Prince Norodom Phurissara (October 13, 1919 - 1976 or 1977) was a prominent leftist Cambodian politician of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, who held a number of ministerial posts. A member of the Cambodian royal family, he disappeared during the political purges carried out by the Communist Party of Cambodia (the Khmer Rouge) after it came to power.
Education and early political career
In 1954, he became Secretary-General of the Democratic Party, which until that point had been the dominant force in Cambodian internal politics. Phurissara and a group of Paris-educated radicals steered the party increasingly to the left. The American embassy reported that he considered American military assistance to the fledgling Cambodia state as "unnatural" and was increasingly accepting "basic pro-Communist ideas".
The Democrats, however, were to lose the 1955 elections to Sihanouk's Sangkum movement; the party later dissolved itself, allegedly under pressure from the Sangkum security apparatus. Phurissara went on to join the Sangkum and serve as the Cambodian Foreign Minister during the later 1960s, in a period when Sihanouk was strengthening ties with China and other communist nations.
After Sihanouk was deposed by his Prime Minister, General Lon Nol, in the Cambodian coup of 1970, he set up a government-in-exile, the GRUNK, incorporating his former communist opponents, the Khmer Rouge. Phurissara was to 'defect' to the communist 'liberated zone', and joined the GRUNK, later being appointed Minister of Justice from 1973, though he was to complain that the communists did not allow him any genuine power.
In early 1976, after the Khmer Rouge victory in the civil war, Sihanouk returned as Head of State, but was shortly to tender his resignation to the communists. They dispatched Phurissara, along with Ieng Sary, to persuade him to change his mind, but Sihanouk refused: the Khmer Rouge cadres Khieu Samphan and Saloth Sar, the latter now using the name Pol Pot, took over leadership as Head of State and Prime Minister.
Phurissara was to continue in his role with the GRUNK for some months, but was soon removed in a purge of former Sihanoukists and more liberal Khmer Rouge cadres. He was initially sent to the Boeng Trabek re-education camp near Phnom Penh, but later disappeared and is assumed to have been executed. According to family members physically present at the time, sometime in April 1978 (exact date can not be ascertained) a Khmer Rouge military truck arrived at the location where Prince Phurissara had been assigned to live. The Khmer Rouge took Prince Phurissara and his wife into the truck and drove away. They were never seen again. It is widely believed they were taken to the area (Odom) where other royal family members were believed executed (murdered). Sihanouk was later to express a fear that Phurissara, who he supposed to have been brutally tortured and killed, along with other members of his family, had been targeted specifically due to Sihanouk's refusal to continue as Head of State.
- Clymer, K. J. The United States and Cambodia, 1870-1969, Routledge, 2004, p.49
- Dommen, A. The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans, IUP, p.967