The Khmer Rouge: Bayon two faces instead of four – by Mike Benge


The ancient symbolic four-faced sandstone Bayon is thought by some Cambodians to represent simplicity, compassion, equanimity and wisdom, virtues lacking in those involved in the factional struggles of the communists in Cambodia. A symbolic Bayon for the Khmer Rouge would have only two faces, that of the barbaric and amoral genocidal “year zero” Pol Pot Khmer  Rouge (PP-KR), and that of the murderous Viet-Minh Khmer Rouge (VM-KR). Equanimity may have been relevant to the

Cambodian culture and society during the Ankor Wat era centuries ago, but not during the past hundred years.

The VM-KR was a mixed bag of Vietnamese NVA and VC, Khmer Krom, and other Cambodian Khmer conscripts, as well as Vietminh holdovers from the French Indochina War. All were under the command of Hanoi. Before French colonization of Indochina, the Mekong Delta was part of the greater Cambodia Empire – Kampuchea Krom (comprising a great portion of the fertile Mekong Delta) – and (what today) is Northeast Thailand. On June 4, 1949, the French formerly annexed Kampuchea Krom and made it a separate protectorate called Cochin China. After the 1954 Geneva Conference dismantled French Indochina, Kampuchea Krom (the Mekong Delta) formally became part of the Republic of Viet Nam. By that time, Kampuchea Krom was populated by large numbers of Vietnamese.

Ironically, Ho Chi Minh set conditions for future Khmer Rouge when he formed the Indochina communist party in the 1930s, and although somewhat separate, three distinct branches were structured for Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia with the Machiavellian Ho Chi Minh and his Vietnamese associates dominating. It wasn’t long before many of the Cambodians began to realize that they were being duped by their centuries’ old arch-enemy the Vietnamese, led by the manipulative Ho. His intent was to replace French Indochina colonial rule of three countries with Vietnamese communist party control. Cambodian communist party members therefore split into two factions: 1) Those who felt they owed their loyalty to Ho and his communist party after receiving political indoctrination in communist ideology and military training, remained in the North Viet Nam and became part of the Vietminh against the French. The Vietminh was a “tri-nation force” fighting the French, with Ho and his henchmen at the helm. Anyone

who showed independent nationalistic leadership characteristics were eliminated. Those Cambodians who survived Ho’s purges, and did not trust Ho and the Vietnamese, went south into the jungles of Cambodia, later to evolve and morph into the xenophobic, ground zero Pol Pot Khmer Rouge which gained support from China.

For a while, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party were closely allied with both the Soviet Union and China and played them off against each other in terms of increased aid. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, relations between China and the Soviet Union deteriorated and Peking

decided that the Soviet Union was the primary threat to China’s national security. A faction of Hanoi’s Communist Party began leaning toward the Soviet Union and Peking soon realized the growing danger of having an ally of the Soviet Union – the expansionistic Vietnamese — on China’s soft underbelly. Therefore, as a counter-measure, China began increasing support, including a few advisers, to Pol Pot and ANKAR (PP-KR).

It was a strategy of Ho Chi Minh and his henchmen, especially after the 1954 Geneva Agreements, to persuade, impress, and even abduct, young Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, as well as others from ethnic minority groups such as the Khmer Krom, Cham and Montagnards, to take them north for communist indoctrination (i.e., brainwashing) and military training.

Over centuries, Vietnamese had gained territory at the expense of neighbors through expansionist strategies of: 1) nam tién, southward movement by first by occupying new territory with troops; 2), tay tién, westward movement/expansion; and (3, đồn điền, whereby their conquering armies were demobilized, donned civilian clothes and became “ready reservists.” They were then given land on which to settle, after which their families, relatives and friends join them. If the plan is to conquer more territory, the ready reservists are replaced with fresh troops.

In the 1930s, Ho Chi Minh established the Indochinese Communist Party, not as a “nationalistic” Vietnamese communist party, but as a regional party …  thus clearly signaling his goal of occupying and colonizing both Cambodia and Laos. The “Second Viet Nam War” was much more than a civil war, despite a Vietnamese Communist Party habit of rewriting history. Two Khmer tendencies eventuated; the one that would bend away from Hanoi, and the other that would circumstantially incline toward Viet Nam. Mutual suspicion between the two Cambodian communist factions increased in the years after 1975. The PP-KR (Khmer Rouge) view was reinforced by ancient Cambodian-Vietnamese ethnic hostility, and belief by party members that the real goal of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was to dominate Cambodia and Laos to fulfill Ho Chi Minh’s dream of a single communist Indochina state.

During and after the Viet Nam War, Hanoi kept three divisions – the 5th, 7th and 9th – in the Eastern Zone of Cambodia and after 1970 they sometimes collided with the forces of Lon Nol’s regime in Cambodia. The divisions were comprised of NVA backbone supplemented by Vietminh hold-overs and more recent conscripts of Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese and ethnic minorities from all three countries including some Khmer Krom from both South Viet Nam and Cambodia.

Ignorant of chicanery and unaware of their deepest connections with Hanoi, Pol Pot, through ANGKAR, appointed Hun Sen as the senior CPK (Communist Party of Kampuchea) cadre of the Southeast Command with Heng Samrin as his deputy. Although Hun Sen (present dictator of Cambodia), was barely 24 years old with operational experience limited to Sub-Region 203, he and Heng Samrin

(both with Vietnamese advisors) rose to the rank of VM-KR commanders of units within Kompong Cham Province where genocide was rampant. Another division was formed in 1968, comprised of Montagnards commanded by Rahlan Lo, a Jarai. The Montagnards were mainly drafted from Jarai villages in both countries and augmented with VC/NVA conscripts. It operated mainly in the Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng region.1

Most writers, “professed scholars and historians” have chosen to ignore the history of two factions of Khmer Rouge – PP-KR and the VM-KR, and that three of those substantially VM-KR divisions operated in eastern Cambodia.

As one might suspect, a good share of the officer and NCO slots in the Hun Sen and Heng Samrin units were filled with Vietnamese, however, it is unknown if the same was true in the Montagnard units. Nevertheless, all were under the command of Hanoi. The three divisions often fought Lon Nol forces in Cambodia, and at times, the PP-KR, as well as participating in genocidal activities. On April 17, 1975, thirteen days before Hanoi’s blitzkrieg takeover of Saigon and South Viet Nam, Hanoi directed its three divisions of VM-KR to fully support Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces, thus enabling them to defeat the Lon Nol Army and seize the national capital of Phnom Penh.1

Without this support, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces would not have been able to easily and rapidly accomplished this feat. This was all part of the long- term strategy of Hanoi’s Communist Party to neo-colonize the other two countries of former Indochina.

For over two years after taking power, the xenophobic Pol Pot “year zero” secretive CPK aka ANGKAR, maintained its headquarters at Phnom Malai and its military base near Palin thus the PP-KR dominated west of the Mekong River, with influence in the east. They often clashed with the VM-KR in attempting to ferret out spies and Vietnamese sympathizers. Mutual suspicion between the two Cambodian communist factions continued to mount in the years after 1975. The CPK’s suspicion was fed by ancient Cambodian-Vietnamese ethnic hostility, and some belief that the real goal of the Unified Socialist Republic of Viet Nam was to dominate Cambodia and Laos, thereby fulfilling Ho Chi Minh’s dream, at least in practice, of a single communist Indochina state.

Hun Sen (the present Prime Minister of Cambodia) by ANGKAR appointment had responsibility for being a senior CPK cadre during the peak period of the Pol Pot genocidal reign. He has been accused of committing genocide, evidenced by documentation and a photograph on file in the Genocide Documentation Center of Cambodia. According to its Executive Director Youk Chhang, Hun Sen and the troops he commanded went on a rampage in July 1973 when they attacked the city of Kampong Cham, and nearby villages, indiscriminately murdering anyone in their path. When they assaulted two hospitals, they first threw grenades among the patients, then went in to slit throats of the surviving patients and staff. The photograph, taken by a Bangkok Post reporter, depicts Hun Sen in a craze viciously slitting the throat of one of the staff.2 The town had been under siege for over three weeks before a government unit arrived to relieve the garrison there. After arrival, they discovered hundreds of bodies of women, children and men, including many Buddhist Monks, in nearby villages and in the Capital; some showing signs of having been first tortured, then shot in the back of the head. Others had been chopped to death with hoes, still others murdered by strangulation, or suffocation by plastic bags tied over their heads.

The east of Cambodia borders Viet Nam, and it is also the region where Pol Pot and his cadres started their guerrilla struggle. After the fall of Phnom Penh, the eastern region was run by cadres who were more closely connected with Viet Nam than with the core CPK center — ANGKAR. Pol Pot suspected the loyalty of the leaders of the eastern branches and sought to purge his ranks of elements that he considered too moderate or influenced by Hanoi. The terroristic ANGKAR was so secretive it invoked constant fear of death-squads in everyone. On September 24, 1977, Hun Sen, Heng Samrin and some of the upper echelon of their two VM-KR divisions, fearing for their lives, fled across the porous border and sought sanctuary in Viet Nam.

Persecutions and routine “evacuations” of people to the Western Zone escalated into an invasion of the Eastern Zone by the Party Center ANKAR army in 1978. The series of massacres which took place in 1978, were the most serious during Pol Pot’s genocidal reign (other than those committed by Hun Sen and troops in 1973). It was described as “massive and indiscriminate purges of party, army and people alike.” Of a population of about 1.5 million in the east, it is estimated that 250,000 people were killed during the last six months of 1978. Due to the decentralized command structure of Pol Pot and the super- secretive and feared ANKAR, it was extremely difficult to tell who was who, and loyal to whom.

It’s crucial to know, but few understand, the difficulty of distinguishing between sheep and goats in regard to the Khmer Rouge, due to the super-secrecy of the terroristic ANGKAR, lack of systemic command structure and the nature of small unit independency. Opportunist Khmer Rouge killers had two masters – China and Viet Nam, and they often played musical chairs as to allegiance. A black comedic metaphor comes to mind — Abbot and Costello’s baseball routine “Who’s on First.”

In the second half of 1977, troops commanded by Hun Sen and Heng Samrin reportedly crossed the porous border into Viet Nam. VM-KR, in coordination with Viet Nam forces, exercised “hammer and anvil operations” in attempts to eradicate former South Viet Nam Army and Montagnard resistance fighters operating there. Evidently, VM-KR forces had gone on similar “hunting” missions in the Tay Ninh area during the months prior to this latest incursion. Of course, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Hanoi PSYOPs people blamed Pol Pot’s killers, for who would think it was the VM-KR while very few people knew of their distinctive existence?

On December 2, 1978, a Vietnamese-sponsored “Reunion Congress” was convened by Heng Samrin and Hun Sen in Kratié Province near Viet Nam’s porous border with Cambodia. Some seventy dissident Cambodians and Vietnamese “advisors” attended. At the inception, Heng Samrin was voted to be leader. The congress established the Kampuchean (or Khmer) United Front for National Salvation – KUFNS, often referred to by its French acronym FUNSK (Front Uni National pour le Salut du Kampuchéa). Politically FUNSK was a shadow pro-Hanoi umbrella organization of the Marxist Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) opposed to Pol Pot’s Communist Party – the CPK — also known as ANGKAR with its increasing anti-Vietnamese policy. FUNSK, largely controlled by Hanoi, became a politico-military organization that would legitimize the subsequent Viet Nam, precipitate the ensuing defeat of Pol Pot and the CPK, and bring about the actual foundation of the new ruling communist party — the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP).  The KPRP’s Central Committee’s Chairman was Heng Samrin with Ros Samay as Secretary General, and on January 8, 1979, decreed that their cabinet included Hun Sen (Foreign Affairs), Keo Chenda (Culture and Information), Mot Sakun (Economy), Chea Sim (Interior), Pen Sovan (Defense), Nu Beng (Health and Social Affairs), and Chan Ven (Education). Realizing that Buddhism and Buddhist Monks had always played an important role in Cambodian politics, Hun Sen drafted a young former Monk Tep Vong to be in charge of (Religious Affairs), who up until then, had been in charge of religious espionage for the two divisions of VM-KR.

During the period of April 18-30, 1978, a pogrom was conducted against indigenous populations of Khmer Krom in the village of Ba Chúc in Tri Tôn Tan district, An Giang Province, Viet Nam, and the associated 200 Cambodian Khmer Krom refugees who had recently fled massacres in Cambodia’s Eastern Zone and had been given sanctuary there. Some 3,157 civilians, both locals and refugees, were murdered at the onset; somehow, two people survived the slaughter. Over 200 more were killed and injured by land mines deployed by the retreating forces. However, the question remained, “Were they Pot Pot’s Khmer Rouge (PP-KR), as Hanoi’s PSYOPs people claimed, or were they Hanoi inclined Vietminh Khmer Rouge (VM-KR)?”

Examining research data most objectively, one can conclude that it was the Hanoi-controlled VM-KR not the PP-KR that carried out the Ba Chúc atrocity. The xenophobic, but not stupid, Pol Pot would not risk provoking Hanoi with a pin-prick raid into Viet Nam and bring the full-wrath of Vietnamese forces upon his evil empire in the Western Zone of Cambodia. He was well aware of the intent of the Vietnamese — Cambodia’s historical arch-enemy — to neo-colonize Cambodia, and besides that, the Viet Nam communist forces had more than proven their mettle by defeating the mighty military forces of the U.S. The estimated 200 Cambodian Khmer Krom refugees had recently fled the VM-KR’s atrocities in the Eastern Zone of Cambodia, an area virtually under their total control. The invading forces had deliberately bypassed the two ethnic Vietnamese villages during their incursion into and exit from Ba Chúc, something the PP-KR would not have done.

The term “Khmer-Krom” denotes ethnic Khmer (Cambodians) who lived in Kampuchea-Krom, the South Eastern portion of the Mekong Delta that was once part of the Cambodian Empire until it was occupied by Viet Nam. Theravada Buddhism is deeply rooted in Khmer-Krom culture, and their Wats (aka temples) are the backbone of a unique rural community identity. Their religion and farmland are the essence of the Khmer-Krom people and who are renowned for their honesty, and the compassion, generosity and hospitality that are the moral norm of their culture and conduct among themselves. Unfortunately, that ethical standard was substantially sidelined within the centuries old Khmer and Vietnamese struggle for possession of fertile Mekong Delta.

Hanoi’s Communist Party and Vietnamese communist forces have a long-recorded history of staging atrocities against those who oppose or defy them in any way, e.g., ethnic minorities, religious and non-communist political groups. For example:

    • On December 5, 1967, some 600 NVA from the 88th Regiment of the 1st PAVN Division armed with napalm-based fueled flame-throwers assembled outside Dak Son village, Song Be prefecture, Phuoc Long province, Viet Nam. When the NVA attacked, they put everything to torch in Dak Son including houses, recently harvested foodstuffs in granaries, fences, trees and other vegetation, dogs, livestock, and some 252 Stieng Montagnards who were incinerated — two-thirds of whom were women and children. When the 88th ran out of fuel for their flame-throwers, they then executed 60 wounded people, absconded with some 200 captives and fled into the jungle at dawn.3 The Montagnards in Dak Son were part of a group of some 800 Stieng who had fled communist servitude in Cambodia some 14 months before and had been resettled by the RVN (Republic of South Viet Nam) outside of Song Be’s defense perimeter. They had been part of a group of some 20,000 other Stieng held for years inside Cambodia by the NVA/VC in virtual slavery, serving as porters and farmers growing food to feed the VC/NVA. The communists feared that the remaining 12,000 might follow the lead of the Dak Son refugees and also seek protection from the GVN. Thus, the Communists decided to make a burning example of the Dak Son refugees to teach their remaining captives a lesson.

• In 1947 communists murdered Huyen Phu So, the celebrated Hoa Hao Buddhist leader renowned for his ability to mobilize the rural practitioners. Huyen Phu So was invited to a meeting for resolving differences with Viet Minh leaders. He was intercepted, bludgeoned to death, then chopped into pieces, with the remains scattered across the country to prevent enshrinement that would further inspire believers to continue resisting the communists.4

• As Ho Chi Minh consolidated his power in the North, more than a year before his 1954 victory over the French, he launched a savage campaign against his own people. In virtually every North Vietnamese village, landowners, businessmen, intellectuals, school teachers, civic leaders — all who represented any potential source of future opposition — were executed. They were shot or beheaded and beaten to death; some were tied up, thrown into open graves and covered with stones until crushed to death. Between 50,000 and 100,000 are believed to have died — in a cold calculated effort to discipline the party and the masses.

• In 1968, during the Tet Offensive in Hue, the communist party systematically murdered over 5,000 civilians. Those targeted included anyone remotely tied to the Republic of Viet Nam, be they young or old, men, women, children, Catholics, Buddhists, school teachers, and others even remotely connected to political parties or municipal civil service.

• In early November 1956, within Nghệ An Province, which included Ho’s birth village of Nam Dan, due to oppressive taxation the population refused to fully cooperate and Ho sent in troops. Some 6,000 unarmed villagers were slaughtered.

• After the 1954 Geneva Agreements, Ho Chi Minh and his Communist Party henchmen murdered some 50,000 ethnic minorities in the north that had sided with the French.

These are only some of Hanoi’s Communist Party’s atrocities, so, “Why not punish a few more inconsequential nuisance Khmer Krom?“

The Communist Party headquartered in Hanoi adopted the old idiom of killing two birds with one stone. Massacre of the Khmer Krom at Ba Chúc set the stage for Hanoi’s long-term goal to invade and control (by one means or another) Cambodia. Historic strategies of tay tién and đồn điền were about to kick in. Hanoi’s PSYOP tacticians went into overdrive, ballooning a new boogieman, a creature ever more horrific – Pol Pot’s ANKAR. The genocidal Pol Pot is coming; the Viet Nam motherland is in danger!! Once more the bộ đội (soldiers) must risk their life and wellbeing to protect and preserve the sanctity of Viet Nam while simultaneously rescuing the Cambodian people from evil genocidal Pol Pot. This rationale could placate both the international and internal communities.

For decades Vietnamese communist forces had been fed empty promises by the Viet Nam Communist Party, that once foreign devils (i.e., first the French, then the Americans) were driven out; South Viet Nam forces defeated and Viet Nam united; soldiers would be discharged, given land to farm and there would be peace and prosperity. The French and then Americans left, and the Republic of South Viet Nam was defeated, but Communist Party’s commitments were not fulfilled. Now a new boogieman was created that appeared to threaten the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN aka NVA and the VC) forces were fatigued, and tired of being fed empty promises that didn’t fill stomachs or mollify families. There were rumors of unrest. Then how do you quell a budding revolt? You could stage an attack on the fatherland, a massacre, by an alleged foreign force — the Cambodian Pol Pot Khmer Rouge. You then feed ramped-up propaganda about the massacre to both foreign and domestic audience, and you are on your way. Was it this blatant? One cannot be sure, but given past behavior on the part of communists world-wide, there is plausibility.

Hanoi had set the stage for invading and controlling Cambodia under the guise of rescuing people from the genocidal Pol Pot. On the morning of January 7, 1979, the Vietnamese army swept into Phnom Penh, and once again the Viet Nam Communist Party had sent disillusioned and bone-tired bộ đội into a meat grinder. They went up against by a coalition of non-communist Cambodian forces and those of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, backed by an unimaginable alliance of China, Singapore, the U.S and Thailand — the Vietnamese were flabbergasted! Former PAVN Colonel Bui Tin wrote a book [History of Vietnamese Communism, 1925-1976] and within he revealed some startling facts about Hanoi’s invasion consequences. Bui Tin had served as a high-ranking political officer for both Vietnamese Armed Forces and the Communist Party, a position somewhat comparable to Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. In his book, he stated that Vietnamese armed forces in Cambodia “sacrificed 52,000 dead and over 200,000 wounded – many of whom lost arms and legs, maimed by the prolific Khmer Rouge mines.” Because of a very high casualty rate and unfulfilled promise of land, the Viet Nam Army became uncharacteristically restive. In April 1989, Hanoi was forced to withdraw troops with dogmatic- diplomatic tail between its legs. However, it first installed a new communist government in Phnom Penh headed by Hun Sen as Prime Minister. Hanoi claimed their troops numbered only 50,000 but American officials estimated them to be 60,000 to 70,000, and the American supposition was probably closer to the truth. As troops began to “formally withdraw,” in compliance with the Viet Nam’s historic strategy of đồn điền, a portion of the army was demobilized, donned civilian clothes, and became “ready reservists.” This quelled unrest within the Viet Nam army. Hanoi rewarded Hun Sen with the position of Prime Minister of Cambodia. Soon, intelligence reports began leaking out of Cambodia that Prime Minister, Hun Sen granted land and citizenship to tens-of-thousands of demobilized Vietnamese troops.4

During Viet Nam’s occupation of Cambodia, Hanoi’s adept public affairs specialists revised much of the history of genocide relating to both the Western and Eastern regions. As previously noted, “The series of massacres which took place in 1978, were the most serious … and were described as massive and indiscriminate purges of party, army and people alike. Of a population of about 1.5 million in the Eastern Zone, it is estimated that 250,000 people were killed during the last six months of 1978.” Since Hanoi controlled the three divisions of VM-KR that occupied most of the Eastern Zone, it is logical to assume that a good share of massacres ware committed by them. To distract attention from themselves, Hanoi began skewing history to look as though all massacres were done by Pol Pot’s gang of butchers. Hanoi information specialists memorialized — the “mountain of skulls” monument, and the Tuol Sleng Security Prison – a genocidal museum, to focus peoples’ attention away from what happened in areas substantially under Viet Nam control. Tuol Sleng Security Prison 21 (S-21) is only one of dozens torture and execution centers used during the 1975 to 1979 reign of genocide, many located within eastern Cambodia where Hanoi supported forces dominated. Over the years Tuol Sleng has proven to be an effective distraction and whitewash of Hanoi participation in Eastern Zone atrocities.

Prior to the 12 May 1975 Mayaguez incident, the Khmer Rouge had captured seven Thai fishing boats with 27 crewmen, captured seven South Vietnamese vessels, shot at a South Korean freighter, and held a Panamanian ship for 35 hours. This was not unusual. For centuries Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Thais historically have fought over islands in the Gulf of Thailand and their associated aquatic resources (including the possibility of oil). Piracy was and is par for the course. The crew of the SS Mayaguez received no warning about that history before Khmer Rouge naval forces boarded the ship.

Less than two weeks earlier, the first major clash between the new Viet Nam and Kampuchea was when the Khmer Rouge (aka the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army) invaded and occupied part of the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc on May 1, 1975 (barely 24 hours after Saigon fell), which they claimed was part of Kampuchea’s territory. Phú Quốc was renowned for the production of highly valued “crème de la crème” fish sauce — nước mắm.

Off shore islands are always points of friction and armed conflict. Viet Nam has its own bitter ongoing experience with China in this respect. But relative to Cambodia, Viet Nam is the stronger; and in July, 1982, Hanoi’s one-time marionette, Prime Minister Hun Sen, acquiesced and allowed the Socialistic Republic of Vietnam to formally annex historically coveted Poulo Wai, Koh Tral, Poulo Panjang and many other islands of Cambodia. A considerable portion (30,000 sq. km.) of territorial sea was part of the package, allowing Viet Nam to appropriate a portion of Cambodia’s continental shelf, with possible oil deposits and seafood resources.

Now think China! China has obtained 99- year leases for a majority of Cambodia’s coastline, and has built a deep-water naval sea port on the Gulf of Thailand, thereby setting up another point of ignition within the context of a 2,000-year Viet Nam / China fictive history.

Today’s Buddhism and the State of Sangha in Cambodia5

In 1855, King Ang Duong invited monks from the Thai Dhammayuttika Nikaya to establish a presence in Cambodia. They formed the Thommayutti order that benefited from royal patronage, but frequently came into conflict with the already existing Mohanikay lineage of Buddhism. During the French colonial era, education and schools were primitive, only a few primary and middle schools were established in the provinces and only one four-year secondary school, Lyce’e Preah Sisowath was created and it was in Phnom Penh. Classes were taught using the Buddhist Pali language and Monks soon became among the best educated class in Cambodia. Satellite elementary schools were established in rural areas at Buddhist temples of one form or another to provide new monks with a shorter introduction to Pali. Primary education of Cambodian children usually took place at temple schools. Monks were encouraged to become involved in community development projects. Cambodian Buddhism was instrumental in fomenting Khmer national identity and the independence movement of the 20th century, leading to Cambodian independence as a sovereign state.

However, during Pol Pot’s reign, most Monks were defrocked, the rest were brutally murdered or driven into exile, most often to Thailand or Viet Nam. Nearly every Buddhist temple and library were demolished and the execution of Monks effectively destroyed Cambodia’s Buddhist institutions. Some who exiled in Viet Nam accepted a pretty rigorous political indoctrination in exchange for refuge. Monks who did not flee, and somehow avoided execution, lived among surviving peasants, sometimes secretly performing Buddhist rituals for the sick or afflicted.

Hun Sen and his Vietnamese advisors were well aware of the historical significance of Buddhism in Cambodia, so they set about developing a strategy to curb a potential political threat. One of the major functions of FUNSK, was to reeducate Buddhist monks, so that they would “discard the narrow-minded views of dividing themselves into groups and factions” and would participate more actively in the revolutionary endeavors of the Salvation Front. That task and responsibility was assigned to Tep Vong. In 1981, the Venerable Tep Vong was elected the first Sangharaja of a new unified Cambodia sangha, officially abolishing the division between the Thommayut and Mohanikay orders. The ordination of new monks was sponsored by the government as a public show of piety and lifted restrictions on ordination to align itself with the Buddhist sangha. In 1991, Buddhism was declared to be Cambodia’s ‘state religion.

The Seven Front Monks

January 7, 1979, was declared as Cambodia’s “liberation day,” and because seven is traditionally a lucky number; seven was also the number of carefully selected former monks, all with between twenty and sixty years of commitment to Dharma, who were re-ordained with the communist government’s approval at Wat Unnalom on September 19, 1979. Theravada monks from Viet Nam — headed by Thich Bou Chon, adviser to the Central Commission of Vietnamese Theravada Buddhism– performed the ordination rite. These monks were a mixture of Khmer who had fled to Vietnam during the period of Pol Pot, plus some ethnic Khmer from Kampuchea Krom. They included Venerables Koeut Vay, Sovanna Chot Prak Dith, Ohn Din Sarin, Ith Sum, Idanthero Non Nget, and Dhammasatha Ken Vong.

The youngest member, Ven. Tep Vong, claimed he had been imprisoned and sentenced to four years of forced labor at the beginning Pol Pot’s reign. However some Khmer allege during that time, Tep Vong  was actually in charge of religious espionage for the armed forces commanded by Hun Sen and Heng Samrin. He provided evidence during the show trial of Pol Pot to support charges that the Khmer Rouge had executed fifty-seven monks, including three of his own nephews.

It is clear that the seven selected to lead Buddhist revival were held in high-regard by the new party apparatus, and most went on to assume high-profile roles at the interface between church and state. For instance, the scholar-monk Ven. Koeut Vay had been an original member of the Salvation Front and was soon to become the “preceptor of Cambodia.” Yet it has been difficult for these monks to break free from the implications of this linkage with Viet Nam. They are sometimes described as “Vietnamese monks in Khmer robes.”

The first major tasks of these seven Front Monks were to go to each province of Cambodia and ordain seven additional monks. The seven monks of each provincial city then went to each district and ordained seven more monks in every district. All new monks must be over 50 years old; only a few old monks for each Temple. All other monks who had been ordained before the seven Front Monks from Phnom Penh arrived were disrobed and re-ordained by the seven Front Monks.

In due course an official document, entitled Buddhism and the Fatherland defined the correct relationship between religion and the State. The government also laid down eight conditions for the proper regulation of the Sangha, namely:

1.   To learn the significance of the political line.

2.   To educate the laity with regard to party ideas.

3.   To model themselves on the Buddha and fight the enemy.

4.   To preserve and cultivate the patriotic and revolutionary spirit exemplified by monks like Ven. Hem Chieu and Achar Mean.

5.   To preserve the sanctity of the institution.

6.   To promote and improve production among the people so that their living standards may be enhanced.

7. To assist in building social service establishments.

8.   To carry out all of the above to achieve victory.

The Moha Nikay lineage of Buddhism was “forged” in the Vietnamese communists’ form of Theravada Buddhism that is now enshrined in the Cambodian constitution as the official religion of the country. (The Vietnamese form is far different from the original Thai Dhammayuttika Nikaya originally introduced to Cambodia.) Cambodia’s communist dictator “Prime Minister for life” Hun Sen, bestowed upon Tep Vong the title of Great Supreme Patriarch — sanghreach (sangharaja) — placing him in control of the new state-sponsored form Buddhism from head to toe. The new Buddhist hierocracy favors government policies, speaks out against monks who criticize the government and supports arrest and defrocking of monks espousing opposition positions.

Traditionally, each village would have a spiritual center, a wat, where from five to seventy bhikkhus (Monks) reside. A typical wat in rural Cambodia consists of a walled enclosure containing a sanctuary, several residences for bhikkhus, a hall, a kitchen, quarters for nuns, and a pond. The number of monks varies according to the size of the local population. The sanctuary, which contains an altar with statues of the Buddha and, in rare cases, a religious relic, is reserved for major ceremonies and usually only for the use of bhikkhus. Other ceremonies, classes for monks and for laity, and meals take place in the hall. Stupas containing the ashes of extended family members are constructed near the sanctuary. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens tended by local children are also part of the local wat. The main entrance, usually only for ceremonial use, faces east; other entrances are at other points around the wall. There are no gates.

The “Young Monks” Movement

Opposition, slight, occasionally comes from politically active brave “young monks,” primarily junior members of the Maha Nikaya clergy residing in temples around Phnom Penh, who express direct opposition to government policies and corruption. Monks are now permitted to vote in Cambodia (a move opposed by some senior monks). Members of the young monks’ movement have participated in, and organized, public demonstrations in Phnom Penh aimed at drawing attention to perceived government misdeeds. However, monks “who don’t toe the line,” are subject to kidnapping, possible defrocking, prison and even torture before eventual release or “disappeared.”

Such was the case of the Venerable Tim Sakhorn, Abbot of the North Phnom-Denh Wat temple in Takeo province, who at the request of Viet Nam was arrested on false charges of endangering the national unity of Viet Nam. When in fact, he had only provided refuge to Khmer Krom fleeing persecution. Tim Sakhorn was also Khmer Krom but had Cambodian citizenship. Tep Vong ordered the arrest of the Venerable Sakhorn on June 30, 2007, and personally defrocked him before turning him over to Vietnam and an eventual sentence of 15 years imprisonment. Tep Vong, betrayed his vows and the Buddhist Canon by ordering the arrest on false charges, and delivering a monk to a foreign country (Vietnam). Tim Sakhorn was deprived of adequate substance and tortured repeatedly. He was frequently subjected to

electric shocks upon skull in attempts to “alter his state of mind. After 22 months he was released into the general Khmer Krom community in Vietnam, and later somehow escaped to freedom and refuge in Sweden. Tim Sakhorn was interviewed when he was in the US for a short period, but at the time, he was somewhat incoherent due to the torture endured in Viet Nam.

Ironically, Tep Vong was invited to Jacksonville, Florida in 2013 to officiate at the newly completed Wat Kanteyaram, and conduct the sacred Seima Kam Buddhist sanctification ceremony. During an interview, Tep Vong refused to respond to accusations of collusion in the murder of Venerable Eang Sok Thoeun and prohibiting any funeral commemoration for him in any Cambodian temple. He also declined to answer queries concerning murder of 27 monks in 1997, and more recent beatings, disappearances, and murders of monks throughout the country. Many in the Cambodian refugee community considered it heresy to have Tep Vong consecrate a temple.

Citation: Originally published under the title of The Khmer Rouge: Two faces instead of four, An Epilogue and/or an Epitaph? in Indochina in the Years 1963 – 1976 (Supplement). Vietnam Veterans for Factual History. RADIX Press, Huston, TX.  2021; since then, the author discovered some very important historical information that has been added and can be found on pp. 2 & 3, and under sources 1 thru 3. As such, the article has been renamed The Khmer Rouge: Bayon Two Faces Instead of Four in order to distinguish it from the original.


Benge, M.D. Personal communication with Saren Thach, former Cambodian Special Forces.

Saren Thach. Exception to Becker’s Take Vietnam Off the Enemy List. The Washington Post. 04.19.89. Saren Thach. Does Anybody Care? The Washington Post. 10.30.89.

Benge, M.D. Don’t Excuse Hun Sen and Heng Samrin. The Washington Post. 10.30.89.

Benge, M.D.  The Black Hat Gangs of Cambodia. The Wall Street Journal. 06.05.90. Benge, M.D. The Nouveau Khmer Rouge. Washington Inquirer. 06.20.98.

Benge, M.D. Cambodia’s Killers. 03.10.06.

Benge, M.D. Cambodia Apes Vietnam in Its War on Religion in American Thinker.12.21.2013

Joseph Salam and Benge, M.D. Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge, the Genocide! Who are the Guilty? Can they be prosecuted? What

Lies Ahead? Paper presented to Congressman Stephen Solarz’s Committee on Cambodia. 08.06.89.

Massacres in the Eastern Zone: (

Douglas Pike. PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam. Random House Publishing Group. 02.1986. Douglas Pike. PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam (2nd edition). Hachette Books. 02.1991

Douglas Pike, et al. War in the Shadows. Boston Publishing Company. 05.1988.

The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh. Reader’s Digest. Nov. 1968.

Biographical information for Mike Benge

Biographical Information: Michael Benge

Michael D. Benge served in the Marine Corps from 1956 to 1959. In 1963, he joined the International Voluntary Services (a forerunner of the Peace Corps), and served in Viet Nam under contract with USAID (United States Agency for International Development, becoming fluent in both Vietnamese and Rhade (the lingua franca of Montagnards in the highlands). In 1965, he joined USAID and while serving as the Senior Civilian Advisor in CORDS at Ban Me Thuot, Darlac

Province, Mr. Benge was captured by the North Vietnamese during the 1968 TET Offensive while attempting to rescue a group of Americans. He was held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and North Viet Nam. After his release in 1973 during “Operation Homecom- ing,” while on medical leave, he returned to Viet Nam and continued his work with the Ministry of Ethnic Minorities. Mr. Benge was the recipient of three medals from the Government of South Viet Nam for his work in civil and political affairs, public health, and ethnic minority affairs. He was also the recipient of the State Department’s highest award for heroism for rescuing 11 Americans before capture and one for valor for actions while a POW. Mr. Benge retired from USAID after 44-1/2 years of government service. He is a student of South East Asian politics, and is very active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of former Indochina and has written extensively on these and other subjects. He has been a frequent contributor to VVFH publications.

  1. Interview with Rong Nay in Raleigh North Carolina in 2015, regarding General Rahlan Lo, a Jarai VM-KR. Rong was the XO of the first group of FULRO guerillas to emerge into Thailand in February 1986 seeking refuge in the U.S.) In 1980, the leadership of the remaining FULRO guerilla forces in the jungles of Vietnam, made the decision to separate into three battalions and try to make their way to Thailand in hopes of obtaining promised aid from the U.S. The leaders of the first battalion decided to go through the lower part of Laos to reach Thailand; however, unbeknown to them there was a large NVA base there just off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They were never heard from again, and are assumed to have been annihilated. The C0s and their staff of the two remaining FULRO battalions decided to try to gain passage to Thailand through northern Cambodia in their attempt to get the promised U.S. support. However, to do so, they first had to obtain a right-of -passage from the Khmer Rouge. On April 17th a delegation led by Nay Rong, Deputy Commander of the second battalion, and Y Pen Ayun, XO of the third battalion, left FULRO headquarters in the jungle near Dalat with an escort of 42 fighters, and crossed into Mondulkiri province in Cambodia. (It was then, and still is, its largest and most sparsely populated province.) At the time, FULRO had no idea that the genocidal Khmer Rouge was split into two factions; the PP-KR loyal to Pol Pot, and VM-KR loyal to Hanoi, nevertheless, the two sometimes operated in concert with each other.

    In Mondulkiri, they met with two local Khmer Rouge leaders, one being General Rahlan Lo (a nom de guerre, “Khmer Lo” means minorities of Cambodia); a Jarai who commanded an all-Montagnard division of VM-KR fighting for Hanoi bivouacked in Mondulkiri. The negotiations for a right-of-passage went on for a month, awaiting approval from Pol Pot’s Minister of Defense Son Sen headquartered in the Phnom Dong-Rek mountainous region bordering Thailand. While waiting, Nay Rong had lengthy discussions with Gen. Rahlan who told him that he was from Plei Duc Co, Thanh An District, Pleiku Province, one of over 50 Jarai villages in the region along the Vietnam and Cambodian border. In 1968, he was recruited by Y-Bih Aleo, Hanoi’s chief psyops officer for Montagnard affairs. The Lao Dong Party’s Central Committee had just bestowed upon Y-Bih the illustrious title of Chairman of the NLF which helped to impress the villagers enabling the pair to recruit around a thousand young men; enough to form a new all-Montagnard division. (This had been one of FULRO’s requests in negotiations with the South Vietnamese at the Montagnard Conference October 1964 in Plieku where they voiced desire to have an all Montagnard division for by doing so, they would be more effective in the fight against the communists. Request denied!). Nay Rong said Rahlan boasted that his and the other two VM-KR divisions participated alongside Pol Pot’s forces in the 1975 defeat of the Lon Nol government in Cambodia. After the takeover of Phnom Penh, some 500 Montagnard FULRO were taken to the Lambert soccer stadium in Phnom Penh and executed, including Y Bham Enuol, his staff and their families. However, Rahlan did reveal which of the three VM-DR divisions participated in this act of genocide. Pol Pot’s forces then proceeded to dominated the Zone West of the Mekong, while the three VM-KR occupied the Eastern Zone. He also bragged that his Division was the sharp tip of the spear in the bloody-takeover of Ban Me Thuot in 1975. One might also assume that Y-Bih, Rohlan and their forces were the ones able to persuade a number of the FULRO forces to stand down and not participate in Hanoi’s onslaught on Ban Me Thuot that led to the downfall of the Republic of South Vietnam.

    Equally as interesting if the fact that even though Gen. Rahlan knew that Nay Rong and his guerillas were FULRO fighting the Vietnamese communists, he was willing to help them get a right-of-passage to go to the Thai Border to obtain arms and other supplies. I assume this to be proof of the proverb that “blood is thicker and water.” On May 20, 1979, after a month of negotiations, Rong and his fighters finally received permission for 36 FULRO members to make the trip, escorted by 12 of Rahlan’s troops, and left for the Thai border. FULRO and their VM-KR Montagnard escorts troops made several trips crossing the Mekong River, back and forth, toting arms and supplies provided by the Chinese communists for FULRO to use in the jungles of Vietnam. That is until one night, the front door of Rahlan’s house was booby-trapped with a grenade, and in the morning when he opened the door – he was “fragged.” Evidently someone ratted him out to the Vietnamese communist authorities.

    1a Personal communication with Krisna Uk. author of Salvage, Cultural Resilience Among the Jorai of Northeast Cambodia. Cornell University Press. 2016. The existence of the all Montagnard division and the role it played in the final lethal attack on Ban Me Thuot in 1975 might come as a surprise to most VN War historians, especially in regards to the supposed standdown of FULRO troops.[][]

  2. The author’s research, including first-hand interviews with survivors that revealed Hun Sen’s participation in genocide while a commander in the Eastern Zone. One of the Author’s articles documents Hun Sen’s participation in the genocide of the people of Kompong Cham (also in The Washington Post 10.10.73). Complementing the article is a photograph, taken by a Bangkok Post reporter, of Hun Sen, in a craze viciously slitting the throat of one of the hospital staff (Bangkok Post 05.02.89). The two together stand-alone in the archives evidencing the fact of Hun Sen’s participation in genocide; personal communication with Youk Chhang the Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. The Center was founded as a field office of Yale University’s Cambodian Genocide Program.[]
  3. 3 Dak Son Massacre: History of the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954-1975, Volume V: The 1968 General Offensive and Uprising. Lich Su Khang Chien Chong My Cuu Nuoc, 1954-1975, Tap V: Tong Tien Cong Va Noi Day Nam 1968.  Military History Institute of Vietnam; Editor: Senior Colonel Nguyen Van Minh; Authors: Senior Colonel Nguyen Van Minh, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Xuan Nang, Colonel Tran Tien Hoat, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huy Thuc, Senior Colonel Do Xuan Huy; National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001. as cited by EBV. TET 68 Historian: The Dak Son massacre. 06.12.67. Weider History Group Online.[]
  4. Douglas Pike. The Indochina Chronology series. UC Berkeley (covered both historical and contemporary events in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos).[]
  5. NaPandita TK Rithipol. An older young monk. Assisted in Today’s Buddhism and the State of Monkhood in Cambodia. Benge, M.D. Personal communication with Saren Thach, former Cambodian Special Forces.[]