A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

SON NGOC THANH 'S BIOGRAPHY


Written by by S K MONOHA

SON Ngoc Thanh (1908-1977) was a Cambodian independence leader.

Biography :

He was born on December 7 1908 in a family from the minority Khmère called Khmer Krom of the province of Travinh (Preah Tropeang), in South-Vietnam, also called Kampuchea Krom and then constituting Cochinchina of France.

He fought very early for a better recognition of his country. After studies in France, he returned to Phnom Penh and was employed as librarian at the Buddhist Institute. This institution was founded by the French and accommodated several of the first Cambodian nationalists.

In 1936, Thanh and two associates, Sim Var and Pach Chhoeun, founded the first Khmer newspaper named Nagarvatta (Our city). This newspaper and the Buddhist Institute were used to encourage the debates on colonialism and nationalism.

At the beginning of 1942, the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China seemed for Thanh and his friends a good opportunity of putting the pressure on the French. July 20 1942, an agitation against the colonial administration was organized. Pach Chhoeun led a demonstration which included and participated by five hundred monks and as many civilians. This event, also called “revolt of the sunshades”, in reference so that the monks carried, is often regarded as the first important anti-colonialist demonstration of Cambodia. But the operation was premature because the Japanese forces had at this time too much interests to let the colonial administration manage the “current” businesses in the Protectorate. Chhoeun and his colleagues were arrested and imprisoned. Thanh succeeded in hiding and escaping towards Battambang before asking for political asylum in Japan. He spent the last two years of the war in Tokyo, where he accepted a political training at the School of Large Asia Orientale.

On March 9 1945, the Japanese troops in Indo-China, fearing that the colonies might be retaken by the French colonial army, organized a takeover by force and imprisoned all the civils servant, soldiers and French civilians whom they found. King Norodom Sihanouk, pressed by the Japanese, proclaimed the independence of Kampuchea on March 11 1945. SON Ngoc Thanh could then return in May and occupy the position of Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some claimed that he was also controled by the monarch whom the Japanese authorities suspected of sympathy to the French. In August, just before the Japanese left, Thanh became Prime Minister. In the two months which followed, he fought to preserve the independence of the kingdom. Unfortunately, in September, the French returned and took control of Cambodia again gradually. In October, they stopped (arrested Son Ngoc Thanh) the Prime Minister whom they accused of treason.

He was sent in 1946 to Saigon and was exiled in France. He was placed under house arrest in Poitiers where he passed a Diploma of Laws successfully.

Five years later, SON Ngoc Thanh was allowed to go back to Cambodia, thanks to the intervention of king Norodom Sihanouk. He arrives in Phnom Penh on October 30 1951 and received a hero welcome. A crowd of more than 100 000 people lined the road from Pochentong Airport to the centre of the city.

He refused the ministerial position which the democratic party proposed to him, then the ruling party and decided to create, in January 1952, the Khmer newspaper Krauk (Stand Up!) where he expresses his opinions and policies in favour of the independence of Kampuchea. The French authorities closed the newspaper one month after it was established.

On March 9 1952, SON Ngoc Thanh left Phnom Penh and joined the maquis of the forest (joined the Issarak Movement) of Siem Reap, where again he wish to establish an immediate independence and establishment of a republican government in Cambodia.

In the twenty years which follow it its time between South-Vietnam and Kampuchea divides where it directs the guerrilla of the Serei Khmers (free Cambodia)

July 20 1970, following the ousting of prince Norodom Sihanouk, he returned to Phnom Penh where Lon Nol appointed him as an adviser and where he puts his men of the maquis at the service of the new government.

March 20 1972, he was appointed to the post of Prime Minister, the position that he had given up 27 years earlier.

He has remained in the position until October 14 1972, where, victim of a disavowal of Lon Nol and due to his strained relations with Lon Nol, he was forced to resign from the post of Prime Minister then went into retirement and retreated to his home province of Travinh in South Vietnam.

In 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army liberated South Vietnam, Son Ngoc Thanh was arrested and imprisoned. He died on August 8 1977 in the Vietnamese prison, at age 69.


Please read a reader's comments about Son Ngoc Thah here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very valuable piece of history. The man had been in the Cambodian political scene for a very long time in the past, his political struggle must be remembered.

Great article, SK Monoha.

Anonymous said...

Up to today, I was thinking that SON NGOC THANH was a treator for Cambodia,in school my teacher always said :that SON NGOC THANH is against samdech ouv. But now,after reading this article of Mr SK MONOHA ,I understand more about him.
Thank you, Mr SK MONOHA
neak cheat niyum.somewhere in this world.

Anonymous said...

He was a great man. He is very patriotic man. He opposed to Ho Chi Minh idea of requesting to come in inside Cambodia to chase the French out and Uncle Son Ngoc Thanh refused.

Thanks to his view!!!

But still the leaders after him didn't understand a thing about YOUN!!

Anonymous said...

I also think he was a patriot, but he made a mistake by joining the Japanese to try to kick out the French. It was like joining with Hitler (Japan was an ally of Hitler) to kick out the Allied Force in world war II in Europe.
The French was the one who gave protection to Cambodia from Viet and Thai expansionism. The French colonialist authority was the one who negotiated with Thailand for the return of Battambang, Siem Reap, Sirisophorn, Preah Vihear et. But in 1941, Japan helped Thailand regain control of these provinces by force. So, for Son Ngoc Thanh to join Japan to try to kick out the French Protectorate is like selling out Battambang, Siem Reap etc to the Thais.

He wanted independence from France but he didn't think about Cambodia losing territories to Thailand and Cambodia becoming a colony of both Japan and Thailand. That's a big mistake.

Anonymous said...

I am related to Mr. Pach Chhoeun. I now live in the United States. Mr. Son Ngoc Than and Pach Chhoeun are very much misundunderstood by the younger generation of Cambodian today.

The young Khmer prince, Norodom Sihanouk, whom the French perceived as not a treat to its colonial reign in Indochina, was installed to the throne in 1941. King Sihanouk ruled Cambodia under the French controlled administration rather loosely as the French had predicted and expected. This was also a period of Cambodia modernization, as well as a sharp rise in "nationalism and patriotism" in Cambodia. A few names, such as Archar Hem Chieu, Pach Chhoeun, Son Gnoc Thanh, and others, invoked the strong nationalistic era during the modernization of Cambodia. These people became enshrined in Khmer people's psych and folklore for their heroism and self-sacrifice for the sake of Cambodia's identity. Later on, King Norodom Sihanouk jumped in the "nationalism and patriotism" bandwagon and finally help secured Cambodia's independent from France in November 9, 1953. Soon after, the young King proclaimed himself the "Father of all Cambodia and her people." Later on, King Sihanouk chose to abdicate his throne (and became a prince again) in order to legally participate in politic. He emerged himself in Cambodia hardball politics until his ouster in 1970.

Cambodia: Nationalism, Patriotism, Racism, and Fanaticism
by Ronnie Yimsut

Please do not forget our past and we cannot find our future

Serei Tung said...

Came across your comments and found all had interesting history to tell. My knowledge of Khmer political evolution were from books and statements made by authors and in many cases commentators which tend to murk fact and opinion that lead to history incorrect. I always have great respect for compatriots of previous generations who fought for freedom for our land. Unfortunately, they didn't have much time to write. I'm excited every time someone claims he or she a close relative to those heroes.
Love to meet them. Ronnie Yimsut, I hope you live nearby so I can buy you a beer and maybe learn from you. I'm in CT if you don't mind my email tungserei@gmail.com