Nuon Chea

3 February, 2008
Chandler David

Long Bunruot, by his real name, was from 1960 onwards the CPK’s second-ranking leader, continuing as Pol Pot’s deputy after the party was formally dissolved in the early 1980s. Grand Uncle Nuon, or Brother Number Two, as he was called, was the most opaque member of a leadership renowned for secrecy. He is sometimes described as the Party ideologue. Some former Khmers Rouges today call him the evil genius of the movement, partly because of his responsibility for security matters, including the prison system. He was merely the unquestioning accomplice in Pol Pot’s decisions (Kiernan, 1996: 56-58).

Long Bunruot was born in 1925 (or 1926, or some say in 1923) in a village close to Cambodia’s second city, Battambang. Like Pol Pot, he came from a well-off peasant family. Unlike Pol Pot, he did not go to , but instead received his higher education in Thailand, which at that time – during the Second World War – had occupied, with Japan’s agreement, Battambang and the other Cambodian border provinces which it claimed were historically Thai territory. Nuon, as he was later known, attended secondary school in Bangkok before enrolling at Thammasat University to study law. While there, he became a member of the Thai Communist Party. In the late 1940s, he joined anti-French guerrillas in the maquis in his home province of Battambang before making his way to Vietnam, where he entered the Indochinese communist party (ICP) and spent a year studying Marxism-Leninism at the Vietnamese Higher Party School. In 1954, he returned to head the Phnom Penh committee of the PRPK. He excelled at clandestine work, and remained in Phnom Penh under deep cover, working as a travelling salesman for a sino-khmer import-export firm, until Lon Nol’s coup in 1970 (Chandler, 1993: 94-95; Short, 2007). He was the most notable representative of a small group of CPK leaders who had studied in Thailand, and, as such, was nominally independent from the two main CPK factions – the returned students from , led by Pol Pot; and the former Issarak leaders, represented by Mok and So Phim, who had come to prominence in the resistance against the French. Because of his training in Vietnam, the Vietnamese leaders regarded him as an ally: in 1976, Le Duan, the VWP First Secretary, referred to him as “our man” (Short, 2007: 467). He could not have been more mistaken. Nuon was, with Khieu Samphân, one of only two CPK leaders whom Pol Pot seems to have trusted completely. He identified totally with all of Pol Pot’s policies. During the DK, in addition of being President of People’s Representative Assembly, Nuon Chea had been interim Prime minister (September 1976-January 1977) and secretary for the East Zone after So Phim committed suicide. Nuon Chea was the architect of several purges and execution policies. Deuch – the former chairman of S-21 – received direct orders from him (Heder and Tittemore, 2004: 59-75). After Pol Pot’s death, he and Khieu Samphân surrendered to the Hun Sen government. He was arrested in September 2007 at his home in Pailin, and brought to Phnom Penh to await trial before a joint Cambodian/United Nations tribunal.


CHANDLER, David, 1993, Pol Pot : Frère Numéro Un, : Plon.

CHANDLER, David, 2000 (4th ed.), A History of Cambodia, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

HEDER, Steve, TITTEMORE, Brian D., 2004, Seven Candidates for Prosecution. Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia.

KIERNAN, Ben, 1996, The Pol Pot Regime. Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

SHER, Sacha, 2004, Le Kampuchéa des "Khmers rouges" : essai de compréhension d'une tentative de révolution, : L'Harmattan.

SHORT, Philip, 2007, Pol Pot. Anatomie d’un cauchemar, : Denoël.

Cite this item

Chandler David, Nuon Chea, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 3 February, 2008, accessed 17/02/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
Back to top