Rochoem Ton, an ethnic Jarai man who went by the revolutionary alias Phy Phuon and served as Pol Pot’s bodyguard during the civil war in the 1970s, died at his home in Banteay Meanchey province early Sunday morning. He was 68.
“It was a sudden death at about half-past one, from a stroke,” Henri Locard, a prominent historian of Cambodia who recently completed a biography of Rochoem Ton, said by telephone from the former rebel stronghold of Malai district.
“The funeral ceremony is going to be on Wednesday, as we are waiting for his family to come from Ratanakkiri.”
According to Philip Short’s 2005 biography of Pol Pot, Rochoem Ton was one of the first revolutionary soldiers to enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975— 40 years ago on Friday—having been instrumental in organizing the Khmer Rouge’s charge to take the capital.
“Phy Phuon’s relationship with Pol Pot dates back to when Pol Pot arrived in Ratanakkiri at the end of 1967, and he was named the head of the bodyguards,” Mr. Locard said.
“During the civil war, he was with the leadership of Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan—even though he denies it—when they were continuously meeting,” he said.
“When the front came closer to Phnom Penh, he was managing the guerrillas and working with Son Sen closely,” he added, referring to the defense minister of Democratic Kampuchea.
After the Khmer Rouge came to power, Rochoem Ton became head of logistics at the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s B-1 compound, where ministry staff lived and worked during the regime. When the Vietnamese invaded in January 1979, Rochoem Ton was tasked with driving Prince Norodom Sihanouk from Phnom Penh to safety on the Thai border.
The former revolutionary was a battalion commander during the 1980s civil war against the Phnom Penh government, according to Mr. Locard, and became deputy governor of Malai after the Khmer Rouge folded in the 1990s.
In July 2012, Rochoem Ton caused controversy when he testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal that current Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong was “in charge” of the Boeng Trabek prison camp.
Mr. Namhong issued a forceful statement rejecting the claim, and within days Rochoem Ton told reporters that he had reconsidered and wanted to disavow his words.
Mr. Locard said that he had been planning a trip with Rochoem Ton from Malai to his native Ratanakkiri in the coming days, after spending months interviewing him about his personal history. “I just finished writing his biography, and I would have liked to ask him for an assessment, but that’s not possible now,” he said.
Rocheom Ton is survived by his wife and four children, who reside in Malai and Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, another former Khmer Rouge stronghold.