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Book Talk: Jungle Heart of the Khmer Rouge: The memoirs of Phi Phuon, Pol Pot’s Jarai aide-de-camp, and the role of Ratanakiri and its tribal minorities in the Cambodian revolution


The Khmer Rouge rise to power in 1975 gave birth to a terrifying order marked by killings, forced ruralization and total collectivization. Up to two million people died as a result. The memoir of Phi Phuon, Pol Pot’s aide-de-camp/bodyguard compiled and translated by Henri Locard with introduction, annotations, and background history and analysis offers important 2 new perspectives on the period. Though a relatively minor actor, Phi Phuon worked closely with the Khmer Rouge leadership. His quite candid account describes how an enterprising and idealistic young man was drawn to a revolutionary cause whose leadership he saw as patriotic, visionary and even charismatic. Moreover, Phi Phuon was Jarai, from one of the borderland hill tribes despised by many Khmer. Here, in the jungles of Ratanakiri Province as war in Vietnam raged nearby, Pol Pot and his urban, intellectual comrades mobilized the ethnic minorities into a revolu- tionary army. Inspired by idealized perceptions of hill-tribe life- styles, the Khmer Rouge also developed radical plans for a civilizational blank slate that were implemented when they came to power. Shedding light on events not fully revealed before, this is a significant contribution to the study of recent Cambodian history.


Speaker: In 1964, while still a student, Henri Locard was invited to Cambodia by the representative of the British Council in Phnom Penh. Henri reached Saigon by ship from Marseille then hitchhiked through Cambodia, including to the newly created Ratanakiri province. After graduating, Henri did his civilian service from 1965 to 1967 at Lycée Descartes. Henri returned to Cambodia twenty years later with his wife Élisabeth, who had a mission from Médecins du Monde for international adoptions.In 1989, Henri organized the first seminar on Human Rights at the Royal University of Cambodia on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. After the la publication of Prisoner of the Khmer Rouge with Mœung Sonn and Pol Pot’s Little Red Book with Hem Borith, Henri benefitted from a sabbatical year in 1993-1994 to continue his field research on the Khmer Rouge prison system. Henri’s PhD is entitled « Aspects of extermination under Democratic Kampuchea and the Khmer Rouge ideology ». He has resided in Phnom Penh since 2,000 and was a researcher and witness at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. 

Moderator: Dr. George Chigas is an Associate Teaching Professor Emeritus in Cambodian Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he taught courses in Cambodian literature and cultural history. He earned his doctorate in Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and his masters in Asian Studies from Cornell University. He is the author of Tum Teav, A Translation and Literary Analysis of a Cambodian Classic. He currently lives in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the publications and through webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. The designations employed in the publications and through the webinars, and the presentation of material therein, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. as to the matters discussed therein. The responsibility for opinions expressed in the publications and webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers, and the publication does not constitute an endorsement by The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. of the opinions, views or issues discussed therein.


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