In 1937, he was employed with the French colonial civil service and was appointed a magistrate. In 1939, he proved himself to be an efficient enforcer of French rule against a series of anti-colonial disturbances.
By 1946, he rose to the post of Governor of Kratie Province and became an associate of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. In the late 1940s, he set up a pro-independence political group and became increasingly involved in the Cambodian politics.
In 1952, he joined the army and carried out military operations against the Viet Minh. Three years later, he became the army chief of staff and in 1960, he was appointed the commander-in-chief. He became a trusted supporter of Sihanouk and was appointed as the deputy premier in 1963.
In the 1966 parliamentary elections, there occurred a major shift in the balance of power towards Lon Nol and he became the Prime Minister of Cambodia. The following year, his troops were used by Sihanouk to carry out a savage repression of a leftist-inspired revolt in Battambang Province.
In 1967, Lon Nol was injured in a car crash and took temporary retirement. The following year, he returned to the political scene as the Minister of Defense in Sihanouk’s cabinet, a post which he served in for a year.
In 1969, he became the Prime Minister of Cambodia for a second time. In his government, he appointed the vocally anti-Sihanouk and pro-US politician, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, as his deputy.
In March 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, there arose anti-Vietnamese riots in Phnom Penh. Lon Nol and Sirik Matak closed the port of Sihanoukville, through which weapons were being smuggled to the Vietnamese forces and issued an ultimatum against them to leave Cambodia within three days or face military action.
Subsequently, a poll was taken in the National Assembly in which Sihanouk was stripped of his power and Lon Nol assumed the powers of the Head of State on an emergency basis, and The Khmer Republic was founded in October 1970.
The Khmer Republic was founded in order to restore Cambodia's sovereignty in its eastern regions but turned out to be a disaster, both militarily and politically.
In 1971, Lon Nol's health started to decline after he suffered a stroke and his rule became increasingly unreliable and dictatorial. He suspended the National Assembly and also insisted on supervising many of the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK) operations personally.
For the next few years, Lon Nol's regime ruled over Cambodia but became completely dependent upon large quantities of American aid which became scarce over the years due to political and military issues. In the meantime, Sihanouk formed a government-in-exile, the GRUNK, incorporating the Khmer Rouge communists.
Over time, the republic’s power weakened and in April 1975, after getting to know that Khmer Rouge insurgents were on the verge of occupying Cambodia and he was the first person on their list to be executed after gaining power, Lon Nol resigned as the President of the Khmer Republic and went into exile.
Initially, he escaped to Indonesia and then traveled to the United States. In 1979, he settled in Fullerton, California, where he resided until his death.
Personal Life & Legacy
At the time of death, he was married to Sovanna Lon, his second wife, and was the father of nine children.
He died from a heart problem on November 17, 1985, in Fullerton, California, United States. He was buried at the Loma Vista Memorial Park.