PHNOM PENH, March 14, Kyodo
Breaking News Alert
Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died Thursday of illness and old age, his son Ieng Vuth told Kyodo News.
Ieng Sary, 87, was the oldest of three former Khmer Rouge leaders being tried at a U.N.-backed tribunal on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
In 1996, he broke away from the Khmer Rouge and led a mass defection to the government.
Source: Ieng Sary dies | Kyodo News.
Who Was Ieng Sary?
Ieng Sary was a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and was a deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1978. Like Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan, he won a government scholarship to study in France in 1950 and was drawn into communism. A few years after his return from France in the mid-1950s, Ieng Sary was engaged in clandestine revolutionary activities and worked as a schoolteacher. Facing intense crackdown on communists by the Sihanouk regime, in 1963, Ieng Sary, along with Pol Pot, left Phnom Penh for the remote jungle in the Eastern Cambodia.
He escaped to the Thai border after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 and continued to serve as the Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister in charge of foreign affairs. Ieng Sary transferred formal responsibility in foreign affairs to Khieu Samphan after the creation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in 1982. Although he did not hold any formal position within the Khmer Rouge leadership, Ieng Sary was a very powerful figure within the Khmer Rouge as he secured a personal command in Pailin, a gem and timber rich Khmer Rouge stronghold in western Cambodia.
As rifts within the Khmer Rouge intensified as a result of its failure to advance militarily after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 and the drying up of Chinese aid, Ieng Sary defected to the government in 1996 along with the forces he commanded. He was soon pardoned by King Norodom Sihanouk from the death sentenced passed on him in absentia in 1979 by the Vietnamese backed government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. Although Ieng Sary holds no official position, he is believed to be the de facto leader of this autonomous region.
What was the Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, spreading like a virus from the jungles until they controlled the entire country, only to systematically dismantle and destroy it in the name of a Communist agrarian ideal. Today, more than 30 years after Vietnamese soldiers removed the Khmer Rouge from power, the first genocide trials will start — a bittersweet note of progress in an impoverished nation still struggling to rehabilitate its crippled economic and human resources.
The Khmer Rouge took root in Cambodia’s northeastern jungles as early as the 1960s, a guerrilla group driven by communist ideals that nipped the periphery of government-controlled areas. The flash point came when Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was deposed in a military coup in 1970 and leaned on the Khmer Rouge for support. The prince’s imprimatur lent the movement legitimacy, although while he would nominally serve as head of state, he spent much of the Khmer Rouge’s rule under house arrest. As the country descended into civil war, the Khmer Rouge presented themselves as a party for peace and succeeded in mobilizing support in the countryside.Read more: TIME.