When you read about the Khmer Rouge, you will often be told about Pol Pot being “Brother Number 1” and various other figures such as Ta Mok (Brother Number 4) being referred to by their brother honorific, but what does it all mean?
The Communist Party of Kampuchea, or as they are more commonly known, the Khmer Rouge was not exactly your average Marxist-Leninist party and existed largely underground for most of its early existence.
Secrecy was key in what was to be known as Angkar, or the organization and thus the inner circle was comprised of only the most trusted members.
As part of this, aside from official titles, the organization also developed a brother system to indicate the individual’s importance in the party. This, of course, changed dramatically over time, but the original monikers have stuck, even after death.
Who Were the Khmer Rouge Brothers?
Brother Number one – Pol Pot
Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge pretty much from its inception until his death in 1998, although he did officially step down on a number of occasions. The orchestrator of the Killing Fields, he died in relative obscurity in Along Veng in 1998.
Brother Number Two – Nuon Chea
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea during the Democratic Kampuchea reign of terror, he was second only to Pol Pot in terms of importance. He remained loyal to the Khmer Rouge until the very end and was not captured until 1998. In 2014 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, but died in 2019.
Brother Number Three – Ieng Sary
Ieng Sary was a founder member of the Khmer Rouge and officially at least the third most important member of Angkar. Brother-in-law of Pol Pot, he was foreign minister of Democratic Kampuchea during its brief existence and alongside his wife were active member son the inn-circle. In 1996 he defected to government forces, essentially handing Pailin back to government control. In 2006 he was arrested whilst living somewhat opulently in Phnom Penh. Charged with genocide, he eventually died in prison in 2013.
Brother Number Four – Khieu Samphan
The soft public face of the Khmer Rouge he served under various governments of King Sihanouk before becoming head of state of Democratic Kampuchea.
Brother Number Five – Ta Mok
Ta Mok, or Brother Number 5, was the head of the military wing of the Khmer Rouge. He is known to have taken part in many purges as well as massacring 30,000 people, which earned him his other nickname of “the butcher.” He was the last leader of the Khmer Rouge and its last state. He was the last senior Khmer Rouge figure to be captured in 1999.
Brother number 89 – Son Sen
Not a typo, but his official number as per the records. Minister of defence of Democratic Kampuchea and a major force in the rebel government until near the end of the Khmer Rouge. He was involved in an internal power struggle, which led to his execution (alongside his family) in 1996 under the orders of Pol Pot. When he died was officially at least the second most powerful person in the Khmer Rouge. His death led to Ta Mok being in complete control of the organization..