Nat Geo Explorer: 1977 Death of Cadre Horm

In 1973 as relations between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam deteriorated, a paranoia kicked in, sparking a wave of purges in the highlands bordering Vietnam. In 1977 another wave of purges was sparked after cadres escaped to Vietnam- they were also sparked by a conflict between Horm, and his deputy Kham Phoun (both leaders in region 105), of Lao-Tampuen descent. As these two leaders in the region were locked in a power struggle, paranoia grew internally, as cadres tried to eliminate each others allies by accusing them of conspiring with the Vietnamese. This resulted in the deaths of cadres who were either sent for interrogation at S-21 and executed, or sent to jail and executed within Mondulkiri. During the second wave of the purge, many of the people killed were ethnic minorities related to Horm and Kham Phoun. 

Through research, the Khmer Rouge case files of prominent high ranking indigenous officers who were arrested and killed by the regime were sourced. From these files, the surviving families were tracked down.  

Comrade Ya’s confession file from the Khmer Rouge, he was arrested in September 1976 as the Party Center launched internal purges. Ya was the Zone Secretary for the northeastern zone, and one of the most prominent leaders in the Zone to be sent to S-21.

In Ya’s confession, he incriminates many other region 105 comrades as traitors. In his confession he named Horm/Laing, leading to his death in 1977.

Courtesy of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Laing, also known as Horm, was the Region 105 Secretary, leading the region, and was executed in 1977.  With no direct case files on Laing being sourced, he was incriminated in the long confession of Comrade Ya, who was arrested and tortured at S-21 before being executed. His execution was followed by the arrests of other Region 105 leading figures, as well as lower level cadres in the region. In his confession, he names Laing and other region 105 Comrades as traitors, which led to their arrests and deaths. In Ya's confession he speaks of knowing Laing since 1966 and recruiting him into his network of traitors in 1972, and that he was pro-Vietnamese, with Vietnamese connections and links to the FULRO movement. 

We tracked down one of his surviving children to gather his families account of events leading up to his death. Phan Vanny (49) was the son of Laing, and 9 when his father was killed. He recalls his older brother being able to go to work with his father, but not him.  He was sent to Phnom penh to study between 1975-1979 with other high ranking children. The city was dead, quiet, and isolated after the mass evacuation in 1975, and was only inhabited by high ranking Khmer Rouge officers and children. He studied at Boeing Trabek School, where all the teachers were Khmer but had studied abroad, teaching Khmer, English, Spanish, Chinese, French, etc. He remembers a lot of teachers disappearing, suspecting they were killed; a car would come to collect them, but when a car came, people never returned.

When he found out his father was killed, he was away from his family who lived in Koh Neak, and in the childcare center. he was told by a teacher that his father has been killed by Pol Pot. “In 1977 Pol Pot didn’t believe in the people that stayed near the Vietnamese border in anymore, in his paranoia he tried to kill people in high positions, he was paranoid people were getting help from the Vietnamese  to kill him. Everybody had lost trust with each other, and became paranoid”.  After 1977 there were a lot of killings, as everybody started to lose trust. 

Laing ordered the arrest of Kham Phoun- who was also the uncle of Phan Vanny- and ordered him to Phnom Penh. Here he apparently murdered Laing, followed by his own suicide. The last time he met his father was in the house he died, before going to school…