Pol Pot's enforcer linked to 1.7m deaths
Ta Mok: Ta Mok, the nom de guerre of a Khmer Rouge leader who played a key role in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s, died yesterday in a Phnom Penh military hospital, where he awaited trial on genocide charges.
Historians of Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist 1975-1979 rule say he oversaw massive and bloody purges of party cadres and ordinary people, a role which later earned him the nickname "The Butcher".
To the last, however, the one-legged 80-year-old protested his innocence, saying he was merely a simple soldier maligned by the international media.
Over the past few years, Ta Mok's lawyer said his client was in declining health after suffering a heart attack. A frail, white- haired man, Ta Mok was believed to be 80. He maintained to the end that he bore no responsibility for Cambodia's "killing fields" and that other Khmer Rouge commanders had been the architects and perpetrators of the genocide.
But for years Ta Mok was a feared name in Cambodia. As the second in command of the Khmer Rouge, he and his followers were linked to the elimination of entire villages, forced labour camps, mass executions and torture chambers. The prime minister, Hun Sen, referred to him as the "Hitler of Cambodia".
Although little is known about his personal life, Ta Mok, whose real name was Chhit Choen, was born into a peasant family in Cambodia's southern province of Takeo. Like many poor young Cambodians in the 1930s, he became a Buddhist monk because pagodas offered food and shelter.
He left the monkhood at 16 and in the 1940s joined the resistance movement against the French colonialists.
Unlike other senior Khmer Rouge leaders such as Pol Pot, Ta Mok never studied abroad. His only ideology was Cambodian nationalism, and he vaguely grasped the concept of communism, which was the foundation of the Khmer Rouge's ultra-Maoist revolution.
"When I joined the Communist Party of Cambodia," he told Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review in a 1997 interview, "I did not know what communism was. They told me the party was a patriotic one. That is why I joined the party."
He also told Thayer his motivation for becoming a guerrilla was to secure a better life for Cambodian peasants and to free the country from Vietnamese domination. The Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975 after defeating the US-backed government of Lon Nol.
He established himself as Pol Pot's enforcer, dispatching cadres to parts of the country deemed insufficiently committed to the "Year Zero" revolution or too soft on traditional enemy Vietnam.
He was also the leader most strongly against reintroducing money, outlawed in the early days of power to reinforce the purity of the agrarian revolution.
During the 44 months it ruled Cambodia - until deposed in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops - the Khmer Rouge killed one of every six Cambodians in the name of creating a pure agrarian society free of foreign influence.
Ta Mok fled into the jungles after Vietnam's invasion to carry on the guerrilla war, first against Vietnam, then against the new Cambodian government. He conducted ruthless purges of the Khmer Rouge's suspected enemies and set up a fiefdom in the northern town of Anlong Veng.
UN peacekeepers in 1993 blamed him for the slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese, including many women and babies, in a fishing village on the Great Lake.
In 1997, Ta Mok took control of the Khmer Rouge from Pol Pot in a bloody purge. But by then, the movement was dying. Defectors by the hundreds had surrendered their weapons in exchange for a government offer of amnesty. Pol Pot died in the northern jungles in April 1998.
Ta Mok was arrested in March 1999 crossing into northern Cambodia from Thailand and charged with genocide under a law banning the Khmer Rouge.
Ta Mok: born 1926; died July 21st, 2006