So Phim

3 February, 2008
Chandler David

Like Mok, So Phim won his spurs as an Issarak guerrilla chief, fighting the French in the late 1940s. He was born into a peasant family in Eastern Cambodia, sometime in the 1920s (the year 1925 is often cited, but is no more than a guess). In August 1951, he became one of five founding members of the Vietnamese-inspired PRPK. Three years later, after the Geneva peace accords ended the first Indochina war, he was named to the four-member provisional committee which headed the party. As the PRPK fell apart, under pressure from Sihanouk’s police and the treason of its own leaders, Phim moved to Phnom Penh, where he and a group of followers were found jobs as carpenters by Toch Phoeun, a sympathetic senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Public Works (Short, 2007: 157). In 1960, Phim was elected an alternate member of the new CPK Standing Committee, and, three years later, a full member, ranking fourth or fifth in the party leadership. From 1960 until his death in 1978, he headed the CPK Eastern Zone Committee. He is described as “a round-faced, stocky man, about 1.8 meters tall, with dark brown skin and straight black hair” (Kiernan, 1996: 89-90). Like Mok, he is portrayed as a crude willful man and, when in a rage, would threaten his colleagues with his pistol (Short, 2007: 231). But he was well-liked by his men, and had a (perhaps undeserved) reputation in the party as a moderate (Chandler, 1991: 296-373). A terrible repression on the Cham (Muslim) population was conducted in his zone, particularly in Kompong Cham province after Cham’s rebellion refused to follow Khmer Rouge rules (Kiernan, 1996: 262-277). In 1978, after eastern zone troops had failed to resist a large-scale Vietnamese army incursion – launched by General Giap as a warning to Pol Pot to halt cross-border raids and atrocities – Pol began to suspect (probably falsely) that Phim was in cahoots with the leadership in Hanoi. He ordered a massive purge of the Eastern Zone. Phim, who at first refused to believe that Pol could have turned against him, was able to escape with his family and a small group of followers. Surrounded by Pol Pot’s forces, he committed suicide. His wife and children were captured as they prepared his body for the Buddhist funeral rites. They too were killed. He was replaced in his zone by Nuon Chea. (Chandler, 1993: 196 – Kiernan, 1996: 392-400; Sher, 2004).


CHANDLER, David, 1992, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

CHANDLER, David, 1993, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, Yale University Press.

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, So Phim, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 3 February, 2008, accessed 17/02/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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