Politics, World, Asia - pacific

Former PM who led Cambodia after Khmer Rouge dies

Pen Sovann became premier in 1981, before being imprisoned in Vietnam for 10 years and later joining Cambodian opposition

Former PM who led Cambodia after Khmer Rouge dies Pen Sovann walks onto a stage at a Cambodia National Rescue Party election rally to mark the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy to Cambodia in July 2013. Sovann , who was Cambodia's first prime minister after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, died on Saturday, October 29, 2016. (Lauren Crothers - Anadolu Agency)

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Pen Sovann, Cambodia’s first post-Khmer Rouge prime minister, has died at the age of 80.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) announced Sovann’s death at his home in Takeo province in a statement on Saturday. On Sunday, exiled CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said Sovann had been a “true patriot”.

In 1981, at the age of 42, Sovann was appointed the first prime minister of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea as Cambodia was known after the fall of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge in January 1979.

Described as “austere and steely” in Sebastian Strangio’s book Hun Sen’s Cambodia, Sovann was part of a group of Cambodian revolutionaries who had gone to live in Vietnam in the 1950s and became known as “Khmer Viet Minh”.

They were “deployed to Phnom Penh with the expectation that they would remain loyal to Vietnamese interests”, Strangio wrote.

But by December 1981, Sovann’s growing disillusionment with the coziness between Phnom Penh and Hanoi, coupled with his lack of allies in Cambodia, saw him purged and thrown in a Hanoi prison where he told Strangio there was “no sunlight, nothing, for eleven years” until his release in 1992.

After the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party joined forces to create the CNRP in 2012, Sovann stood in the 2013 national elections and was elected as an MP.

Party spokesman Yim Sovann told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that Sovann had been sick for some time before his passing.

“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."

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