Ta Mok

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Ta Mok (Khmer: តាម៉ុក; 1924, Takéo Province, Cambodia – 21 July 2006, Phnom Penh), which means "Grandfather Mok" in Khmer, was the nom de guerre of Chhit Choeun, a senior figure in the leadership of the Khmer Rouge. His name has also been reported as Ek Choeun, Oeung Choeun and Ung Choeun, and he was also known as "Brother Number Five" or "the Butcher".[1]

In Khmer Rouge[edit]

He is believed to have been born into a prosperous[2] country family from Takéo Province, and was of Chinese-Khmer descent.[3] He became a Buddhist monk in the 1930s but left the order at the age of 16.[4] Ta Mok took part in the resistance against French colonial rule and then the anti-Japanese resistance during the 1940s. He was training for the Buddhist priesthood in Pali when he joined the anti-French Khmer Issarak in 1952.[5]He soon left Phnom Penh and joined the Khmer Rouge.

Ta Mok's house in Takéo

By the late 1960s he was a general and the Khmer Rouge's chief-of-staff. He was also a member of the Standing Committee of the Khmer Rouge's Central Committee ("Party Center") during its period in power. He became very powerful within the party, especially in the south-west zone. He was named by Pol Pot as leader of the national army of Democratic Kampuchea.[6] He lost the lower part of one leg in fighting around 1970.

Ta Mok is believed[citation needed] to have orchestrated many massacres within the zone he controlled from 1973, beginning before the final, complete seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. It is believed that he directed the massive purges that characterised the short-lived Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979), earning him the nickname Butcher.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge[edit]

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims

After the regime was overthrown in 1979, Ta Mok remained a powerful figure, controlling the northern area of the Khmer Rouge's remaining territory from his base at Anlong Veng in the Dângrêk Mountains. It is estimated that some 3,000 to 5,000 combatants remained loyal to Pol Pot and were directed by Ta Mok.

In 1997, following a split in the party, Ta Mok seized control of one faction, naming himself supreme commander. Pol Pot then fled the Khmer Rouge's northern stronghold, but was later arrested and sentenced to lifelong house arrest. In April 1998, following a new government attack, Ta Mok fled into the forest, taking Pol Pot with him. A few days later, on 15 April 1998, Pol Pot died in custody. While Pol Pot reportedly died of a heart attack, the majority in his circle say his death was caused by poison.

In 1998, following several key defections, Ta Mok was forced to flee to Anlong Veng. On 6 March 1999, the general was captured by the Cambodian army near the Thai border and brought to Phnom Penh, where he joined former comrade Khang Khek Ieu ("Duch") at the Military Prosecution Department Detention Facility. Ta Mok was the last leading member of the Khmer Rouge to remain at large in Cambodia; other senior figures had died or already made immunity deals with the government of Hun Sen, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary.

In prison his detention period was repeatedly extended without his being brought to trial. Under Cambodian law his trial should have begun within six months of his arrest. Initially charged with membership of an outlawed group and tax evasion, in February 2002 he was charged with crimes against humanity. In poor health, suffering especially from respiratory problems, Ta Mok's only releases from solitary confinement were for hospital visits. On 21 July 2006, due to heart complications caused by the stress of the upcoming trial, he died in a military hospital after falling into a coma.[7][1]


  1. ^ a b "Khmer Rouge 'butcher' Ta Mok dies". BBC News. 21 July 2006. 
  2. ^ Aglionby, John (July 22, 2006). "Obituary Ta Mok". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  3. ^ Jurisdictional and Definitional Issues Jurisdictional and Definitional Issues, Bora Touch, Khmer Institute
  4. ^ Lamb, David (21 July 2006). "Ta Mok, 80; Key Figure in Cambodian Genocide". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-24. [dead link]
  5. ^ Harris, Ian (2005). Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-8248-2765-1. 
  6. ^ "Profile:Ta Mok". Trail. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "Top Khmer Rouge leader 'in coma'". BBC News. 15 July 2006. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bizot, François (2003). The Gate. Euan Cameron, trans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 
  • Becker, Elizabeth (1998) [1986]. When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. New York: Public Affairs. 

External links[edit]