Khieu Samphan

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Khieu Samphan
Khieu Samphan.jpg
President of the State Presidium of Democratic Kampuchea
In office
April 11, 1976 – January 7, 1979
Prime Minister Pol Pot
Nuon Chea
Preceded by Norodom Sihanouk
Succeeded by Heng Samrin
Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
In office
April 4, 1976 – April 14, 1976
President Norodom Sihanouk
Preceded by Penn Nouth
Succeeded by Pol Pot
Personal details
Born (1931-07-27) 27 July 1931 (age 82)
Svay Rieng, Cambodia
Political party Communist Party
Spouse(s) So Socheat[1]
Religion Buddhism[2]
This is a Cambodian name; the family name is Khieu. According to Cambodian custom, this person properly should be referred to by the given name Samphan.

Khieu Samphan (Khmer: ខៀវ សំផន; born July 27, 1931)[3] is a former Cambodian communist politician who was the president of the state presidium of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) from 1976 until 1979. As such, he served as Cambodia's head of state and was one of the most powerful officials in the Khmer Rouge movement, though Pol Pot remained the highest official in the party. Khieu Samphan is the second oldest living former Khmer Rouge leader, and one of the two awaiting trial, along side Nuon Chea.


Samphan was born in Svay Rieng Province to Khieu Long, who served as a judge under the French Colonial government and his wife Por Kong. Samphan was of Khmer-Chinese extraction,[4][5] having inherited his Chinese heritage from his maternal grandfather.[6] When Samphan was a young boy, Khieu Long was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to imprisonment, leaving Samphan's mother to take up a living selling fruits and vegetables in Kampong Cham Province where he grew up.[7] Nevertheless, Samphan managed to earn a seat at the Lycee Sisowath and was able to travel to France to pursue his University studies in Economics.

A prominent member of the circle of leftist Khmer intellectuals studying in Paris in the 1950s, Khieu Samphan studied economics and politics there. His successful 1959 doctoral thesis, "Cambodia's Economy and Industrial Development"[8] advocated national self-reliance and generally sided with dependency theorists in blaming the wealthy, industrialized states for the poverty of the Third World. He was one of the founders of the Khmer Students' Association (KSA), out of which would grow the left-wing revolutionary movements that would so alter Cambodian history in the 1970s, most notably the Khmer Rouge. Once the KSA was shuttered by French authorities in 1956, he founded yet another student organization, the Khmer Students' Union.

Returning from Paris with his doctorate in 1959, Khieu held a faculty position at the University of Phnom Penh and started L'Observateur, a French-language leftist publication that was viewed with hostility by the government. His first important conflict with the anti-Communist Cambodian government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk came the following year, when L'Observateur was banned and Samphan was arrested, forced to undress and photographed in public.

Despite this humiliation, Samphan was invited to join Sihanouk's Sangkum, a 'national movement' that operated as the single political party within Cambodia. After Sihanouk's swing leftward in 1963, Samphan's economic theories were put into practice in an extensive nationalisation programme. Samphan stood as a Sangkum deputy in the 1966 elections, in which the rightist elements of the party, led by Lon Nol, gained an overwhelming victory; he then became a member of a 'Counter-Government' created by Sihanouk to keep the rightists under control.

The 1967 Samlaut Uprising, a rebellion of rural peasantry in Battambang Province, led to a severe crackdown on the leftists. Samphan, who had called on the government to moderate its actions towards the demonstrators, was threatened by Sihanouk with arrest and execution, and fled Phnom Penh to join his former colleagues in the maquis. At the time, he was widely rumoured to have been murdered by Sihanouk's security forces.

After the coup of 1970 overthrew the government of Sihanouk, the Khmer Communists, including Khieu Samphan, joined forces with the now-deposed Head of State in establishing an anti-government coalition known as the Gouvernement Royal d'Union Nationale du Kampuchéa (GRUNK). In this alliance with his former enemies, Samphan served as deputy prime minister, minister of defence, and commander-in-chief of GRUNK military forces. (However, Pol Pot exercised real control over the latter.) In fact, Samphan's appointment to these posts and residence inside the country were instrumental in allowing GRUNK to maintain that it was not just a government-in-exile.

During the years of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979), Samphan remained near the top of the movement, assuming the post of president of the central presidium in 1976. His faithfulness to Pol Pot meant that he survived the purges in the later years of the Khmer Rouge rule. His roles within the party suggest he was well entrenched in the upper echelons of the CPK, and a leading figure in the ruling elite.[9]

After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and subsequent fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Samphan led a rebel government which was accorded a level of international recognition until 1982. In 1985 he officially succeeded Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge, and served in this position until he surrendered to the Cambodian government in 1998. In 1982, he was appointed Vice President in charge of foreign affairs of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea and from 1991 to 1993 he served in the Supreme National Council as Khmer Rouge representative. From 1993 his influence mainly vanished, with the real power still resided in Pol Pot's hands, who was Director of the Higher Institute of National Defence. In 1998 Khieu and former Pol Pot's deputy Nuon Chea surrendered to Hun Sen.


Khieu Samphan at a public hearing before the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 3 July 2009.

On November 13, 2007, Samphan reportedly suffered a stroke. This occurred one day after the former Khmer Rouge Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife were arrested for war crimes committed while they were in power.[10] At about the same time, a book by Samphan, Reflection on Cambodian History Up to the Era of Democratic Kampuchea, was published; in the book, he wrote that he had worked for social justice and the defence of national sovereignty, while attributing responsibility for all of the group's policies to Pol Pot.[11]

According to Samphan, under the Khmer Rouge "there was no policy of starving people. Nor was there any direction set out for carrying out mass killings", and "there was always close consideration of the people's well-being." He acknowledged the use of coercion to produce food due to shortages. Samphan also strongly criticized the current government in the book, blaming it for corruption and social ills.[11]

The historian Ben Kiernan stated that Samphan's protestations (such as the fact that he regarded the collectivization of agriculture as a "surprise", and his expressions of sympathy for his "friend" Hu Nim, a fellow member of the CPK hierarchy tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng) betrayed the fundamental "moral cowardice" of a man mesmerized by power but lacking any nerve.[12]

After he left a Phnom Penh hospital where he was treated following his stroke, Samphan was arrested[13][14] by the Cambodia Tribunal and charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.[14]

In April 2008 former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan made his first appearance at Cambodia's genocide tribunal. His lawyer, the late Jacques Vergès, used the defence that while Samphan has never denied that many people in Cambodia were killed, as head of state, he was never directly responsible for any crimes.[15]


  1. ^ "Mrs. SO Socheat". Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "ជនជាប់ចោទ នួន ជា និង ខៀវ សំផន ក៏ទទួលទេវតាឆ្នាំថ្មីដែរ" (in Khmer). Radio France Internationale. 16 April 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "KHIEU Samphan". Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Bora, Touch (February 2005). "Debating Genocide". The Phnom Penh post. Archived from the original on 2007-11-25. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  5. ^ Bora, Touch. "Jurisdictional and Definitional Issues". Khmer Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  6. ^ Esterline (1990), p. 94
  7. ^ Barron, Paul (1977), p. 46
  8. ^ "Indochina Chronicle 51-52; Sept.- Nov. 1976 "Underdevelopment in Cambodia" : Khieu Samphan 1931- : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  9. ^ "Top Khmer Rouge leader charged". BBC News. 2007-11-19. 
  10. ^ Cheang, Sopheng (2007-11-13). "Khmer Rouge Ex-Head of State Has Stroke". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-11-24. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  11. ^ a b "Former Khmer Rouge head of state praises Pol Pot in his new book". The International Herald Tribune (The Associated Press). 2007-11-18. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  12. ^ Kiernan, B. Don't Blame Me, It Was my Prime Minister, in The Long Term View, VI, 4, p.36
  13. ^ Cheang, Sopheng (2007-11-19). "Ex-Khmer Rouge Head of State Arrested". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-11-19. [dead link]
  14. ^ a b Ker, Munthit (2007-11-19). "Ex-Khmer Rouge Head of State Charged". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-11-19. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Khmer Rouge leader seeks release". BBC News. 07:33 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 08:33 UK. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 


  • Barron, John and Paul, Anthony; Murder of a gentle land: the untold story of a Communist genocide in Cambodia, Reader's Digest Press, 1977, ISBN 088349129X
  • Esterline, John H. and Mae H., "How the dominoes fell": Southeast Asia in perspective, University Press of America, 1990, ISBN 081917971X
Political offices
Preceded by
Penn Nouth
Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
Succeeded by
Pol Pot
Preceded by
Norodom Sihanouk
as Head of State
President of the State Presidium of Democratic Kampuchea
Succeeded by
Heng Samrin
as Chair of the Revolutionary Council
Preceded by
Pol Pot
Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
Succeeded by
Son Sen
Preceded by
Ieng Sary
Foreign Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pol Pot
General Secretary of the Party of Democratic Kampuchea
Succeeded by
None, party dissolved

External links[edit]