Chou Chet – at a glance
Name (alias): Chou Chet
Before joining maqui: He was part of the Issarak delegation arising out of the Geneva talks in 1955, and was the editor of various left wing newspapers, which made him a target for Sihanouk. Arrested twice in the 1960’s before fleeing to the jungle
When joined the maqui: He went to Southwest Zone and was in and out of the Central Committee of the CPK
Responsibilities pre 1975: He was part of the leadership group and called the ‘Chairman’ of the zone, having to work with Ta Mok
Group associations: editor of Pracheachon newspaper (communist) in early 1960’s, an elder of the revolution and a moderate compared to Ta Mok and the Centre. Allied with Phouk Chhay.
Responsibilities during KR rule: He was given leadership of a newly created zone, the Western Zone, which comprised the poorer and more sparsely populated areas of Koh Kong, Kampong Speu and Kampong Chnang. He travelled to China as a KR leader in 1976.
Death: arrested in March 1978 after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Pol Pot, and executed in Tuol Sleng, along with many of his zone leaders
Chou Chet – extended biography
Chou Chet was one of the older Issarak leaders from the 1950’s who adapted to each stage and form of the left wing resistance, becoming a Khmer Rouge Zone leader (West Zone) after they took power in 1975. He opposed the violent and xenophobic tactics and politics of Ta Mok, his fellow Southwest Zone leader, and ultimately seemed to be caught up in an armed rebellion against Pol Pot. Unfortunately his timing was off and he was taken to Tuol Sleng and executed, as were many thousands of other Khmer Rouge cadres.
New York Times report on the Genava Accords, after which the Pracheachon movement was launched.1
Chet’s name first appears around 1955 when he was part of a delegation of (Issarak) resistance figures negotiating with Sihanouk after the Geneva Conference, which ended French colonialism in Indochina. He became editor of the Pracheachon newspaper, the organisation of the same name, which embodied the left wing opposition movement and was a front for the Communist movement. He was one of thirty leftist leaders arrested in 1960 at a time when they were beaten up on the street by government thugs.
Chet was involved with other left wing newspapers and was arrested at least twice for his politics by Sihanouk. In the early 1960’s repression against the left increased and it became dangerous to continue to publicly oppose Sihanouk.
In 1964, with other leaders being arrested and beaten Chet fled for the jungle, leaving behind others who stayed in Phnom Penh and continued to provide an alternative, more moderate analysis and narrative.
He ended up in the leadership of the Southwest Zone despite not being on the Central Committee of the party. He shared the duties with Ta Mok and others and was believed to be Zone Leader in 1970, when Lon Nol overthrew Sihanouk.
Tension with Ta Mok
The tension between Chou Chet and Ta Mok, with supporters on both sides, played out over the next 5 years, and reflected the relative fortunes of the policies of each. Ta Mok was always in step with the Centre as it became more radical, anti-Vietnamese and repressive.
Chet, however, always sought to work with and acknowledge the role of their fraternal comrades, the Vietnamese revolutionaries (NVA and the NLF). His instincts were to reeducate rather than execute, even with Lon Nol soldiers. This became a flash point and Ta Mok was enraged that such a policy would allow enemies to remain alive. 2
Despite the conflict between the two Chou was still elected to the Central Committee of the Party in 1971, so must still have been trusted, or at least seen as useful by Pol Pot. The battle for control of the Khmer Rouge direction was over by 1973, when the extreme US bombing in the Zone made compromise harder than ever.
While Ta Mok was the military commander, Chet was the political-administrative leader, and ‘Chairman’ of the Southwest Zone, until victory. In 1975 he was made leader of a new zone – the West. This comprised the most barren, lightly populated parts of the Southwest Zone – Koh Kong and western parts of Kompong Speu. Ta Mok retained control of the more populous Takeo and Kampot provinces – the heartland of the new regime.
Chet served the regime faithfully until 1978 when cadres could no longer avoid the necessity to act before they were taken away by a Centre whose policies had become discredited. 3 Word leaked however and troops loyal to Pol Pot acted first, arresting those who would rebel. This included Chet who was taken, with his wife, to Tuol Sleng in March 1978, less than a year before the collapse of the regime.
- Ben Kiernan, How Pol Pot Came to Power, (Verso, London, 1986)
- Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, (Silkworm, Bangkok, 2002), p 390-2