Khieu Ponnary, Once Top Female KR Cadre, Now Ill
Pol Pot’s first wife, Khieu Ponnary, has been living in Phnom Penh for months in the home of former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary, sources in Phnom Malai and in the capital said in recent days.
A relative of Ieng Sary said Monday that 80-year-old Khieu Ponnary has been living in Ieng Sary’s Phnom Penh residence with her sister for one year.
“Khieu Ponnary is here,” the relative said, pointing to the top floor of Ieng Sary’s home, located near the Russian Embassy.
Khieu Ponnary and her younger sister Khieu Thirith, who is Ieng Sary’s wife, were regarded as two of the most influential women of the 1950s Cambodian communist movement.
Khieu Ponnary was the first woman to earn a baccalaureate from Phnom Penh’s Lycee Sisowath. From 1975-78, Khieu Ponnary was president of the Association of Democratic Women of Kampuchea, which was responsible for mobilizing Cambodian women to work for the extreme agrarian/communist movement.
King Norodom Sihanouk once described Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Ponnary and Khieu Thirith as “Cambodia’s gang of four,” making a comparison to the four leaders of China’s violent Cultural Revolution.
Khieu Ponnary went mad in the 1970s and received treatment in Beijing for psychiatric problems in the early 1980s, according to historians.
Suong Sikoeun, spokesman for the Ieng Sary-led Democratic National Union Movement and a former neighbor of Khieu Ponnary, said this weekend that she had been staying in Phnom Penh with her sister and Ieng Sary for months.
He noted that Khieu Ponnary had been living in Phnom Malai since the Vietnamese invaded Phnom Penh in 1979 and that she “is very old and she forgets a lot of things.”
“She refuses to even talk to some people who know her well,” said Suong Sikoeun, who has mostly been living in Malai since 1979.
Ieng Sary’s relative said Monday that one reason behind her mental illness is that she loved Pol Pot, but he took a second wife in 1987, marrying Mea Son, who is 33 years younger than Pol Pot and used to be one of Pol Pot’s cooks in Anlong Veng. Pol Pot had a daughter with his second wife.
“Khieu Ponnary is eight years older than Saloth Sar,” the relative said. “Men always like the younger women.”
Another reason Khieu Ponnary went mad is that “she liked communism because it got rid of the differences between the rich and the poor, but the Khmer Rouge went too far,” the relative said.
“She is afraid of people she doesn’t know,” the relative added. “If strangers come near her, she thinks they are trying to poison her. She was a professor of the French language and now she has forgotten French.”
The Khieu sisters are the daughters of a Battambang judge related to the royal family, according to historians. She studied in Paris, returned to Cambodia in 1951 and began publishing Neary, a monthly magazine for Cambodian women. She married Pol Pot, then known as Saloth Sar, in 1956; the two never had children.
In 1961, Khieu Ponnary became head of the secret Communist Women’s Organization as part of a network of groups aimed at protecting cadres. In July 1973, she became party secretary of Kompong Thom province and helped implement the revolutionary movement there. She and other wives of Khmer Rouge leaders gave ladies tea parties during the rule of the communist regime.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Monday that he did not have knowledge of Khieu Ponnary’s whereabouts.
“I don’t want to interfere in anybody’s private life,” he said.
Khieu Ponnary moved away from Malai about one year ago, before Pol Pot’s second wife relocated there from Anlong Veng, Suong Sikoeun said. To his knowledge, the two wives of Pol Pot have never met.
Neighbors of Khieu Ponnary in Malai said they rarely saw her and described her as an old woman in bad health who always forgot things.
One of Ieng Sary’s nephews now lives in Khieu Ponnary’s Malai home, Suong Sikoeun said.