Former prime minister Pen Sovann. Source: YouTube
Cambodia’s first post-Khmer Rouge prime minister Pen Sovann has died aged 80.
He was installed by Vietnam only to be imprisoned his former allies.
Pen Sovann was premier from June to December 1981 of the then People’s Republic of Kampuchea.
He was removed from power by Hanoi after calling for the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and jailed for 11 years in Hanoi.
Pen Sovann founded the Cambodian National Sustaining Party, which took part in the 1998 election but failed to win a seat. In 2012, he joined the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and became an MP in the 2013 general election.
He was one of several self-exiled former Cambodian communists who fled the Khmer Rouge to return with the invading Vietnamese that pushed Pol Pot’s brutal regime back to the Thai border.
Described as “austere and steely” in Sebastian Strangio’s book Hun Sen’s Cambodia, Pen Sovann moved to Vietnam in the 1950s with a group of revolutionaries called the “Khmer Viet Minh”.
The group was “deployed to Phnom Penh with the expectation that they would remain loyal to Vietnamese interests”, Strangio said.
By December 1981, Sovann became disillusioned with Hanoi’s occupation and he lacked allies in Cambodia. He was taken to a Hanoi prison where Strangio quoted him saying there was “no sunlight, nothing, for 11 years” until being released in 1992.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party said it was joining Pen Sovann’s family in organising a funeral with the party’s self-exiled leader, Sam Rainsy, saying the former premier was a “true patriot” who had dedicated his life to the Cambodian people.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann said: “Everybody respects him as a Cambodian hero because he went through a very hard time and he has dedicated his whole life for the country. Everyone knows he was in prison for 10 years in Vietnam and he came back and continued his struggle for the sovereignty of Cambodia and interests of the people; we politicians and younger generations respected him so much, especially his national conscience.”