Khmer Serei
The Khmer Serei, or "Free Khmer", were an anti-communist and anti-monarchist guerrilla force founded by Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

n nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh
Son Ngoc Thanh
Son Ngoc Thanh was a Cambodian nationalist and republican policitian, with a long history as a rebel and a government minister.-Early life:...



The Khmer Serei had its origin in the Issarak
Khmer Issarak
The Khmer Issarak was an anti-French, Khmer nationalist political movement formed in 1945 with the backing of the government of Thailand. It sought to expel the French colonial authorities from Cambodia, and establish an independent Khmer state....

 (pro-independence) armed bands active within Cambodian borders during the later French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 colonial period. Thanh, who had briefly been Prime Minister during the Japanese occupation in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 before being exiled by the returning French, attempted to gain overall leadership of the Issarak movement, but had little success.

After Cambodia gained its independence in 1954 under King Norodom Sihanouk
Norodom Sihanouk
Norodom Sihanouk regular script was the King of Cambodia from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 until his semi-retirement and voluntary abdication on 7 October 2004 in favor of his son, the current King Norodom Sihamoni...

, Thanh organized the Khmer Serei irregulars to maintain an armed struggle against Sihanouk. They operated mainly from bases on the Thai
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 and Vietnamese
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

 borders, recruiting largely amongst the Khmer Krom
Khmer Krom
The Khmer Krom are Khmer people living in the Mekong Delta and the Lower Mekong River area. Under the Khmer Rouge regime- according to the conservative estimates are that 150,000. Under the rule of Vietnam from 1979-93, Cambodia may have lost 20,000 Khmer Krom...

 minority of the Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of . The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.The...

 in Vietnam, and made clandestine anti-Sihanouk radio broadcasts. Although observers regarded the Khmer Serei's activities as more of a "nuisance" than a genuine threat, the Cambodian regime viewed the insurgency seriously: allegations later surfaced that Sihanouk had executed as many as 1000 Khmer Serei suspects during his rule.

The 1963 arrest, public caging and subsequent execution of Preap In
Preap In
Preap In was a Cambodian political dissident of the 1950s - 1960s.A high-level cadre of the Khmer Serei, a rightist militia formed to oppose the regime of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, In is remembered largely for an unsuccessful 1963 attempt to 'negotiate' directly with Sihanouk, resulting in his...

, a Khmer Serei activist who had offered to go to the National Assembly to negotiate directly with Sihanouk, was a prominent example of the Sangkum
The Sangkum Reastr Niyum , commonly known simply as the Sangkum, was a political organisation set up in 1955 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia...

's repression of the Khmer Serei. The execution of In, a former member of the Democratic Party, was filmed and shown in all cinemas for a month, an event which remained in the memories of Cambodians for many years.

The Khmer Serei and the Khmer Kampuchea Krom militia

The Khmer Serei also had loose links with the US-backed Front de Lutte du Kampuchea Krom militia, or "White Scarves" , of southern Vietnam. This group, originally founded by a Khmer Krom monk named Samouk Sen, sought Khmer Krom independence and regularly clashed with the Viet Cong: it expanded in the 1960s and later became affiliated to FULRO, a paramilitary organisation for Vietnamese minority groups. Members of both the Khmer Kampuchea Krom and the Khmer Serei were trained by the US military for clandestine operations during the Second Indochina War as part of MIKE Force
MIKE Force
The Mobile Strike Force Command, or MIKE Force, was a key component of United States Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War. They served with indigenous soldiers selected and trained through the Civilian Irregular Defense Group and were led by American SF and Australian SAS...

, and were partly financed and armed by the CIA. At their peak in 1968, the Khmer Serei and related forces were thought to number up to 8000 men.

After the 1970 Lon Nol
Lon Nol
Lon Nol was a Cambodian politician and general who served as Prime Minister of Cambodia twice, as well as serving repeatedly as Defense Minister...

 coup, Son Ngoc Thanh became a government minister, and members of the Khmer Serei and Khmer Kampuchea Krom militias - some of whom had been infiltrated into the Cambodian army prior to the coup - appeared on the streets of Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since the French colonized Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security,...

. However, due in part to the desperate military situation, and in part to Lon Nol's suspicion that this comparatively well-trained force might be used against him by his rivals, they were deliberately thrown into the most grueling battles and largely shattered.

Son Ngoc Thanh was dismissed from the government in 1972, and exiled himself in South Vietnam, where he was arrested following the Fall of Saigon
Fall of Saigon
The Fall of Saigon was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front on April 30, 1975...

; the remaining Khmer Serei in South Vietnam were eliminated by the North Vietnamese victory, while those in Cambodia itself were hunted down by the Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge literally translated as Red Cambodians was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, who were the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan...

 after the overthrow of Lon Nol's regime.

After 1975

Subsequent to the 1975 Khmer Rouge victory and the proclamation of Democratic Kampuchea
Democratic Kampuchea
The Khmer Rouge period refers to the rule of Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Khieu Samphan and the Khmer Rouge Communist party over Cambodia, which the Khmer Rouge renamed as Democratic Kampuchea....

, the few remaining "Free Khmer" operating in the north-west, in the area of the Dangrek Mountains
Dângrêk Mountains
The Dângrêk Mountains , meaning "Carrying-Pole Mountains" in Khmer, is a mountain range forming a natural border between Cambodia and Thailand....

, found themselves mostly in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border, such as Nong Chan
Nong Chan Refugee Camp
Nong Chan Refugee Camp was one of the earliest organized refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, where thousands of Khmer refugees sought food and health care after fleeing the Vietnamese invasion of Democratic Kampuchea in 1979...

 and Nong Samet
Nong Samet Refugee Camp
Nong Samet Refugee Camp, also known as 007, Rithisen or Rithysen was one of the largest refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border and served as a power base for the KPNLF until its destruction by the Vietnamese military in late 1984....

. Son Sann
Son Sann
Son Sann was a Cambodian politician and anti-communist resistance leader. Born in Phnom Penh, he held the office of Prime Minister in 1967-68. A devout Buddhist, he fathered seven children and was married....

 was to use some of these former Khmer Serei supporters as the basis of the KPNLF movement, formed in 1979.

Thanh himself was to die in Vietnamese custody in 1977.

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