MONATIO and the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge

MONATIO and the fall of Phnom Penh

On April 17th 1975 Phnom Penh fell and the country was duly plunged into uncertainty. During this period of chaos many groups were not only seeking control, but also trying to convince the new leaders of their loyalty. One of the these was MONATIO.

Who were MONATIO? In short seemingly former fighters of the Khmer Republic trying to flip sides, but in reality there is a lot of mystery to the story of MONATIO.

Aerial reconnaissance view of burning Esso Shell oil storage tank, Phnom Penh, 17 April 1975

Emergence of MONATIO

MONATIO short for Mouvement National were group of supposed Khmer Natioanls that took to the streets when the Khmer Rouge entered the city waving their own unique flag while cheering the liberators.

And as for who exactly they were? Again no one knows, but they seemed to consist of soldiers with many thinking they were being controlled by Lon Non, brother of Khmer Republic President Lon Nol, perhaps as a way to either avoid arrest, or even be part of the revolution. Some have even suggested that they might have been members of the Khmer Blue trying to “fit in”.

Was MONATIO crontroled by the CIA?

Initially the group were tolerated by Angkar before eventually being arrested and mostly executed. The Khmer Rouge later claimed without much evidence that they were part of a CIA plot.

Yet while there is little evidence of this they were known to be controlled by Hem Keth Dara, who was controlled by Lon Non, who was controlled by the CIA. That the Americans would want some influence of friends on the ground is hardly that outlandish of a suggestion.

The events of this were later made into a move by cinematographer King Sihanouk in imaginably titled MONATIO. Today their legacy remains one very much shrouded in mystery.