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Pen Sovann, Cambodia’s First Post-Khmer Rouge PM, Dies at 80

Cambodia’s first prime minister after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, Pen Sovann, passed away last Saturday at 80 years old.

The Cambodian leader’s life story is a unique one, having been the only national figure to have opposed every regime in the country's modern era: from the French, Norodom Sihanouk, Lon Nol and Pol Pot to Hun Sen. According to the Phnom Penh Post, Sovann died at his home in Takeo Province at 7pm after spending years battling poor health, citing the late prime minister's family.

Sovann was born in 1936 in Takeo’s Tram Kak District. At 15, he participated in the Khmer Issarak armed resistance to combat French colonialism. He later became secretary and bodyguard to Ek Choeun, a Khmer Rouge leader who eventually became the infamously sadistic Ta Mok.

Sihanoukville managed to fight off French influence in 1953 and after the Geneva Conference in 1954, the Indochinese peninsula was divided into different segments. Sovann was among the 189 Cambodians “regrouped” to Hanoi on boats.

In the Vietnamese capital, he received military training at an institute for senior officials and remained in the country until March 1970. Sovann married a Vietnamese national and developed a penchant for local cuisine that would endure for decades, despite political conflicts with Hanoi in his later years.

During his political career, Sovann was most proud of his role in overthrowing the Khmer Rouge. But more often than not, he also expressed remorse for having been involved with the genocidal regime.

[Photo via Cambodia Daily]

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