Lon Nol was a Cambodian politician who served as Cambodia’s Prime Minister twice and as the self-styled President of the Khmer Republic. He ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk and governed for a few years until the Khmer Rouge communists overwhelmed his troops. He was born and raised in Cambodia and entered the French colonial service as a magistrate following the completion of his secondary school education. He was appointed provincial governor and chief of the national police. He enlisted in the army in 1952 and participated in military operations against the Viet Minh. He then became chief of staff of the Cambodian army and commander in chief under the country’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. He later held a variety of ministerial positions under the Sihanouk administration, including that of Defense Minister and Prime Minister of Cambodia, a position he held twice during his tenure. He was a key architect of the coup that deposed Sihanouk in 1970 and became the most prominent leader in the new administration. He gradually consolidated his control over Cambodia and declared himself President of the Khmer Republic. Meanwhile, the communist Khmer Rouge movement gathered pace in the countryside, and with their insurgents on the approach of seizing control of Cambodia, he fled to the United States, where he resided until his death.
Childhood & Adolescence
Lon Nol was born in Prey Veng Province on November 13, 1913, to Lon Hin, a district head in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom. His ancestors were of mixed Chinese and Khmer heritage.
He began his schooling at Saigon’s Lycée Chasseloup-Laubat and afterward attended the Cambodian Royal Military Academy.
Lon Nol’s Career
In 1937, he was named a magistrate by the French colonial civil service. In 1939, he established himself as an effective enforcer of French power in the face of a succession of anti-colonial uprisings.
By 1946, he had risen to the position of Governor of Kratie Province and had established a relationship with Prince Norodom Sihanouk. He founded a pro-independence political organization in the late 1940s and became increasingly involved in Cambodian politics.
He enlisted in the army in 1952 and participated in military operations against the Viet Minh. He was appointed army chief of staff three years later and commander-in-chief in 1960. He developed into a trusted ally of Sihanouk and was appointed deputy minister in 1963.
The 1966 legislative elections resulted in a significant shift in the balance of power in favor of Lon Nol, who was elected Prime Minister of Cambodia. The next year, Sihanouk deployed his soldiers to brutally suppress a leftist-inspired insurrection in Battambang Province.
Lon Nol was injured in an automobile accident in 1967 and was forced to take a leave of absence. The next year, he returned to politics as Sihanouk’s Minister of Defense, a position he held for one year.
He was elected Prime Minister of Cambodia for the second time in 1969. He nominated Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, a strong anti-Sihanouk, and pro-US politician, as his deputy in his ministry.
While Sihanouk was gone in March 1970, anti-Vietnamese riots erupted in Phnom Penh. Lon Nol and Sirik Matak closed the Sihanoukville port, which was used to transfer weapons to the Vietnamese army, and gave an ultimatum to the Vietnamese forces to leave Cambodia within three days or face military action.
Subsequently, the National Assembly held a vote in which Sihanouk’s authority was revoked and Lon Nol took the powers of the Head of State on an emergency basis, resulting in the establishment of the Khmer Republic in October 1970.
The Khmer Republic was created to reclaim Cambodia’s sovereignty over its eastern areas but proved to be a military and political failure.
Lon Nol’s health began to deteriorate in 1971 following a stroke, and his reign became increasingly unpredictable and autocratic. He also suspended the National Assembly and insisted on personally directing a large number of Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK) operations.
For the following few years, Lon Nol’s regime ruled Cambodia but was fully reliant on enormous amounts of American help, which grew scarce due to political and military concerns. Meanwhile, Sihanouk established a government-in-exile, the GRUNK, which included Khmer Rouge communists.
The republic’s power waned over time, and in April 1975, upon learning that Khmer Rouge insurgents were on the verge of occupying Cambodia and that he was the first person on their list of people to be executed upon assuming power, Lon Nol resigned as President of the Khmer Republic and fled into exile.
He initially fled to Indonesia and later made his way to the United States. He arrived in Fullerton, California, in 1979 and remained there until his death.
Personal History and Legacies
He was married to Sovanna Lon, his second wife, and the father of nine children at the time of his death.
On November 17, 1985, in Fullerton, California, United States, he died of a heart attack. He was laid to rest in Los Angeles’s Loma Vista Memorial Park.
Estimated Net worth
Lon is one of the wealthiest politicians and is ranked among the most popular. Lon Nol’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, based on our study, Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.