THE name "Achar Hem Chieu" has been cited
frequently by those who have been talking with Buddhist
monks after the recent demonstrations.
He's been referred to as a role model for those monks who
took to the streets last month.
One participant in Maha Ghosananda's first Dhammayietra
in 1992 said that several monks carried pictures of Achar
Hem Chieu during their walk from Poipet to Phnom Penh.
So who was this monk and what did he do?
According to Ben Kiernan's How Pol Pot Came to Power,
Achar Hem Chieu was an activist in the early 1940s.
As a teacher at the Higher School of Pali in Phnom Penh,
he and another monk, Achar Nuon Duong, were two of the
key recruits brought in by Son Ngoc Thanh and Pach
Chhoeun in their efforts to develop a political
organization with the goal of claiming independence for
Thanh, considered a founder of modern Khmer nationalism,
had been the Deputy Director of the Buddhist Institute,
and it was he and Chhoeun who had created the first
Khmer-language newspaper, Nagaravatta, in 1936.
In 1942 the French introduced the Gregorian calandar in
Cambodia and had plans to romanize the Khmer script (as
had been done in Vietnam).
This outraged the Buddhist clergy, which had been the
traditional institution of Cambodian education and
As a result, Thanh, according to Kiernan, then decided to
attempt a pro-Japanese coup.
French intelligence agents had been monitoring closely
the activities of the group and moved to intervene.
On July 18, l942, "the French arrested Achar Hem
Chieu and Nuon Duong for preaching anti-French sermons to
Khmer troops in the colonial army in preparation for the
"Chieu was summarily defrocked without, as required
by religious law, first having been judged by his fellow
Thanh organized a protest and on July 20 a group of over
1,000 including 500 monks marched on the French Resident
Superior's office near Wat Phnom where they planned to
present a list of demands, including the release of Achar
The march leader, Chhoeun, was grabbed and hustled away
by the French just as he had asked to see the senior
French colonial official. After that the demonstration
turned ugly, and the ensuing riot saw both police and
monks use violence against each other.
Achar Hem Chieu was never released. On December 19, l942
he faced a French military tribunal in Saigon. The
court's verdict: death, a sentence later commuted to life
with hard labor by the Vichy government.
The de-frocked monk was sent to the island of Poulo
Condore off the coast of southern Vietnam where the
French authorities maintained a prison for political
Kiernan's research indicates that Achar Hem Chieu
remained politically active even in jail, that he struck
up close associations with imprisoned Vietnamese
activists, but that his "heroism in the prison led
to sanctions which brought on his early death, from
illness, in October 1943. He was forty-six."
The name of Achar Hem Chieu was taken up and used by
those who took to the jungles to fight for Cambodian
independence in subsequent years.
In 1950, the United Issarak Front (UIF), a guerrilla
movement with close links to the Indochinese Communist
Party, set up the `Achar Hem Chieu Political School' in
southwestern Cambodia where hundreds of cadres were
Kiernan also notes: "In May 1952, French
intelligence reported that scattered UIF bands in Prey
Veng were combining into a Mobile Unit.
"By August, Keo Moni (another former Khmer monk) and
a Vietnamese commander had merged their forces with So
Phim's Achar Hem Chieu Unit, with the aim of launching
concerted large-scale attacks on French posts in the
Whether or not Achar Hem Chieu would have appreciated his
name being used by a revolutionary who rose in the ranks
of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea to become chief of the
Eastern Zone is a question even So Phim can't answer.
Accused of treason in 1978, wounded and surrounded by
troops loyal to Pol Pot near the village of Prek Pa, he
shot himself on June 3 that year.
Whether or not the current government is pleased with
monks recalling the memory of Achar Hem Chieu is another