H E worked for the infamous Ta Mok in the dark days of the Pol Pot regime. Today,
working for Hun Sen's regime, he is paraded out in public to denounce his former
Sam Bit, aka Ta Bit, is a classic example of the changing loyalties which mark Cambodia's
political and military landscape, pitting previous allies against each other and
making friends out of former foes.
"It was a mistake," said Bit last week of the murderous purges during Pol
Pot's 1975-78 Democratic Kampuchea regime, in which he served as a deputy to Ta Mok
in the Southwest Zone. "Now, I have returned to the right way."
Bit should know the wrong way very well. Troops and cadre of the Southwest Zone were
used to purge suspected enemies of Angkar - the ruling "organization" -
during the Pol Pot regime.
In more recent years, Bit was a guerrilla chief in Kampot province, where he worked
with the better-known Chhouk Rin and Nuon Paet. The trio were variously implicated
in the kidnapping and executions of three foreign hostages on Phnom Vour mountain
At a press conference in Phnom Penh last week, a politically-rehabilitated Ta Bit
emerged for his first public appearance since his defection from the KR last October.
A recent graduate of officer-training school in Phnom Penh, he is now a Major-General
in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) - the second-highest rank in the Cambodian
military - and an adviser to the Ministry of Defense.
No mention was made at the press conference of Bit's background - who appeared a
grandfatherly figure, bespectacled and with the gray tint of respectability in his
hair - except that he was a former KR.
He gave the Oct 13 press conference in his role as an adviser to RCAF in its efforts
to quell the rebellion by KR defectors in Samlot. He knows intimately the key Samlot
players, including the renegade leader Ta Muth, former son-in-law of Ta Mok.
Bit told reporters that the Samlot insurrection was caused by the "political
tricks" of the KR hardliners in Anlong Veng, whose military forces are under
Ta Mok's control.
He dismissed claims that the Samlot rebellion was ignited by a dispute between local
leaders and government officials over the sharing of the profits from timber concessions
given to Thai firms
Ta Muth and fellow renegade Iem Phan took 60 million Thai baht (about $1.7 million)
to buy weapons, leaving only 50 million baht to be distributed to the people of Samlot,
The former guerrilla - who was Ta Muth's superior in Samlot and was briefly imprisoned
when he refused to join the rebellion - said that Anlong Veng had sent about 400
troops to reinforce Muth.
Bit also railed against the "political and military" alliance between Anlong
Veng and the Funcinpec resistance loyal to ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
He dismissed the July 25 'trial' of KR leader Pol Pot in Anlong Veng as a "trick"
designed to pretend to the world - and particularly the United States - that the
rebel movement had changed its leadership.
"If the US gives assistance to Ranariddh and [resistance chief] Nhek Bun Chhay,
Pol Pot will utilize it for his bloody war."
Bit said that Muth had bragged to him about receiving aid from the US and Thailand,
but he was not sure whether that was true.
Bit later told the Post that he was imprisoned by Muth on Aug 12, the day the Samlot
revolt began, after he refused to support the rebellion. He said he escaped, with
the help of his former bodyguards, four days later.
Speaking by telephone the day after his press conference, while en route to the RCAF
frontlines near Samlot, Bit confirmed his historical link to Ta Mok.
After joining the KR in 1968 - the year that Ta Mok was promoted to secretary of
the KR's Southwest Zone - Bit said he was a general in the Southwest's Division No.2
by the time Phnom Penh fell in 1975. Muth was commander of another Southwest division
at the time.
Bit confirmed that he was later appointed to be a deputy party secretary in the Southwest
Zone during the Pol Pot regime, under Ta Mok's command.
He denied any role in decisions about purges, saying that Mok was responsible for
them. "During Pol Pot's time, I was a soldier - I didn't care [about] policy,
I thought only of attacking," he said, without elaborating.
It is unclear exactly what role Bit played in the Southwest's hierarchy, but it appears
that he was one of several deputy party secretaries for different regions or districts
within the zone.
The Southwest was, as historian Michael Vickery has called it, "the zone of
'Pol Potism' par excellence, the power base of the Pol Pot central government".
The cutting edge of the regime's purges, southwestern forces were used extensively
to eliminate perceived dissenters and traitors around Cambodia.
Bit told the Post that he remained in southern Cambodia after the Vietnamese ouster
of Pol Pot in 1979, most latterly as commander of a regional guerrilla base at Koh
Sla in Kampot province.
But he claimed he left Koh Sla, recalled to the northwestern border with Thailand
in 1991, before the 1994 hostage crisis in Kampot.
Bit's name, however, was repeatedly mentioned after the abduction of three three
foreigners off a train near Phnom Vour, about 30km from Koh Sla. Chhouk Rin, the
guerrilla colonel who abducted them, said after his defection to the government that
the kidnappings were ordered by his bosses, KR Generals Nuon Paet and Ta Bit.
According to interviews with KR defectors by a foreign researcher, Bit stayed at
Koh Sla until both he and Nuon Paet were recalled to the Thai border late 1994 or
early 1995. Paet was later promoted and sent back to Kampot, while Bit - who according
to defectors was suspected of being "too [politically] soft" and too corrupt
- was sidelined on the border.
Paet - the only person wanted in connection with the hostages' killings - lost his
Koh Sla base last year, and is believed to have fled to Samlot. Bit, and also Ta
Muth, had also made their way there.
Bit told the Post that, after his defection to the government in Samlot on Oct 24
last year, he attended RCAF officer-training school in Phnom Penh. "It was very
useful for me. The school educated us to know about human rights and so on."
Enlisted into RCAF as a Major-General, he returned to Samlot, where he stayed until
Muth led the anti-government mutiny two months ago.
Bit insisted that the decades-old link between Mok and Muth was now revived. "Ta
Mok really is supporting Ta Muth with guns and with soldiers at the moment,"
he said, adding that he believed Nuon Paet was also with Muth.
Bit said Muth told him on Aug 12 that "I am going back to the jungle to fight
against the government", and asked him to join the struggle.
He declined the invitation. After nearly 30 years experience in the cause of Democratic
Kampuchea, Ta Bit decided he'd had enough, even if his former Southwest Zone comrades