Who was Son Sann?
Son Sann aka Samdech Borvor Setha Thipadei Son Sann was a prominent Cambodian leader and politician. Born to ethnic Khmer parents from neighboring Vietnam, Son was raised in his country's capital. He enjoyed a childhood of privilege as his father held a prominent position in the government. The young lad was then sent to Paris to complete his education. After mastering two European languages, he took his expertise back to his homeland, where he became employed by the colonial government. Soon rising to a high rank in the civil service, Sann's career was jump-started after his country achieved independence. Parleying his education and experience into being appointed as head of his country's central bank, he enjoyed his position of privilege. But after a revolution led to a change in fortune, he had to flee to foreign countries. Negotiating to find a peaceful settlement for his homeland, the rising leader ultimately decided to organize an armed resistance group instead. Once his allies had toppled the government, Sann was given a prestigious leadership position. He spent a decade at the top of secular power in his country before taking a step back, successfully running as an opposition member of parliament. The eminent politician then retired from politics and moved abroad one last time. Peacefully passing away in his bed, Sann was hailed by national leaders as a hero of his homeland.
Childhood & Early Life
Son Sann was born on October 5, 1911 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Although both of his parents were ethnic Khmer, they were originally from Tra Vinh Province in Vietnam.
He completed his elementary and secondary education in Phnom Penh. In 1929, he moved to Paris, France to enroll in school.
In 1933, Sann graduated from the ‘Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales’.
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The following year in 1934, Sann moved to London. During this time, he learned English.
After staying in London for a year he returned to Cambodia, in 1935. He was given a job as a trade representative for the French colonial administration and served in Prey Veng and Battambang provinces.
In 1941, he was appointed as a member of an important Cambodian economic mission to Tokyo, Japan.
Sann was promoted to the post of vice president of the Council of Ministers, in 1946. Later, he was promoted to the position of Minister of Finance. He rapidly acclimated to the position.
In 1947, he was promoted to the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia. In the same year, he founded the ‘Democratic Party’. It quickly rose to a position of prominence.
In 1950, he was appointed to be the Foreign Minister of Cambodia. He worked to improve regional and world relations.
In 1955, Sann joined the royalist ‘Sangkum’ movement or political party. In the same year, Cambodia achieved independence from France.
He was appointed Governor of the ‘National Bank of Cambodia’, in 1964. He became respected for his diligent work.
In 1970, after Cambodia suffered a coup, Son was placed under house arrest. He later fled to China, where he worked to secure a negotiated settlement for his homeland.
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The premier of China disagreed with his negotiations, and Lon Nol became the president of the Khmer Republic in Cambodia, in 1972.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia. Sann began organizing a resistance movement while living in Paris, France.
After Vietnam invaded his homeland, he founded the ‘Khmer People's National Liberation Front’ (KPNLF) to oppose the ruling government of Cambodia, in 1979.
In 1982, the KPNLF joined forces with a royalist party to form a coalition government. The popular leader was appointed as Prime Minister of the country. He held this position for the next nine years.
In 1991, he participated in the peace negotiations to end the civil war in his homeland. The nationalist leader worked to reunite and heal his country.
In 1992, he formed the ‘Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party’ (BLDP). It soon rose to a position of prominence.
In 1993, the BLDP did well in elections and Sann was elected as a member of parliament, known as the National Assembly. Later in the same year, he became the President of the National Assembly.
In 1997, he resigned from politics and moved to Paris, France. He slowly began to fade into a long illness.
Son Sann was twice the Prime Minister of Cambodia and served in a number of prominent government positions in Cambodia. As the Prime Minister of the nation he implemented several progressive social programs to modernize his country. He also built important bridges between regional powers such as China and Vietnam as well as global powers such as the United States.
Personal Life & Legacy
Son Sann was married to Nema Toula Macchwa. Together they had seven children. In 2000, the eminent political leader died of heart failure.
When Son Sann died, the King of Cambodia declared that he was a "son of the nation and a hero of the Cambodian motherland".
One of his sons, Son Soubert, is a trained archeologist. The political leader remained a devout Buddhist his entire life.
Despite organizing armed resistance movements, this famous personality told Pope John Paul II in 1983 that he had never carried a gun in his life and that he adhered to the Buddhist concept of respect for all living beings.