Cambodian Prime Ministers VI- The Khmer Republic At War
*Continuing from PART I , PART II, PART III, PART IV, and PART V
Hang Thun Hak
14 Oct 1972 – 16 May 1973: 214 days
Hang Thun Hak was born on August 21, 1926 in the village of Prek Kak, Steung Trang district, Kampong Cham province (close to the birthplace of current Prime Minister Hun Sen).
He studied theater at the Sarah Bernhardt School for Performing Arts in Paris, and during his stay in France associated with notable radicals including left-wing scholar Keng Vannak- mentor to Saloth Sar/Pol Pot. It is more than likely that Hang Thun Hak and Saloth Sar were known to each other, as they were in Paris at the same time and had the same circle of friends.
Hang Thun Hak returned to Cambodia in 1951 and soon joined the ‘maquis’ anti-colonialist rebel group
Based in the Dangrèk mountains- under the leadership of Son Ngoc Thanh. His theater background was put to use, and he produced patriotic plays broadcast over the rebel radio station.
After independence he became a teacher at Sisowath High School, and later director of the national theater troupe in Phnom Penh. He adapted several plays including Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and Pierre Corneille’s ‘El Cid’ and was a central figure in the development of modern Khmer theater.
His notable plays included ថ្មរាំ (The Dancing Stone) 1954, បទពិសោធន៍នៃសេចក្តីស្រឡាញ់ (The Experience of Love) in collaboration with Hang Chuon and Phoeuk Sam Phén, 1964. These often drew on contentious issues such as traditional values in a modern age, corruption and thinly veiled political satire. Hang Thun Hak was, however, fortunate enough to have some degree of protection from Sihanouk’s mother, Queen Kossamak, with whom he was close. Following the ousting of Sihanouk in 1970, Hang Thun Hak ensured her welfare when she was placed under house arrest in 1970, and personally accompanied her to Beijing in 1973.
He was rector of the University of Fine Arts from 1966 to 1970, and after the events of March 1970, he was appointed Minister of Community Development. Then, he became Prime Minister from October 7, 1972 to April 17, 1973 following Son Ngoc Thanh’s brief term and was replaced by In Tam.
In the final weeks of the Khmer Republic, Hang Thun Hak was elected to the Governing Council, which attempted- in vain-, to negotiate a peace settlement with Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge leadership. His wife, son and two daughters were able toe scape Cambodia and settled in the United States, while Hang Thun Hak remained in Phnom Penh. He was executed by the Khmer Rouge soon after the fall of the capital, aged 48 years old.
16 May 1973 – 26 Dec 1973: 224 days
In Tam was born on September 22, 1922 in Prek Kak, Stung Treang district in Kampong Cham province.
Between 1928 and 1929, he studied Pali at Stung Treang Pagoda. He was a student at Lycee Sisowath, before joining the Cambodian School of Administration in 1942.
In Tam married Neang In Tat in July 1943, who was elected in 1966 as a deputy in Kampong Cham province.
Also in July 1943, he joined the Cambodian administration as a junior civil servant in the provinces of Prey Veng, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham then in the highlands region.
From 1953 to 1954, he was inspector of the provincial guard of Kampong Cham, 1956 to 1958, the director of the School of Provincial Guard Cadres of Kampong Chhnang, and 1958 to 1964, the governor of Takeo, a post he combined with being Chief of the surface defense staff and, from 1959 to 1962, director of the Royal Police Academy.
From December 26, 1964 to October 24, 1966, he was Minister of the Interior and also of Cults and Religion.
In 1967, Prince Norodom Sihanouk appointed him governor of Battambang and put him in charge of maintaining order after the peasant revolts in Samlaut. He kept this post for nearly a year but had to temporarily give up his seat in the National Assembly.
From February 1, 1968 to July 12, 1968, In Tan was Minister of Agriculture for a cabinet chaired by Penn Nouth. In 1969, following a by-election to replace Hu Nim– a leftist who had rebelled and joined the Khmer Rouge- he was elected to Chrey Vien, in the province of Kampong Cham.
On February 26, 1970, he became interim president of the National Assembly, and on March 18, 1970, he participated in the ousting of Norodom Sihanouk, voting to dismiss the monarch, and encouraging others to participate. He then became president of the National Assembly from May 3, 1971 to March 12, 1972, and was the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of the Khmer Republic, in charge of the interior. He stood for the presidential elections on June 4, 1972, but lost to Lon Nol.
From May 15, 1973 to December 7, 1973, In Tam was Prime Minister, and from September 22, 1973 also in charge of the interior, religion and general mobilization for the armed forces.
At the end of December 1973, he retired from politics and became a farmer in Poipet, Banteay Meanchey province.
On February 5, 1975, Norodom Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge published a list of “seven traitors” who would be executed immediately after the capture of Phnom Penh : Lon Nol, Sirik Matak, In Tam, Cheng Heng, Sosthène Fernandez, Lon Non and Long Boret.
On April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge returned to Phnom Penh, In Tam was in Poipet and quickly fled to Thailand and became one of the founders of the first armed anti-Khmer Rouge government groups. He was deported by the Thais on December 22, 1975- first to France, and nn October 4, 1976 was granted asylum in the USA, where his family already were.
He co- founded in 1976, along with fellow former PM Son Sann, the General Association Khmers Abroad to support and finance groups of former Republican soldiers fighting against the Pol Pot regime.
In 1981, he became 2nd vice-president of the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) and was the commander-in-chief of FUNCINPEC’s military wing, the MOULINAKA, later known as the Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste. Due to internal struggles within the movement, he resigned from all his posts on December 31, 1983, and was replaced as commander by Norodom Ranariddh (other sources say in 1985).
He founded “Khmer Atmatak”, a humanitarian association based in the United States. As president of this organization, he was invited to return to Phnom Penh by the Cambodian government in January 1989.
Thanks to the links he forged with the leaders, he became, an adviser to the government in 1990 and was involved with the preparation of the new constitution.
In order to participate in the 1993 elections, he founded the Democratic Party and ran for the province of Kampong Cham; the party failed to win any seats.
Following the election, he withdrew once again from political life and returned to the United States, where he died on April 1, 2006, in Chandler, Arizona, at the age of 83
26 Dec 1973 – 17 Apr 1975: 477 days
Long Boret was born in 1932 in Chbar Ampéou near Kien Svay in Kandal Province (other sources give his birthday as January 3, 1933). He was the youngest politician in the Khmer Republic, and one of its brightest stars- if it were not for his tragic death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, would surely have shaped Cambodian politics in later years.
Educated at Lycée Sisowath from 1946 to 1952, he studied in France from 1953 to 1955, then returned to Cambodia to work in the Royal Treasury.
By Long Boret was an economist by training, rather than a politician, but soon showed aptitude for diplomacy. In 1958, aged just 26, he was made Under-Secretary of State for Labor and Social Action in one of the many successive governments under the Sangkum system, established by Prince Sihanouk in 1955 shortly after his abdication.
In 1959, Long Boret held the post of Secretary of State for Information, in 1962, Secretary of State for Finance, and took his first ministerial role in 1966, but soon fell out with Sihanouk over economical issues and left the cabinet.
In May 1970, Long Boret was in Manila on an economic mission and therefore took no part in the vote to oust Sihanouk.
He hesitated for some time, before returning to Phnom Penh and throwing in his support to the new regime. Known for his intelligence, strong work ethic, and also his flexibility- which enabled him to get along easily with Lon Nol and the various political clans of the republican regime-he quickly occupied important positions, including Minister of Information from 1971 to 1972 and Foreign Minister from 1972 to 1973.. Three years later, in December 1973, with the Khmer Republic embroiled in a seemingly unwinnable against the Chinese backed Khmer Rouge, he became Prime Minister.
Between December 1973-April 1975, Long Boret- encouraged by the Americans, who saw in him a capable pro-Western politician- attempted to reach various political settlements with Sihanouk and his communist allies. Although some more moderate former colleagues in Sihanouk’s government in exile, the Khmer Rouge force leader wanted nothing short of a total military victory.
On April 1, 1974, the High Political Council that was dissolved the day before was replaced by a four-man executive council: Lon Nol, Sirik Matak, Long Boret and General Sosthene Fernandez, and on June 17, Long Boret formed a new 16 member cabinet which was dismissed by Lon Nol on March 11, 1975.
On April 8, 1975, Long Boret traveled to Bangkok to discuss peace terms and surrender with Khmer Rouge leaders, but failed to secure any compromise. He could have remained in Thailand, but instead chose to return to Phnom Penh, confident he could negotiate with the commanders on the ground- who’s troops had encircled the capital.
After military leaders and politicians of the Republic began to flee the city, he refused- according to the US Ambassador John Gunther Dean, who met with the Prime Minister in the early hours of April 12- the day of Operation Eagle Pull:
“Long Boret refused to be evacuated. He was a competent, able man, much younger than Lon Nol or Sirik Matak. When I personally went to see him on April 12, the very morning of our evacuation, to ask him to take his wife and himself and his young children out of Phnom Penh because I feared for his safety, he thanked me but [said he] thought his life was not in danger.”
However, on the morning of the 17th, Long Boret attempted to evacuate himself and his family, but failed to get on board the last helicopter out of Phnom Penh. Ambassador Dean recounted
“Long Boret had stayed in Cambodia, thinking that he could have some kind of dialogue with the Khmer Rouge. When he realized that that was impossible, he raced to the airport with his family in a jeep to try and get out of the country. When they arrived at the airport, they got on a helicopter with some military officers. One officer brutally shoved him off the helicopter. The copter took off. The Khmer Rouge captured Long Boret and his family and killed them all.”
Long Boret was last seen alive outside the French Embassy on April 17, 1975. He was taken by the Khmer Rouge to the the grounds of the Cercle Sportif in Phnom Penh, where he was presumed executed- possibly alongside Sirik Matak. He was just 43 years old. The immediate fate of his wife and children remains unknown, but none survived the Cambodian genocide.
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 may be 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 do not always tally with other sources.
Multiple sources including KBN, KI MEDIA, WIKIPEDIA, Sakou Samoth- HOMMES ET HISTOIRE DU CAMBODGE, Bernard Hamel, HOMMES ET DESTINS/ SIHANOUK ET LE DRAME CAMBODGIEN