Ta Mok (Khmer: តាម៉ុក; born Chhit Choeun (ឈិត ជើង); 1924 – 21 July 2006) also known as Nguon Kang,[1] was a Cambodian military chief[2] and soldier who was a senior figure in the Khmer Rouge and the leader of the national army of Democratic Kampuchea.[3] He was best known as "Brother Number Four" or "the Butcher".[4] He was captured along the Thailand-Cambodia border in March 1999 by Cambodian government forces while on the run with a small band of followers[5] and was held in government custody until his death in 2006 while awaiting his war crime trial.

Ta Mok
Ta Mok 1999.jpg
Ta Mok in 1999.
Chhit Choeun

Died21 July 2006(2006-07-21) (aged 81–82)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Years active1970–1999
Known forMilitary leader of the Khmer Rouge
Political partyCommunist Party of Kampuchea
Party of Democratic Kampuchea
Date apprehended
6 March 1999

Early lifeEdit

Ta Mok's mansion in Takéo

The eldest of seven children, he is believed to have been born into a prosperous[6] country family from Pra Keap village, Trapeang Thom commune, Tram Kak district, Takeo Province, and was of Chinese-Cambodian descent.[7] He became a Buddhist monk in the 1930s but left the order at the age of 16.[8]

Ta Mok took part in the resistance against French colonial rule and then the anti-Japanese resistance during the 1940s. He was training to become a Bhikkhu in Pali, Cambodia when he joined the anti-French Khmer Issarak in 1952.[9] He soon left Phnom Penh and joined the Khmer Rouge.

In Khmer RougeEdit

By the late 1960s he was a general and the Khmer Rouge's chief-of-staff. He was also a member of the Standing Committee of the Khmer Rouge's Central Committee ("Party Centre") during its period in power. He became very powerful within the party, especially in the south-west zone. He was named by Pol Pot as leader of the national army of Democratic Kampuchea.[3] He lost the lower part of one leg in fighting around 1970.

Ta Mok orchestrated several massacres within the territories that he captured from 1973, beginning before the final, complete seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975. For example, his and Ke Pauk's soldiers had 20,000 civilians murdered or forced into slave labour after capturing Oudong in March 1974.[10]

He was also responsible for directing the massive purges that characterised the short-lived Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979), including the mass killing of 30,000 people in the Angkor Chey district, earning him the nickname Butcher.[11]

After the fall of the Khmer RougeEdit

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims

After the regime was overthrown in 1979, Ta Mok remained a powerful figure, controlling the northern area of the Khmer Rouge's remaining territory from his base at Anlong Veng in the Dângrêk Mountains. It is estimated that some 3,000 to 5,000 combatants remained loyal to Pol Pot and were directed by Ta Mok.

In 1997, after a split in the party, Ta Mok seized control of one faction and named himself supreme commander. Pol Pot then fled the Khmer Rouge's northern stronghold, but was later arrested and sentenced to lifelong house arrest. In April 1998, after a new government attack, Ta Mok fled into the forest and took Pol Pot with him. A few days later, on 15 April 1998, Pol Pot died in custody.

On 25 July 1997, Ta Mok and Pol Pot were interviewed separately by Nate Thayer. Unrepentant, Mok chuckled as he debated whether the KR had killed millions of people or just "hundreds of thousands," claiming that he had only killed Vietnamese.

In 1998, after several key defections, Ta Mok was forced to flee to Anlong Veng. On 6 March 1999, the general was captured by the Cambodian army near the Thai border and brought to Phnom Penh, where he joined former comrade Khang Khek Ieu ("Comrade Duch") at the Military Prosecution Department Detention Facility. Ta Mok was the last leading member of the Khmer Rouge to remain at large in Cambodia; other senior figures had died or already made immunity deals with the government of Hun Sen, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary.

In prison his detention period was repeatedly extended without his being brought to trial. Under Cambodian law his trial should have begun within six months of his arrest. First charged with membership of an outlawed group and tax evasion, in February 2002 he was charged with crimes against humanity. In poor health, suffering especially from respiratory problems, Ta Mok's only releases from solitary confinement were for hospital visits. On 21 July 2006, due to heart complications caused by the stress of the upcoming trial, he died in a military hospital after falling into a coma.[12][4]


  1. ^ Karl D. Jackson (1989). Cambodia, 1975-1978: Rendezvous with Death. Princeton University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-691-07807-6.
  2. ^ "Khmer Rouge Leader Ta Mok Dies Ahead of Trial". Radio Free Asia. 21 July 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Profile:Ta Mok". Trial. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Khmer Rouge 'butcher' Ta Mok dies". BBC News. 21 July 2006. Archived from the original on 22 December 2009.
  5. ^ "Ta Mok, Khmer Rouge Head Facing Genocide Trial, Dies". 21 July 2006.
  6. ^ Aglionby, John (22 July 2006). "Obituary Ta Mok". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  7. ^ Jurisdictional and Definitional Issues Jurisdictional and Definitional Issues, Bora Touch, Khmer Institute
  8. ^ Lamb, David (21 July 2006). "Ta Mok, 80; Key Figure in Cambodian Genocide". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 12 August 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  9. ^ Harris, Ian (2005). Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-8248-2765-1.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ "Top Khmer Rouge leader 'in coma'". BBC News. 15 July 2006. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2006.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit