MONATIO and the fall of Phnom Penh – April 17th


What is the significance of MONATIO and the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17th? There are a lot of strange things about the Khmer Rouge coming to power and what to become of the country. One of the strangest episodes though occurred after the fall of Phnom Penh in April 17th, namely through MONATIO, or “The National Movement”.

What was MONATIO?

MONATIO, short for Mouvement National was an extremely short-lived, supposedly nationalist, political faction in Cambodia, that entered the fray after the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh on April 17th 1975.

Officially led by Hem Keth Dara, the group formed by former Khmer Republic soldiers, as well as students took to the streets of Phnom Penh in a motor-cavalcade  to welcome the incoming Khmer Rouge. With what we now know about the attitude of the Khmer Rouge to “collaborators”, this leads us to the obvious question of why?

The flag of the organization was based heavily on that of the entering Khmer Rouge forces. While this was done deliberately it did almost nothing to help their aims or cause.

Lon Non and the national movement

Lon Non was the machiavellian brother of former Khmer Republic president Lon Nol. Much can and be written about Lon Non, but for now we can deal with his main characteristics. He was hellbent on having and retaining power and he he had an extremely inflated view of his own importance. It is also generally accepted that he was on the payroll of the CIA.

Lon Nol fled Phnom Penh into exile in early April of 1975, from where he was to live ut the rest of his days. Why Lon Non decided to stay is very much open for debate. It is though generally believed that he felt himself too important to be killed and that he could have a role in a future government.  In his defense no one t at the time knew what kind of government was to follow. In name at lest Sihanouk was head of the coalition and the Khmer Rouge were merely part of that coalition.

Khmer Rouge reaction to MONATIO

Far from being seen as “fellow nationalists” they were seen as what they were opportunists linked to the former government trying to save their own skin. It is suspected that Lon Non set up the group, perhaps with CIA funding as a means to take over large parts of the city whilst “appearing” revolutionary. The Khmer Rouge were later to claim it was a CIA operation against the revolution.

To read about American support for the Khmer Rouge click here.

Sihanouk would later make a film titled MONATIO. According to the movie they were not exactly welcomed with open arms and were taken away and executed. One can only assume this is what happened.

The end of MONATIO and Lon Non

MONATIO or the National Movement was over pretty much as soon as it had begun. Khmer Rouge strength meant they did not need to appeal to anyone, even those already in the GRUNK coalition, let alone MONATIO.

The fate of Lon Non was not to be much better. He was arrested on April 17th at the information ministry and according to the last sighting of him he was immaculately dressed, smoking a pipe and extremely composed. Still seemingly of the belief that he was too important to be killed.

Koy Thuo of the Khmer Rouge organized “the Committee for Wiping Out Enemies” at the Hotel Monorom in Phnom Penh. One of its first acts was to order the execution of Lon Non. It suspected that he was shot alongside other senior government ministers.

The Khmer Rouge later claimed that he had been beaten to death by a group of enraged citizens, although this is unlikely to be true.

The “Lon” name lives on today through the Khmer Republican Party led by Lon Rith, son of Lon Nol and nephew of Lon Non.

Son Ngoc Minh

Son Ngoc Minh – the first communist leader of Cambodia