Mr. Nuon Chea appeared to be more personally impactful than some other prominent figures in the movement, said David Chandler, a leading historian of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge who is an emeritus professor of history at Monash University in Australia.
“He is a sincere, well-trained Marxist Leninist, and to some extent a Cambodian patriot, as well,” Mr. Chandler wrote in an email message before Mr. Nuon Chea’s death. “These facts tend to blur and mistakenly mitigate his record as the man more or less in command of the purges.”
Mr. Chandler added: “He was not a dreamer. Pol Pot was, and that appealed to people. Nuon Chea was not liked, because he couldn’t be reached or rented. He is genuinely impressive, as lots of Khmer are not.”
Nuon Chea was born Long Buntuoton on July 7, 1926, in Battambang Province of Cambodia. He studied law at the prestigious Thammasat University in Bangkok, where he became a member of the Communist Party of Thailand.
Back in Cambodia, he joined the Cambodian Communist Party and rose to become deputy secretary of its Central Committee and a member of its Standing Committee, the most senior bodies responsible for party policy, as well as chairman of the People’s Assembly. After the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, he fled with other leaders into the jungles, where they continued a civil war until the final collapse of their movement in 1998.
In December of that year, Mr. Nuon Chea surrendered to the government, along with Mr. Khieu Samphan, and was treated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to a beach holiday and a visit to the ancient temples of Angkor.
Mr. Nuon Chea is survived by his wife, Ly Kim Seng; three daughters, Ly Bunthoeun, Lao Chea Linda and Nuon Chornita; and a son, Nuon Say.
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