-teachers and local officials were executed, and the town was razed.
After Pol Pot seized power in 1975, Pauk became Secretary of the Northern Zone (later
expanded and turned into the Central Zone, amid great bloodshed) and was linked to
purges of ethnic Chams and a massacre of rebellious civilians in Siem Reap's Chikreng
But it was the bloody partnership between Pauk and Ta Mok in purging the Eastern
Zone in 1978 for which the pair are best known, historians say.
"The Southwest Zone forces under Mok and the Central Zone forces under Pauk
executed a hammer and anvil strategy on the East in early 1978, with Mok's troops
sweeping up from the south and driving the fleeing Eastern Zone forces into Pauk's
anvil, positioned along the river in Kampong Cham," Craig Etcheson wrote in
an email response to Post questions.
"The single greatest density of mass graves we found in Cambodia is in eastern
and north-central Kampong Cham province, dating from the first half of 1978,"
wrote Etcheson, a former Cambodian Genocide Program manager now working for a war
crimes investigation NGO, the International Monitor Institute. "There are thousands
of mass graves there. This is Pauk's work."
Twenty years after those graves were dug, Ke Pauk, in a Siem Reap hotel room, pulled
up his shirt to show his scars from half a century of battles. "The people are
tired of the long war," he said. "I think the Khmer Rouge regime has come
to an end now."