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The Khmer Rouge Years

The Faces of Angka

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The Faces of Angka:
The People Behind the Genocide

For the first two years of Khmer Rouge regime, most Cambodians had no idea who was running the country. The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), the political movement behind the Khmer Rouge, believed that secrecy was one of the best tools for controlling the population. The Cambodian people didn't even know the CPK existed. All they were told was that the country was now run by Angka. No leaders were mentioned by name - there was only Angka. The less the people knew about Angka, so the idea went, the more effective (and powerful) Angka would be. But as we know today, this unprecedented level of secret governance did little to save hundreds of thousands of Cambodians from their deaths at the hands of starvation, neglect or worse.

Behind this mysterious political veil, though, were a core group of radicals who began espousing communism in the mid 1950s after studying in Paris, as well as their supporters who joined them in the jungle in the 1960s. These individuals were the masterminds of Cambodian communism and the architects of the policies that led to the genocide:

Khieu Samphan. The studious former National Assembly member, Khieu Samphan served as the political leader of the Khmer Rouge. His doctoral research in Paris served as the basis for Khmer Rouge ideology. Though Khieu was never known for his military skills he became commander in chief of the Khmer Rouge army and led its forces into Phnom Penh in 1975. Khieu eventually was assigned the role of prime minister and president of the Khmer Rouge regime, even though decisions were made collectively by the KR leadership. Essentially, Khieu's purpose was to put a diplomatic, public face on Khmer Rouge policy.

Ieng Sary. Known as "Brother Number Three," Ieng Sary also joined the communist movement in the late 1950s. As a leading member of the KR rebel forces, he became foreign minister in 1975 and was one of the key decisionmakers during the KR years.

Chhit Chhoeun (Ta Mok). Though Chhit never studied in Paris he joined the communist movement early on as a rebel fighter. Despite his training as a Buddhist Monk, Chhit was a merciless warrior, and he eventually adopted the name "Grandpa Mok," - Ta Mok. After the Khmer Rouge victory, Ta Mok became one of the most powerful men behind Angka, leading purges against suspected KR cadres and coordinating massacres against Vietnamese civilians. His taste for brutality eventually caused many people to call him Ta Mok the Butcher.

Nuon Chea. Like Ta Mok, Nuon Chea did not receive his communist indoctrination in France; instead, he was exposed to it by the Thai Communist Party during World War II. As "Brother Number Two," Nuon dictacted Khmer Rouge policy for over three years, developing the radical economial strategies that eliminated money and trade with the outside world.

Saloth Sar (Pol Pot). After flunking out of his electronics scholarhip in Paris, Saloth returned to Cambodia to help build the Communist Party of Kampuchea. As one of the leading masterminds behind the Khmer Rouge, Saloth Sar became best known under his pseudonym, Pol Pot. Pol Pot served as chairman of the party, for which he claimed the infamous title "Brother Number One" and the reputation as the all-out leader of the Khmer Rouge.

The people behind Angka were known only among themselves until September, 1977, when Saloth Sar - using his nom de guerre Pol Pot - introduced the world to Democratic Kampuchea through a public radio broadcast.

Next: The Work Camps

From Sideshow to Genocide: Copyright 1999 by Andy Carvin. All Rights Reserved.