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Khieu Ponnary (Khmer: ខៀវ ពណ្ណារី, 3 February 1920 – 1 July 2003) was the first wife of Pol Pot, sister of Khieu Thirith and sister-in-law to Ieng Sary.

Khieu Ponnary
First Lady of Democratic Kampuchea
In office
25 October 1976 – 7 January 1979
Prime MinisterPol Pot
Preceded byLy Kimseng
Succeeded byVacant
In office
14 April 1976 – 27 September 1976
Prime MinisterPol Pot
Preceded bySo Socheat (Acting)
Succeeded byLy Kimseng
Personal details
Born(1920-02-03)3 February 1920
Battambang, Cambodia
Died1 July 2003(2003-07-01) (aged 83)
Pailin, Cambodia
Political partyCommunist Party
Spouse(s)Saloth Sar
(m. 1956–1979; div.)
RelationsKhieu Thirith (sister)



Khieu Ponnary was born on 3 February 1920 in Battambang Province, and her sister, Khieu Thirith, was born about 12 years later. Their father, a Cambodian judge, abandoned the family during World War II, running off to Battambang with a Cambodian princess.[1] As a member of a privileged family, she was educated at the Lycee Sisowath. Her younger sister, Khieu Thirith, and their future husbands, Ieng Sary and Saloth Sar (later Pol Pot) also attended. Graduating from the Lycee in 1940, she became the first Cambodian woman to receive a baccalaureate degree.

In 1949, she left Cambodia with her younger sister (who was engaged to Ieng Sary) for Paris where she studied Khmer linguistics.[2] In Paris, her sister married Ieng Sary in 1951 and took his name, becoming Ieng Thirith. Returning to Cambodia she married Saloth Sar (later Pol Pot) on Bastille Day, 1956. Together the two sisters and their husbands later became known as 'Cambodia's Gang of Four', a reference to the radical group led by Jiang Qing the widow of Mao Tse-tung.[3] Ponnary returned to Lycee Sisowath as a teacher, while her husband taught at Chamraon Vichea, a new private college.[2]

Information about her role in party activities during the 1960s is fragmentary. However, she was the Party Secretary for Kampong Thom Province in 1973 and the President of the Democratic Kampuchea Women’s Association in 1976.

By at least 1975, Ponnary was growing increasingly disturbed from the onset of chronic schizophrenia. She became extremely paranoid and was convinced that the Vietnamese were trying to assassinate her and her husband. Pol Pot divorced her in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion and took a second wife.

In 1996, Ponnary, together with her sister and brother-in-law, were granted amnesty from prosecution by the Cambodian government. Ponnary was cared for by her sister and her sister’s husband Ieng Sary.

She died in Pailin on July 1, 2003, aged 83.


She knows nothing. Even me she does not remember. I pity her very much, but I don't know how to help her, as she has a disease which is difficult to cure.—Ieng Sary[2]



  1. ^ David P. Chandler (1999). Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Westview Press. p. 32. ISBN 0813335108. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  2. ^ a b c Thet Sambath (October 20, 2001). "Sister No. 1 The Story of Khieu Ponnary, Revolutionary and First Wife of Pol Pot". The Cambodia Daily, WEEKEND. Archived from the original on September 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  3. ^ Securing Allegiance: Elite’s Children Find Love in a Hot Political Climate, Cambodia Daily Weekend Edition Saturday, January 17–18, 2004


  • Elizabeth Becker : Khieu Ponnary, 83, First Wife Of Pol Pot, Cambodian Despot, in New York Times, July 3, 2003, pA20 (the same in International Herald Tribune, July 4, 2003 p7)
  • Khieu Ponnary; Obituary, in The Times, London, July 8, 2003 p31
  • Philip Short. Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. Henry Hot and Company, 2005.

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