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Ta Mok; Imprisoned Khmer Rouge Army Chief

Ta Mok, shown in his cell in 1999, was nicknamed
Ta Mok, shown in his cell in 1999, was nicknamed "The Butcher." (Associated Press)

In 1978, as the Khmer Rouge regime was destroying itself from within because of paranoia about real and imagined enemies, Ta Mok was dispatched to conduct a merciless purge in the country's Eastern Zone bordering Vietnam.

Bloody Khmer Rouge raids on Vietnamese villages precipitated an invasion in December 1978 by Hanoi's army, which early the next year drove Pol Pot and colleagues from power and back into the jungles. From there, they continued to fight against a Vietnamese-installed regime.

The loss of a leg to a land mine in the early 1980s failed to keep Ta Mok from carrying on guerrilla fighting against successive governments in Phnom Penh.

After the Khmer Rouge movement began falling into disarray in 1996, Ta Mok toppled Pol Pot in a bloody power play and forced other leaders of the group to join him. But the government was able to capture the group's last stronghold at Anlong Veng soon after Pol Pot's death, forcing Ta Mok to flee.

After his capture, he was jailed in March 1999. Other top Khmer Rouge leaders who defected or surrendered remained free.

Ta Mok was held in a Phnom Penh military prison but was hospitalized in June, shortly before judges and prosecutors were sworn in to begin U.N.-backed trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Cambodian and U.N.-appointed foreign prosecutors have begun gathering evidence for the trials, expected to begin in 2007.

His lawyer said this month that Ta Mok had told him that he would tell his side of the story if given the chance to do so in court.

"He wanted to tell the world that he never killed anyone," Benson Samay said, repeating a claim Ta Mok has made several times before.

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