Dap Chhuon, also known as Chuan Khemphet (Thai: ชวน เข็มเพชร), Khem Phet, Chhuon Mochulpich or Chhuon Mchoul Pech (1912–1959) was a right-wing Cambodian nationalist, guerrilla leader, regional warlord, and general.
Chhuon was born in Siem Reap and grew up in Prey Veng, joining the French militia in which he rose to the rank of sergeant. In the Franco-Thai War he was captured by - or deserted to - Thai forces, and in 1943 again deserted from the Cambodian National Guard at Bang Mealas, allegedly in the possession of his men's pay. By the mid-1940s, Chhuon was backed by the Thai government in organising anti-French guerrilla bands in the area of Siem Reap. In August 1946 a disparate group of activists led by Chhuon, Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey and the leftist Son Ngoc Minh fought French troops in Siem Reap over the course of several days. Chhuon went on to become a leader of the Khmer People's Liberation Committee, a grouping of various regional elements of the Khmer Issarak resistance. By late 1949, however, he and his men went over to the French, who rewarded him with virtual control of parts of northern Cambodia and an official military post as commander of the "Franco-Khmer Corps". Chhuon, who ruled these areas essentially by personal decree, had a reputation for extreme brutality which had rapidly alienated the other Issarak leaders. Despite this, he was held in awe by the local peasantry; they accredited him with powers of invulnerability, reinforced by his habit of demonstrating feats of strength and his "daunting" appearance, being cadaverously thin with "unblinking, deep-set eyes".
By 1954 and Cambodian independence, Chhuon had again switched allegiance, this time to the new government of Norodom Sihanouk; Sihanouk even took him to the Geneva Conference in order to demonstrate that he had Issarak support. In October 1954, in the run-up to the 1955 elections, Chhuon formed an alliance between his 'Victorious North-East' party and several other small parties (including Lon Nol's 'Khmer Renovation' party) which proclaimed themselves as monarchist, traditionalist and rightist. This rightist alliance formed the basis of Sihanouk's Sangkum Reastr Niyum; during the 1955 elections, Chhuon's militia were routinely used to break up rallies of Sangkum opponents and intimidate voters.
Chhuon became Sihanouk's Internal Security Minister, and the Governor of Siem Reap Province. Although he had begun his career fighting alongside the Viet Minh, his increasingly strident anticommunism caused him to be suggested by Robert McClintock, the US Ambassador to Cambodia between 1954 and 1956, to cultivate as a possible replacement for Sihanouk. His disagreements with Sihanouk over the latter's courting of communist China led to him being dropped from the cabinet in 1957, however, and he began to openly break with Sihanouk's regime.
In 1959 Chhuon was exposed in an allegedly Central Intelligence Agency-funded coup plot (the "Dap Chhuon Plot" or Bangkok Plot): after fleeing (according to one account) clad only in an under-sarong, he was captured by Sihanouk's forces and killed.
One of Chhuon's brothers, Kem Srey, was closely associated with him in his political activities and another brother, Kem Penh, was an international arms dealer. A half-brother, Slat Peou (1929–60), an embassy worker and later the Sangkum delegate for Siem Reap, was executed for his involvement in the 1959 plot.
- "Dap" in fact means "sergeant", "Dap Chhuon" being a nom-de-guerre
- Corfield, J. and Summers, L. Historical Dictionary of Cambodia, Scarecrow Press, 1996, p.96
- Tyner, J. The Killing of Cambodia, Ashgate, 2008, p.41
- Tyner, p.42
- Kiernan, B. How Pol Pot came to power, Yale University Press, 2004, p.60
- Dommen, A. J. The Indochinese experience of the French and the Americans, p.197
- Clymer, K. J. The United States and Cambodia, 1870-1969, Routledge, p.56
- Kiernan, p.158
- Osborne, M. Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness, Silkworm, 1994, p.97
- Sour Note, Time Magazine, 16-03-59
- Corfield and Summers, p.97