Non Suon - at a glance
Name (alias): Non (Chey) Suon
Childhood origins: peasant family in Kampot
Before joining maqui: jailed by Sihanouk in 1962, and was there until 1970. Prior to that was an early leader of Southwest Zone (United Issaraks Front in late 1940’s) and a leader of the Pracheachon Party, the ‘semi-legal’ communist front until his arrest.
When joined the maqui: After being released from jail in 1970 (by Lon Nol) became a CPK Secretary in Region 31 Kampong Chnang (part of Southwest Zone).
Responsibilities pre 1975: CPK Secretary of Region 25 (Kandal) from 1971 (Region 25 was part of Special Zone until 1975, then moved to Southwest Zone)
Group associations: Krom Pracheachon (Citizens group), old Issarak leaders
Responsibilities during KR rule: Initially appointed head of National Bank, then Minister of Agriculture, and shared Ministry of Commerce.
Death: Arrested in November 1976 in a sweep of Pracheachon group members and executed shortly after.
Non Suon – extended biography
When Non Suon was arrested in November 1976 by the regime in which he was Minister of Agriculture, it was not his first time in prison. Unlike many in the new leadership group he sat out most of the 1960’s in prison, after being given a death sentence (later commuted) in 1962 by Sihanouk.
Non Suon, a peasant from Kampot Province, was the first ever leader of the Southwest Zone after being appointed as such by Son Ngoc Minh, the preeminent leader of the Kampuchea communist movement from 1945. Suon was in charge as the UIF (United Issarak Front) ran rampant in the region and was the head of thousands of revolutionaries who destroyed bridges1 and controlled land and villages, immune from the French colonial regime.
With the Geneva Accords following the French withdrawal from Indochina in 1954, Khmer Issaraks were told to leave Kampuchea by their North Vietnamese allies. Non Suon however stayed and, clearly out of his comfort zone in the city, went to Phnom Penh and got a job at the airport. He quit shortly after however fearing for his safety, worried his true identity as a communist would be revealed.
Over the next seven years, until his arrest in 1962, Suon became a leader of the Pracheachon Group, the ‘semi legal’ front for the movement. His colleagues were Keo Meas and Ney Sarann, but they spent time with Saloth Sar (Pol Pot) who had become the main contact between the various illegal, semi-legal and legal arms of the movement. Suon noted Sar’s “austere clothing” but never got to know his name.
Suon attended what has become the symbolic founding meeting of the CPK (Communist Party of Kampuchea) at the railway station in Phnom Penh in 1960. He was accepted on to the Central Committee.
He became well known to the authorities when he stood in the 1955 elections, winning 23% of the vote in his seat of Kampot. Unlike Sar, who remained relatively unknown, Suon was made to face Sihanouk’s public vilification of leftists. As a result of this he was at one point surrounded by “several thousand jeering supporters of the Sangkum (Sihanouk’s party) but …(Sihanouk gave) him police protection after people in the crowd threatened to assault him.”2
In this increasingly hostile political environment, Suon was beaten up in jail before being released, but later arrested in July 1962, after which the Pracheachon group had no legal existence. Although sentenced to death for “plotting against the state”, this was commuted to life imprisonment.3 Suon spent the next 8 years in jail.
Released from jail
In one of many injustices inflicted on Suon, it was intimated by some in the CPK leadership group that he had “rallied to the enemy” while in jail, and was thus suspect. He was released from jail by Lon Nol, as were many other future communist leaders, including Phouk Chhay.
He was immediately appointed as CPK Secretary of Region 31, Kampong Chnang, which was part of the Southwest Zone at the time. In mid 1971 however he was switched to Region 25, Kandal Province, in a move at the heart of internal party manoeuvering. Region 25 was moved out of the Eastern Zone, which was more tolerant of Vietnamese influence than the Centre (Pol Pot), and into the Special Zone, which included Phnom Penh. (see map below)
source: https://terrorofcambodia.weebly.com/maps-of-cambodia.html retrieved 7 November , 2017
Suon was thus trusted enough to ally himself, and more importantly the party cadres and fighters below him, with the Centre. in their eyes this could weaken the Eastern Zone influence there. Despite this, he ran the region in a manner unlike what was happening to the south in Takeo Province where Ta Mok was well known for his intolerant and ruthless purging and implementation of radical communist social practices.
A teacher who lived through the times said later, “Non Suon was not responsible for any killings. They began in the bases after he had gone” 4 Another survivor said of the treatment of his fellow muslims, pre 1975, “ the communists did good things, they did not kill people. Life was still happy then” 5
Against Ta Mok
Kiernan describes Suon as being aligned with Chou Chet against Ta Mok.6 This became more relevant when Region 25 was transferred out of the Special Zone into the Southwest Zone, where Ta Mok held sway. This happened after victory, when Suon was moved out and replaced by a more hard line cadre.7
Another report noted that despite Suon’s public face, he was “privately anti-Vietnamese”8. By late 1973 he was organising large anti-Vietnamese demonstrations in his region. In June 1973 he started setting up cooperatives but “in a cautious and non-coercive manner” There was no communal eating or defrocking monks and Islam survived there until into 1976.9
In April 1975, with victory for the KCP, Suon was appointed Minister of Agriculture and later shared the Commerce Ministry. He even travelled overseas and was returning in November 1976 when he was arrested after stepping off his flight.
The regime was about to launch the first major purge, ostensibly to act against a Vietnamese plot to install a revisionist government. 10 Chan Chakrey, a general from the Eastern Zone was arrested and, in a chain of accusations obtained under torture, the Pracheachon group were fingered as fellow traitors.
In rapid succession the entire leadership of the group, Keo Meas, Ney Sarann and Non Suon were taken to Tuol Sleng and executed. With Suon went his wife and children, his cadres and their families, his bodyguards and technicians he worked with in his ministry. 200 of his associates disappeared.
- Ben Kiernan, How Pol Pot Came to Power, Verso, 1985, p 87. Kiernan quotes police records at the time, 1952, noting that west of Kampot, towards Kompong Som (Sihanoukville), 30 bridges had been destroyed by the rebels.
- David Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 1991, Silkworm, Bangkok p 119
- Kiernan, ibid, p 195.
- Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, 2002, Silkworm, Bangkok, p 202
- Kiernan, How Pol Pot came to Power, p 382
- Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 80.
- Kiernan, ibid p 202. He was called Som Chea, and he was executed in the purges of 1977, and replaced by another hard liner, called Prak, who led the purges and killed many people.
- Chandler, ibid p 219, quoting Carney.
- Kiernan, How Pol Pot came to Power, p 381.
- Phillip Short, Pol Pot – The History of a Nightmare, John Murray, London, 2004, p 359.
- Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 335