Cambodian Prime Ministers III- Independence & Early Sangkum 1953-60

*Continuing from PART I and PART II

After King Sihanouk took control of government for the 3rd time (June 16 1952 – January 24 1953), he rushed forward his plans for independence from France. The king appointed Penn Nouth as Prime Minister (his second time in office) and gave him the command of the Khmer Royal Army before going into self-imposed exile in Siam.

Nouth oversaw the formal declaration of independence on  November 9, 1953 and was the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia until November 22, when he was replaced by Chan Nak.

Chan Nak

23 Nov 1953 –  7 Apr 1954: 135 days

Chan Nak was born in 1892 in Phnom Penh to a family of Mandarins of the Palace. His father was a Mandarin at the Court of King Norodom and then King Sisowath. At 15, he was admitted to the court after winning a student interpreter competition in 1907.

As he was still too young to get an administrative job, he continued his studies at Lycee Sisowath in Phnom Penh until 1909, then traveled to France and took courses at the Colonial School in the Magistracy Section.

On his return, he entered the Cambodian judiciary where rising up through to the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal in 1927, becoming Deputy Minister of Justice and in 1941, was appointed Minister of Justice.

He was Minister of Justice for the first short-lived Cambodian government under King Sihanouk (March 18 – August 13, 1945), and again for the third government of Cambodia chaired by Sisowath Monireth (October 17, 1945 – December 14, 1946).

He was in France from May to September 1949, as a member of the Commission for the Application of the Franco-Khmer Treaty (in the justice and safety section).

Chan Nak was reelected to the Council of the Kingdom in early 1950 and again became Minister of Justice in the 11th government of Cambodia chaired by Sihnouk (May 3 – May 31, 1950).

On May 30, 1950, he offered his resignation following irregularities committed during the investigation of the case of the assassination, on January 14, 1950, of the President of former Prime Minister Ieu Koeus. His resignation was rejected by the king, and remained minister in the government Sisowath Monipong  (June 1 – December 31, 1950).

With his excellent family credentials, Chan Nak sat on the Council of Regency instituted on March 31, 1951, and was appointed as Privy Councilor to the Crown on June 6, 1951.

He accompanied the king on a state visit to Japan in January 1952.

He was Prime Minister (the second of an independent Cambodia) and Minister of the Interior and Information in the 20th government of Cambodia (23 November 1953 – 6 April 1954) and was appointed president of the Cambodian delegation in charge of negotiations with France on April 22, 1954).

He died on 7 November 1954 in Paris, aged 62.

The next two governments were chaired by Sihanouk (7 April-18 April 1954-)and Penn Nouth (18 April 1954 – 25 January 1955).

Leng Negeth

25 Jan 1955 –  3 Oct 1955: 251 days

The next new Prime Minister was Leng Negeth- born in 1900 in Phnom Penh, he too studied at Lycee Sisowath College and Albert Sarraut High School in Hanoi, and afterwards at the Cambodian School of Administration. He continued his studies in law at the Colonial School of Paris. After he returned to Cambodia, he became a magistrate and served as a judge in the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal.

Due to his legal knowledge and skills, he accompanied King Sihanouk to Paris in February 1953 as the Royal Councilor. He then became a lawyer for the king.

From January 26 to September 30, 1955, he was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) and Minister of Foreign Affairs. His cabinet included Pho Proeung (Minister of Finance), Prak Praproeung (Minister of Interior and Defense), Sisowath Sirik Matak (Minister of National Defense), Neal Phleng (Minister of Public Works, Telecommunications and Planning), Chuop Samloth (Minister of Justice), Mao Chay (Minister of Information, social and labor action), Yem Sambaur (Minister of National Economy), Norodom Montana (Minister of National Education), Oum Chheangsun (Minister of Public Health) and Mey Nosey (Minister of Religion).

After this government, he was appointed Royal Councilor with responsibility for foreign affairs and legal matters. In August 1956 he became Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia, and returned to Cambodia in July 1957.

Ngeth in Rangoon, Burma in 1955 (Wikipedia)

In 1958 he was appointed Ambassador to China and later to Laos. In retirement, he took care of the Khmer-Chinese Friendship Association of which he was president.

Leng Negeth was married to Thip, one of the daughters of Samdach Veang Thiounn (who was grandfather of 3 senior Khmer Rouge officials), he had several children including an eldest son, Leng Sarang who worked as the Private Secretary of Prince Sihanouk and a daughter Vanny who married Ly Chinly- a diplomat who worked in Paris.

In the following 6 months there were another three governments formed, with Sihanouk leading two of them:

3 Oct 1955 –  4 Jan 1956  Prince Norodom Sihanouk (5th time)- The first Sangkum Reastr Niyum cabinet, which was elected after Sihanouk abdicated
4 Jan 1956 – 29 Feb 1956  Oum Chheang Sun (2nd time)
1 Mar 1956 –  3 Apr 1956  Prince Norodom Sihanouk (6th time)

Khim Tit

Khim Tit (Life Magazine)

3 Apr 1956 – 15 Sep 1956: 156 days

Born June 12, 1896 in Phnom Penh, Khim Tit began his schooling at the Francis-Garnier School.

In 1916, he interrupted his studies and tried to join the army fighting on the Western front. At first he was rejected by Recruitment Commission on physical grounds, but in 1917 and he managed to leave for France. In 1919, he was part of the French occupation troops in Germany and demobilized with the rank of sergeant.

Returning to Cambodia in 1920, he passed his primary studies certificate, then the competition of Secretaries of the Residences. In 1924, he graduated 1st from the School of Cambodian Administration and began a 20 year career in the civil service.

He began his career as a civil servant in the Cambodian Administration in Kompong-Siem (Kampong-Cham).

From 1927, he was Chauvaysrok (District Chief) in Kratié and then Takeo. Ten years later he was named Chauvaykhet (Provincial Governor) of Kratié and carried out the recruitment and management of the workforce for the construction of Highway 13.

Khim Tit was then Chauvaykhet of Kampong Speu, Siem Reap and Kampot.

During the Second World War, under the French Vichy Governor of Indochina Admiral Decoux, he was given responsibilities in the Khmer youth movement YUVAN.

After the Japanese coup of March 9, 1945, he adopted an anti-French attitude and becames Minister of National Defense in the government of Son Ngoc Thanh (August 14 – October 16, 1945).

Khim Tit’s position shifted quickly, and after the Japanese defeat, he maintained close relations with the British mission (Operation Masterdom- under Lord Mountbatten, which represented the Allied Forces in the region) and worked with French administrators sent to Cambodia Governor Cedille. He went to Saigon on October 8, 1945 and contacted the General LeClerc, special envoy of General de Gaulle in Indochina.

On October 15, 1945, General LeClerc went to Phnom-Penh and arrested political figures who had collaborated with the Japanese, including Son Ngoc Thanh.

Khim Tit distanced himself from this, explaining his time in Saigon was spent with the Allied command, persuading them to allow the Cambodian National Guard to keep its weapons to oppose any possible attack by Vietminh troops present in the Cambodia- earning him death threats from the Vietminh.

However, French Army records highlight his meetings with both the French and British, and as Minister of National Defense, he almost certainly played a role in the arrest of Son Ngoc Thanh. It was also suggested that the main hand behind this subterfuge was the young King Sihanouk, who feared the ambitions of the nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh- who would, after his return to Cambodia, in 1952 lead an armed rebellion against the throne.

Post-war, Khim Tit  became Minister of Public Works, Health and Communications in the Monireth cabinet (October 17, 1945 – December 14, 1946).

In September 1947, he founded with Leng Sath le parti d’Union Nationale (*cannot find any further information about this party), and in January 1948, was elected with his cousin (others say his brother-in-law) Machwa Hiptolla- an Indian-Khmer- to the High Council of the Throne. In the same year, he launched the newspaper “La Vérité”.

Khim Tit was member of the Cambodian delegation to the Commission of the Franco-Khmer treaty and between 1950-1954 in charge of internal security.

He was vocal in his concerns of the Cambodian south-eastern provinces occupied by the Vietminh and was again threatened with death by communist sympathizers.

On January 19, 1951, he presented to the king a request signed by ten Councilors asking for the recall of the National Assembly that had been dissolved in 1949.

In June 1951, he was appointed Chauvaykhet of Kandal province. One of his main tasks was to quash the right-wing rebel-cum-bandit groups led by Puth Chhay.

He continued to work in positions within the defense and interior ministires, and controlled the National Guard in the cabinet chaired by Sihanouk from June 16, 1952 – January 23, 1953. As Minister of National Defense in the cabinet chaired by Chan Nak (November 23, 1953 – April 6, 1954), he was appointed president of a Commission responsible bringing in rebel Issarak leaders Prince Norodom Chantarangsy and Savang Vong, who submitted to an amnesty on February 20.

He was Minister of the Interior in charge of Surface Defense in the cabinet chaired by Sihanouk (April 7 – April 17, 1954) and the following cabinet under Penn Nouth (April 18 – July 31, 1954).

On March 22, 1955, he was appointed at the same time as Sam Sary and Penn Nouth as a member of the High Council of the Crown, of which he sat as Vice-President , Minister of National Security, Minister in charge of the technical direction of the offices and services of the Presidency of the Council in the 3rd Sangkum government of Sihanouk (March 2 – April 3, 1956).

He became President of the Council (Prime Minister), and Minister of Planning and Sanitation from April 4 – September 15, 1956. Wikipedia states his office ended in July 1956, but several other sources confirm he left in September.

After his stint in office, he became Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and is thought to have died in 1975- possibly after the Khmer Rouge took power, but little is known of his life after 1960.

Another short lived Sihanouk government lasted a month, before another career politician took office.


25 Oct 1956 –  9 Apr 1957: 166 days

San Yun was born around 1905 into a wealthy Pursat family.

His career in the senior civil service began as Secretary of Residences in Cambodia and Senior Secretary in  Kompong-Thom. After March 9, 1945, he was assigned to Phnom-Penh at the Secretariat of the Ministry of National Economy; shortly after he became Secretary of the Palace.

In April 1949, he received orders from Yem Sambaur to contact the Khmers Issarak rebels of the North-West region with the mission to bring them back under government control. He negotiated the surrender of the Issarak Dap Chhuon in October 1949- Dap Chhoun would, 10 years later, be implicated in a plot to assassinate Sihanouk.

Perhaps in recognition of this feat, he was appointed Governor of Phnom-Penh, a post he held until the end of 1953.

San Yun was Governor of Kompong Cham province from late 1953 to September 30 1955. He was made Minister of the Interior and Surface Defense in the 1st Sangkum cabinet of Sihanouk from October 4, 1955 – January 5, 1956.

He then became President of the Council (Prime Minister), Minister of the Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense and Sanitation in the 6th cabinet of the Sangkum (there were 6 governments in just over a year) from October 26, 1956 – January 3, 1957.

After handing the reigns back over to Sihanouk (the prince’s 7th stint in office),  San Yun was made Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and of Health in the 7th Sangkum cabinet (January 4 – April 9, 1957).

He was Minister of State in charge of the National Economy and Planning in the 10th Cabinet of the Sangkum under Penn Nouth’s short 4th term (January 22 – April 29, 1958), and appears to have drifted away from mainstream politics.

San Yun was credited as the main organizer of the Indochinese Peoples Conference which was held in Phnom-Penh in 1965. The conference brough many disparate ethnic groups together and was where the FULRO militia group was formed.

In 1966, he was made Director General of Services of the Royal Palace and Secretary General of the Sangkum.

He died a few months before the fall of Phnom-Penh, and had been married twice with 3 children from his first marriage and 6 from his second.

Another short Sihanouk led cabinet lasted from 9 April to 27 July, and a curious choice was made for the next leader.

Sim Var

27 Jul 1957 – 11 Jan 1958: 159 days

24 Apr 1958 – 10 Jul 1958: 78 days

Total: 237 days

Sim Var was born into a peasant farming family on February 2, 1906 in Tbaung Khmum (Kampong Cham).

He was schooled in Kampong Cham and then went for further studies at Lycee Sisowath College (BEPC). After completing school he first worked as a French interpreter in the Phnom Penh Court, but resigned after a few years.

Sim Var was drawn into the nationalist group formed by World War I veteran Pach Chhoeun and Son Ngoc Thanh. Together, they found an association called Nagarra Vatta (Angkor Wat), and published the first Khmer newspaper of the same name from 1936. He also founded a satirical newspaper “Krabei Prei”.

Sim Var built a relationship with Prince Suramarith and Princess Kossamak- the parents of Sihanouk. The protection from the powerful royals would later become useful, after public disagreements with Sihanouk.

At the end of World War II, Sim Var was running a large intelligence service for employing many agents disguised as “consular officers”. He was removed by the French in 1946. In March-April 1946 he joined Ieu Koeus and Chhean Vam in the Democratic Party.

After the war he worked in forestry in Pursat and Kompong Chhnang- perhaps as a cover for rebel activities.

He was voted into office in the election of September 1, 1946, and became Vice-President of the Consultative Assembly.

On February 27, 1947, he was arrested with 17 other people by the French military security on the charge of being a member of the Black Star (a secret organization of Son Ngoc Thanh).

According to French sources, this group encouraged anti-French actions- such as supplying the Issarak rebel group and intimidating pro-French Cambodians. Other alleged members included senior Democrats such as Ieu Koeus, Hem Chamrouen, Chhean Vam and Yem Sambaur. Sim Var was taken to Saigon and held without trial for nine months from March to  November 1947. He was brought back to Cambodia and kept under house arrest in Kompong Cham until June 1948- probably after intervention from sympathetic voices in the palace.

He was one of the five members chosen by the Khmer National Assembly on 21 July 1948, to sit in the Assembly of the French Union as an advisor. The following May, this group demanded Cambodia’s full independence. While in France, it is widely thought he had contact with the French Communist party, and pro-Vietminh elements. He remained in France until June 29, 1951.

He stood in the election of September 9, 1951 in the constituency of Kompong Siem (Kompong Cham), but was not elected.

On November 21, 1951 Sim Var was appointed as Under-Secretary of State in charge of National Police, replacing Prak Praproeung. He was involved in the creation of a special brigade- specifically for the surveillance of Cambodians maintaining close relations with the French authorities. He is suspected on aiding the escape of Son Ngoc Thanh, who fled to the jungle on March 9, 1952.

As the tension between the king and the Democrats grew, in 1952 Sim Var switched his support to Sihanouk, and was made Minister of National Economy in two cabinets lasting from June 16, 1952 to July 28, 1953 and Minister of National Defense in the 19th Cabinet chaired by the King from July 29 to November 22, 1953.

In September 1953, he was one of the twenty people chosen for form the Commission responsible for establishing the transfer of power after independence.

He was also Minister of Public Works and Telecommunications and Agriculture.

Although one of the founders of the Democratic Party, he had become ostracized by his former colleagues for his closer ties with Sihanouk.

When the Sangkum was founded, he became the first Secretary General and actively participated in the drafting of the Sangkum statutes.

He took the role of President of the National Assembly (Prime Minister) from 1955 to early 1956, and was then Advocate General at the High Court of Justice from October 1956.

Around the same time as publishing another newspaper La Dépêche, the first issue of which was printed on August 1, 1957,he became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Planning in the 9th Cabinet of the Sangkum from July 27, 1957 to January 21, 1958.

In the 11th Cabinet of the Sangkum (April 30 to July 10, 1958) he was Chairman (Prime Minister) a second time, Minister of National Defense and Minister of General Sanitation. His efforts to reduce corruption among high-ranking members of the government led to his fall from grace, and he was posted to Japan as ambassador (mid-1958 to 1964).

From 1966, he was became openly opposed to Sihanouk, and was elected deputy for the 6th district of Phnom-Penh in the 1966 elections.

In the 22nd Cabinet of the Sangkum chaired by Lon Nol (October 25 1966 to May 1, 1967), he became Vice-Chairman of the Board, Minister of Religion, Minister responsible for the coordination of Social and Cultural Affairs, Health and Youth.

He created Khmer language newspaper, “Khmer Ekkereach”, and he supported Lon Nol and Sirik Matak in the lead up to the ousting of Sihanouk in March 1970.

After the coup of March 18, 1970, he was again appointed Ambassador to Japan. On March 30, 1974, he resigned from this post in disagreement with the policies of Lon Nol.

He sought asylum in France in 1974, where he founded the MOULKHMER (Khmer Liberation Union Movement )- a right-wing nationalist group in 1977, and joined Son Sann’s KPNLF in 1979.

Sim Var in Paris, 1977

He was married to a Khmer woman in 1962, and a Japanese woman named Yoko Kawada, whom me met during his time as ambassador.

He died in 1989 in France aged 83.

Sim Var was replaced by a double record breaker.

Ek Yi Oun   

11 Jan 1958 – 17 Jan 1958: 6 days

Ek Yi Oun was the shortest serving Cambodian head of state, with a term of just 6 days. Born in Phnom Penh in 1910 (date of birth unknown), before taking office Ek Yi Oun had been deputy speaker of the National Assembly.

He also served as acting President of the National Assembly of Cambodia in 1970.

After he died in 2013, Ek Yi Oun went into the record books as one of the oldest living former statesmen. As his date of birth was not recorded, he was either 102 or 103 years old at the time of his passing in Phnom Penh. Interestingly, the eldest former statesman with a recorded dad of birth was one of Ek Yi Oun’s successors Chau Sen Cocsal, who served 2 terms in 1962-63 and 1966-68, who lived to 103 and 143 days.

Apart from these records, very little else seems to be written on Ek Yi Oun, despite is incredibly long life.

17 Jan 1958 – 24 Apr 1958  Samdech Penn Nouth (4th time)     
24 Apr 1958 – 10 Jul 1958  Sim Var (2nd time)               
10 Jul 1958 – 18 Apr 1960  Prince Norodom Sihanouk (9th time)

The term ‘Prime Minister’ is used loosely to refer to the parliamentary Head of State- as other terms are used in Cambodian political history.

There are major gaps in some of the profiles- which are taken from French and English language sources. Some of the dates and days in office may not be totally correct. The names and dates in office are taken from WORLDSTATESMAN and may not always tally with other sources.

Multiple sources including KBN, KI MEDIA and Sakou Samoth- HOMMES ET HISTOIRE DU CAMBODGE


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