|Angkorean Empire (image www.tourismcam.blogspot.com)|
I have chosen to write this report because I would like to testify to the international community and Cambodian people about a cause of suffering that Cambodian people have endured for centuries. Despite the report may not in full detail, but it can help to clarify and explain why Pol Pot had chosen radical revolution that led to mass killing, and finally Vietnamese invasion.
This report examines several themes, and one of them has to do with the effects on Cambodian politics and society of the country's location between the two powerful neighbors--Vietnam and Thailand. Since a downfall of Khmer Empire in 1432, the presence of two powerful, antagonistic neighbors have forced Cambodian monarchs and elites to prefer one over other or both. Now the current Cambodian leader, Hun Sen, has committed himself to Vietnamese patronage in order to maintain his dictatorial power and perverted regime . Hun Sen's predecessors--Lon Nol and Pol Pot --who had rejected the Vietnamese patronage could not survive more than five years on power.
The next theme examines more detail about how Pol Pot came to power and why he chose radical revolution to practice in the country that ended up with a great disaster. With my background as a survivor of the killing fields, I would share some of my life experiences under Pol Pot's regime and the Vietnamese occupation. However, I still have a puzzle to understand why Pol Pot imposed too extreme policy on his own people while the country had still struggled to survive from its neighbors' domination, particularly Vietnam which has persistently tried to conquer Cambodia by all means.
The final two important themes are about the Vietnamese invasion and the UN sponsored election in 1993. Through Cambodia's history, Vietnam is the most trouble maker in Cambodian internal affairs. It has tirelessly ignited fire among Cambodian factions in order to gain political interest and finally to swallow Cambodian land. At least Vietnam had intervened three wars in Cambodia in modern history-- in 1946-54, 1970-73, and 1979-89. Currently, Vietnam has nearly achieved its final goal to place Laos and Cambodia in the Indochina Socialist Federation under its patronage. In 1993, when the UN spent more than 2 billion dollars to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia, Vietnam used its Cambodian Puppet, Hun Sen, to launch a bloody coup against a democratic elected government and re-installed its subordinate government to rule Cambodia until today.
The complexity of the events in Cambodia has created shambles among Cambodian people as well as the international community since they have seen all problems in Cambodia as the internal affairs of Cambodian people. But if we deeply study and research Cambodian history and politics along with our life experience, we may reach a final conclusion that the endless suffering of Cambodian people is exactly caused by foreign interference, particularly Vietnam. If it continues to interferes into Cambodia's internal affairs as currently, Cambodian people will never find real peace, stability, and prosperity for their own country. Cambodian people can enjoy a sustainable peace, stability, and prosperity if and only if Vietnam stops meddling into Cambodian internal affairs and abandoning its historic expansionist ambition for future Greater Indochina Federation.
1) Brief Greatness and Decline Without End:
For centuries Cambodia, the Khmer Empire, was a great nation, ruling most part of South East Asia. Starting in the first century A.D., the kingdom of Funan, the precursor of Khmer Empire grew a long the gulf of Thailand and the plain of lower Mekong River, compassing today Southern Cambodia and the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, as well as parts of Thailand, Laos, and the Malay Peninsula.
Two great religions that have their roots from India-- Hinduism and Buddhism-- molded Funan’s civilization to create the Khmer identity today. Indian merchants and missionaries brought culture to Southeast Asia. In the peninsula called Indochina, the cross road of two distinct cultures -- Indian and Chinese civilizations --Cambodia and Laos were mainly influenced by India, and Vietnam by China. By seventh century, the Kingdom of Chenla succeeded Funan, but it was not stable as its predecessor. It first split into Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and by the end of eight century there were at least five competing kingdoms in existence by 802, King Jayavarman II came to stop anarchy in the fragile Chenla and established his new kingdom that has its Capital in Mount Kulen, in today Northern Cambodia. Jayavarman II was the first in the line of god-king who combined divine status with earthly rule, and the founder of the Angkor dynasty. Each Angkor king established his own divine status by erecting numerous temples that aspired to the heaven. Jayavarman II centered his kingdom on the Great Lake, Tonle Sap, where rich in fish and fertile land that was capable of sustaining a large population, the basis of the rise of the dynasty that he founded. The Angkor dynasty lasted until the beginning of 13th century.
After many conflicts between rulers and usurpers, King Soryavarman II, one of the Khmer great king, the founder of Angkor Wat Temple, ascended the throne in 1113 and ruled until 1150. He greatly extended the Khmer Empire influence to Champa in today’s central Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. He established good political and commercial relationships with China and other empires in Asia and Europe. But his fame linked above all with the construction of the great temple of Angkor Wat, a shrine of god Visnu, and now it becomes a great symbol of Khmer identity.
Internal conflicts and unsuccessful war with its neighbors, the capital city of Angkor was overrun and destroyed by the enemies. The king was killed and anarchy followed. Jayavarman VII came to restore the kingdom as a military commander and later ascended the throne in 1181. He put an end to the Cham menace defeated and conquered them. During his reign, Jayavarman VII extended his power as far North as Vientiane, today’s Capital City of Laos, and Southward into Malay Peninsula.
Later Angkor was conquered by the Thai for the first time in the middle of fourteen century and after many battles, the Khmer had abandoned Angkor and established a new Capital City in Longvek, 30 miles from today’s Capital City of Phnom Penh. The new dynasty was created by King Ang Chan I. Around 1566, the king turned back the Thai invasion. After his death, the Thai troops overran Longvek, and the fall of the new Capital City marked the beginning of unending decline of the Khmer Empire which has struggled to do no more than to maintain what it has until today.
In the 17th century, Cambodia that used to be known as the Khmer Empire became the object of the two mounting rivals --Thailand and Vietnam over domination of the weakened and shrunk state, Cambodia. Under constant Thai threat, King Chey Chettha II turned for help from Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam. In return, the king granted Vietnamese the right to settle in the region of Mekong Delta, today’s South Vietnam. This privilege of the Vietnamese settlers were later bolstered by King Botom Reachea who again called for Vietnamese assistance to secure his throne. By 1674, the Vietnamese were driven out, and the victor became king as Chey Chettha IV.
Rival usurpers to the throne played the dangerous game of calling on Thailand and Vietnam for help, and these Cambodia’s two powerful neighbors often met in battles. In 1720-30, king Satha II and three other former monarchs, fought each other for the throne, and all rival parties solicited help from their entirely selfish neighbors. The price was the loss of further large areas in Mekong Delta to Vietnam. As power fell into foreign hands, dynastic quarrels among kings, ex-kings, sons of kings, and other usurpers to the throne threw the country into ending chaos. Finally, it was definitive loss of a half size of territory to Vietnam. Vietnam was a big aggressor and the principal beneficiary of Cambodia’s weakness while Thailand found it easier to strike political bargaining with Cambodia because Thais have closer ethnic, cultural, religious links to Khmer than Vietnamese. The Vietnamese, then as now, were seen by the Khmer as demons who constantly have swallowed Cambodian land through military menace and political manipulation.
Desperately, to save its sovereignty, Cambodia has to submit itself to its both powerful neighbors. In 1794, King Ang Eng was put on the throne at age seven years old by Thai officials. In exchange, Cambodia lost its two large provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap to Thailand. When King Ang Eng died, his son, Ang Chan II became heir to the throne at the age of six. When reaching maturity, he paid tribute to Emperor Gia Long of Vietnam and later was crowned as the puppet king of Cambodia in 1803.
When King Ang Chan II died in 1834, he had no son to succeed him, but his daughter, princess Ang Mey was crowned by the Vietnamese to be the Cambodia's Queen. However, Queen Mey was not popular among Cambodians and the court officials, the Vietnamese showed their heavy hands at the court of the Capital City of Oudong, eliminating and murdering the pro-Thai officials. These atrocities provoked a rising in collaborating with Thai, and the Vietnamese army was pushed back from Oudong. King Ang Chan’s brother, Ang Duong was installed to the throne in 1842 by Thai army, but Vietnam angrily reacted with military offensive that lay siege to Oudong. Then, a peace treaty was signed between Vietnam and Thailand in 1846, and King Ang Duong was crowned with a consent of Thai and Vietnamese.
King Ang Duong was popular among Cambodian people and his court officials because of his sense of justice and sovereignty for his kingdom, but he could not halt either Thai or Vietnamese encroachment on his country. He desperately sought help from Western powers -- France, Britain, and Spain -- to safeguard his country but unsuccessful. He died in 1860 and succeeded by his son Ang Norodom. King Norodom later was confronted by a revolt led by his brother prince Sivutha supported by the Vietnamese. Then he fled to Bangkok where he requested help from Thai military to recover his throne. The Thai army restored Norodom to the throne, once again, the Thai gained upper hand over Cambodia. At this time, France had already colonized Cochin-China (South Vietnam), and in French eyes, Thailand was about to fall prey to British design of colonization.
As fearing of Vietnamese and Thai menace, the idea of establishing a protectorate over a weak and embattled Cambodia was considered by King Norodom who had maintained his father legacy of seeking help from the West. The king thought that to submit to France would secure Cambodia’s independence from Thailand, but he feared that when France would leave one day, he would expose to Vietnamese and Thai threats again. King Norodom eventually signed a protectorate treaty with France in 1863 without informing his Thai patron. Thailand later strongly protested that Cambodia was its vassal state and France could deal with Norodom only through Bangkok. Nonetheless, France ignored Thai's protest, and Napoleon III ratified the protectorate treaty; from April 17, 1864, from now on,Cambodian sovereignty resided in Paris.
In 1884, France tightened its hold by reducing king’s power to ceremonial function, appointing a French Resident Superieur as a real chief executive of the government and a resident for each province. This action had reduced Cambodia to a real colonial status. Many bloody revolts followed, and it took France almost two years to put them down. France’s colonization of Cambodia was marked by the end of constant threat from both Vietnam and Thailand, but Cambodia fell into the total control of another foreign power. Significant administrative functions were completely held by Frenchmen, and economic life of the country was largely dominated by Chinese and Vietnamese middlemen. Education was not encouraged; by 1941, only one high school existed in the country. Most students got traditional education from Buddhist monasteries where lessons were instructed by Buddhist monks volunteers.
In 1904, King Norodom died, and his brother, Sisowath, was placed on the throne by the French authority. The choice of the king was manipulated by the French; they favored Sisowath over Norodom’s son because he well cooperated with the French authority in fighting against the revolts in 1884. In 1925, King Sisowath died, and his son, Monivong succeeded him until 1941, and when King Monivong died, it marked the end of Sisowath dynasty reign. This time, the French passed over Monivong’s independent minded son, Prince Monireth, and they enthroned Norodom Sihanouk, a great grand son of King Ang Norodom, whom they felt that he was a cooperative prince, but it was a great mistake for the French.
In the first year of his reign, Sihanouk’s action was limited not only by French advisors but also by the fact that in August 1941, eight thousands Japanese troops had been stationed in the country, and no one knew what the Japanese intended to do. By 1942, the Japanese sympathy for certain anti-colonial movements visible throughout South East Asia. The climax of confrontation between Cambodian independent movements and the French occurred in July 1942, in the largest anti-colonial demonstration ever happened. But the peaceful demonstration was violently cracked down by French police officers while the Japanese troops stood nearby did nothing. Many organizers were arrested and put to death by the French court. The collapse of the demonstration suggests that the organizers overestimated the Japanese support and underestimated the French security.
However, on March 1945, when the Japanese sensed their future defeat in the World War II, they disarmed the French forces and removed all French officials throughout Indochina. The move was intended to forestall the French armed resistance and to equip local forces to resist Allied landing expected later in the year. In response to a formal Japanese request, King Sihanouk declared Cambodia’s independence and pledged Cambodia’s cooperation with the Japanese imperial forces. But as result of Allies ’victory in World War II, by October 1945, the French under De Gaulle leadership, came back to restore their authority throughout Indochina. Sihanouk quickly switched side, then he opened negotiations for gradual independence, for he believed that Cambodia was ill-prepared to stand on its own without French aids.
By 1946, the French loosened their political grip, allowing Cambodian people to form political parties based on their belief in the first time in Cambodian history. The constitutional assembly was elected to draft a new and first constitution in the country. The National Assembly was elected with a number of political parties participating. The Democratic Party led by Prince Yuthevong-- a socialist who held a doctorate from France--won a landslide victory, but the French did not allowed its majority members to declared independence. King Sihanouk saw the victory of the Democrats as a big thread to his power. In January 1953, after many showdowns with the National Assembly members, Sihanouk dissolved the parliament, declaring martial law and setting out on what he called his “Royal Crusade for Independence.” After visiting Paris, Washington, Tokyo, and Bangkok to seek supports for Cambodian independence from France, Sihanouk exiled himself in Thailand and declared that he would not return to Phnom Penh until the French granted him full independence.
France, preoccupied with its losing war in Vietnam, granted Cambodia full independence. On November 9, 1953, King Sihanouk returned triumphantly to Phnom Penh with red carpet flanked by the French and Cambodian honored guards and thousands of cheering crowds. The Cambodia’s independence was later assured by the Geneva Conference in 1954, in which Cambodia obtained the withdrawal of the Vietnamese communist troops from its soil and achieved a full sovereignty without partition the country as if Vietnam and Laos. Cambodia was allowed to receive economic and military aids from Western countries. The US became the biggest supplier of economic and military aids to a newly independent Cambodia, but Sihanouk eventually rejected all the US aids and proclaimed neutrality on his foreign policy.
In order to obtain strong executive power to execute his reformed programs, King Sihanouk abdicated the throne in favor of his father, King Norodom Soramarit, entering in full political life without constitutional restriction. Sihanouk formed a broad political movement, the Sangkum Reas Nyom, (Socialist Community) which won most seats in the National Assembly in 1955 election. Sihanouk’s authoritarian rule, although deeply resented by both left and right intellectuals, faced no effective opposition from either Democratic or Communist groups. All his opponents were kept under strict surveillance, and Sihanouk’s secret police was ruthlessly effective to quell all his political opponents.
Meanwhile, Sihanouk was deeply disturbed by the ongoing war in Vietnam and Laos, and he strongly believed that the determined and highly disciplined Vietnamese Communists would eventually win the war over the US backed government in South Vietnam. He saw Cambodia’s only chance of staying out of the Vietnamese influence was a neutrality that the Vietnamese Communists would see as favorable to their cause. However, he was pessimistic about this policy’s success but saw no other choice. As he told Henry Kamm, a New York Time correspondent in 1964 that the Vietnamese, who considered him a “progressive,” would turn against him as soon as they had won their struggle. These words were confirmed later by Pol Pot that his Vietnamese ally told him not to fight Sihanouk until they had won their struggle then they came to help Pol Pot marched to Phnom Penh.
To appease the Vietnamese Communists from attacking his forces and civilians, Sihanouk secretly allowed many heavy armed Vietnamese divisions and supplies flowing through Cambodian territory, best known as Ho Chi Minh Trail. His secret policy brought anger from both the US and its allies in the Vietnam War. Also, internally, Sihanouk power began to slip visibly since 1966. It was a desperate gamble on his policy when he formed a salvation government led by his loyal General Lon Nol in 1969 to rescue the deteriorated situation caused by the Communist Khmer Rouge.
Finally, Sihanouk made his ultimate error when he left the country for medical check up in France in January 1970. He hoped in vain that his absence would make clear to Cambodian people that only him could lead the country out of its drift toward the disastrous Vietnam War. Instead, the right-wing group including his loyal General Lon Nol and his cousin Prince Sirik Matak considered Sihanouk’s anti-Western and pro-communist, or worse than that the pro-Vietnamese policies were totally unacceptable. On March 18, 1970, Sihanouk was overthrown by bloodless military coup led by his trusted General Lon Nol and his rival cousin Sirik Matak. Then, Cambodia began its descent into the abyss of bloody war that led to the killing fields in 1975 and the Vietnamese invasion in 1979.
III- Independence and the Rise of Communist Movement
2) Who Is Pol Pot?
The man known to the world as Pol Pot started his life with the name Saloth Sar while Pol Pot was his revolutionary name. He chose precedents set by many famous communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Tito, and Ho Chi Minh. Their practical purposes, when in the underground, were concealed their identities from police and in some cases to inspire their followers. Most of Pol Pot’s close followers had more than one name. When he came to power in 1975, it took many analysts more than a year to identify him as a former teacher named Saloth Sar who had been the secretary of the Cambodian Communist Party since 1963.
Saloth Sar’s parents were ethnic Khmer. He was born in the village of Prek Sbauv, near the provincial capital of Kompong Thom, 90 miles north of Phnom Penh. His parents were the prosperous farmers with ten hectares of rice land, several drafted cattle and a comfortable tile-roof house. Sar was the eighth of the nine children in the family. In 1935, when Sar was nine years old, he was sent by his parents to live with his older brother, Saloth Suong, who had worked in the royal palace as a clerk in Phnom Penh. Soon after arriving in the Capital City, Sar spent two years as a novice in a Buddhist monastery. Sar’s behavior had been traumatized by the solemn discipline of the Buddhist monk order. His behavior was described by his older brother as an even tempered, polite, and unremarkable child. Most people who met him as an adult found his self-effacing personality, hard to connect with his fearsome behavior in the 1970s.
In 1942, Sar went to study at Norodom Middle School in Kompong Cham province, 50 miles north east of Phnom Penh. Sar was remembered by his classmates who later said that his manner was straightforward, pleasant, and very polite. Another recalled Sar thought a lot but said very little, while he spent of his spare time playing basket ball and soccer. He had no clear ambition; he was content to drift along, enjoying his companions without making strong impression on them. By 1947, he left for Phnom Penh to enroll as a student at technical school. Several of his fellow students from Kompong Cham, Hou Youn, Hu Nim, and Khieu Samphan, the future Khmer Rouge leaders, had gone to the more prestigious Sisowath High School. In that year, Sar met Ieng Sary as a student of Sisowath High School. Then Sar received a government scholarship in 1949 and Sary received one in 1951 to study in France. The two spent time together in Paris where they became members of the French communist party.
When studying in France, Sar absorbed a good idea of French Literature such as Hugo, Verlaine, and Vigny. One of philosopher is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Beside that, he might influenced by the communist manifesto through the French communist party journals. In 1951, Sar met Khieu Pannary who came to study with her sister, Khieu Thirith to study linguistics, and her sister studied English literature. Thirith had come engaged to Sary when they were in Cambodia. They were married in the summer of 1951 in Paris. Later Sar, Sary, and his Marxist friends came together to discuss the Marxist texts.
Turning to a discussion of democracy, Sar cited revolutions in France, Russia, and China where the monarchy had been abolished. He noted that in France, China, and the Soviet Union the democracy that replaced the kings was a doctrine followed by all people around the world. Later, Sar wrote an essay called “Monarchy or Democracy?” His essay accused the monarchy as an unjust doctrine which bestows power on a small group of people who do nothing to earn their living, but they could exploit the majority of the people at all levels. On the essay, he went on to say that the monarchy was friendly to imperialism but inimical to the people, Buddhism, and to knowledge. He explained that Cambodia’s recent kings had been appointed by the French, while throughout Cambodian history people were kept as slaves and made to work day and night to feed the kings and their entourage. Later, all his remarks had foreshadowed of the conditions when he came to power in 1975.
On January in 1953, Saloth Sar returned home after three years studying in France without any specific degree because of his poor performance at school then he lost scholarship from the government. Less than a month later, he left his home in the Capital City to join the Khmer-Vietminh Resistance (the Khmer resistance group created by Vietnam) against the French. Saloth Sar was inducted by Pham Van Ba, a Vietnamese representative of the Indochina Communist Party in Cambodia. Sar had a privilege to join the party fast because he was a member of the French Communist Party which entitled him to join the group with international status.
3) Geneva Peace Accord:
By mid-1954, the Viet Minh and their Cambodian allies were in the state of suspended activity, awaiting the result of the international conference convened at Geneva to reach a political settlement to the First Indochina War. The peace conference started soon after the French army suffered a humiliated defeat at Dien Bien Phu, North Vietnam. The conference attendees including France, Britain, the US, China, the Soviet Union
When he returned to the city, Sar worked as a liaison with radical democrats on behalf of the Indochina Communist Party. Thuon Mumm, Sar’s friend in Paris shared a common agenda with him how to seize the power in Cambodia. The other group called Pracheachon group (Cambodian Communist Party) also operated under the guideline of the Indochina Communist Party. Unlike Sar and Mumm, the members of the Pracheachon Group had peasant or working class background, combat experiences but less academic skills or access to elite class. In 1955 election, Sihanouk realized that the result he had wanted for his Sangkum Movement was not guaranteed, therefore he had his secret police terrorized and harassed the Democratic and Pracheachon candidates. Many members of the opposition parties were arrested, but Saloth Sar came to nobody’s attention. As result of violence, intimidation, and fraud the Sangkum Party won a landslide victory and marked the end of pluralist politics in the country, and the begining of one-man rule over the next decades. Saloth Sar’s neutral style and his obedience to the party discipline kept him from Sihanouk’s threat.
4) Life After Independence:
After 1955 election, life was settled smooth for Sar. He got a teaching job in a newly established private school as a teacher of History, Geography, and French. As a teacher, he was praised and respected by many students for his honest, humane, politness, and easy to be friend. The school provided him with a stage for his political talent and a base for his party work. On the informal political serminar where many young communist attended, Sar led discussion without revealing his political alignment. In addition, school provided him an opportunity to meet with his girlfriend, Khieu Ponary whom he had met in Paris now a teacher at Sisowath High School. Ponary was an old fashioned girl, but she was dedicated and committed to her career and politics. Soon, both of them got married in a quiet traditional ceremony in July 1956.
By late 1956, Saloth Sar was known by his comrades as Pol Pot. He continued to work for the Indochina Communist Party in smaller group, to protect the party leader, Tou Samouth and Siev Heng, and to lay a groundwork for larger and better organized Cambodian Communist Party. To proceed with the second Indochina war, the Vietnamese made a new arrangement for the communist party in Laos and Cambodia in order to win a common struggle. The Cambodian Communist Party Congress was held secretly in Phnom Penh Railway Station in 1960. The congress was convened on the order from Hanoi; the congress revealed new Central Committee members including Son Ngoc Minh, who was in Hanoi, Tou Samouth, a secretary to the party, Saloth Sar, Nuon Chea, Keo Meas, and So Phim. The congress approved a political line, strategy, and Marxist-Leninist statutes for the party.
By mid-1962, Sihanouk spent his time attacking the communist --the Pracheachon Group, whose refusal to dissolve itself angered him. Unlike the Democratic Party which dissolved itself in 1958, the Pracheachon Group struggled to survive the political persecution until late 1960. Many of its members were arrested, including its party’s spokesman, Non Suon, and many pro-communist newspaper editors. On July 1962, the party’s secretary, Tou Samouth disappeared; his death still has been a misery until today. Some sources suggested that Sihanouk’s secret agents led by Lon Nol did arrest Tou Samouth and killed him, weighted with stones and thrown into the Mekong River. But this claim totally denied by Sihanouk later. However, since 1979, the Vietnamese and their Cambodian Communist allies in Phnom Penh still have maintained that Tou Samouth was killed by Pol Pot. This View was supported by Professor Ben Kiernan, a chaiman of a Cambodia’s Genocide Research Program at Yale University. Kiernan argued that Pol Pot would have wanted Tou Samouth killed because Samouth was “pro-Vietnamese,” and Samouth’s removal would clear the way for him to be a party’s secretary until his death in 1998.
In early 1963, a student violent protest broke out in the provincial capital of Searm Reap, shouting Sihanouk’s corrupt regime, and similar violent protests occurred in Kompong Cham and Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was angry while he was being abroad; he demanded a serious investigation. General Lon Nol, an anti-communist defense minister, viewed these actions as a communist conspiracy; then he produced and submitted a list of thirty-four men to Sihanouk considering as the communist conspirators, including Saloth Sar, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen -- probably because they taught at leftist schools. Saloth Sar and Ieng Sary for their part, decided to leave the Capital City and seek refuge in the Eastern part of the country -- the Vietnamese military camp known as “Office 100,” where Saloth Sar had stayed with the Khmer Vietminh 10 years earlier. Sar found himself in this place in the second time. Now he was no longer restrained by his career or by his family; from this point on, he was a true full time revolutionary. Despite his movement was restricted by the Vietnamese, in his own circle, he now had greater freedom to develop his views and to plan a strategy to seize the power. After this time, Sar’s personality became even more inaccessible and his life story more difficult for the outsiders to trace.
5) The Khmer Rouges 1963-1970:
For seven years after his flight from Phnom Penh, Saloth Sar and his colleagues were on the run, hiding in makeshift camps in Eastern and Northeastern the country, except in 1965-66, he spent his time in a searched mission in North Vietnam and China. Most of the time Sar and his colleague were cut off from the development in Phnom Penh and else where around the world. Sar and his colleague met few non-believers; they talked continuously to each other, bonding together and reinforcing paranoia and their self
However, there were several foreign influences on Saloth Sar in this period; the cultural revolution that started in China in 1966. Sar visited China at the early phase of this revolution; he must have been impressed by what he had seen. Some measures introduced in China in that time -- storming attack on economic problems, the purge of the class enemies, and partial evacuation of the people from the cities. It is not clear whether he ever learned that the cultural revolution in China was a disater or success, but one important achievement in his visit was his encounter with Kang Sheng, the head of Mao’s secret police and who befriended Sar on this occasion. All what Sar had encountered in the cultural revolution were translated into actions in Cambodia later when he seized the power.
In the country, around 1964-65, Sar and Sary lived in the Office 100 where there were no more than twenty Cambodians, most of them the Vietnamese. All Cambodians including Sar had not been allowed outside the base. But, although staying in this strict condition, Sar and his colleage proceeded to plan a revolution successfully. Sar frequently convened a study meeting at the base to design a blueprint to encounter any eventual coup by Americans in the Capital. Sar and his colleagues seemed anticipate that the coup against Sihanouk would happen any time in the future by the right-wing group. But dreaming of success seemed a long way off because the Cambodian Communists were weak and unarmed yet, and all their fate still under the Vietnamese control.
On June 1965, Sar and his top aids were summoned by Hanoi to discuss about the escalation of war and the expanded role of the Cambodian Communists. When the delegation reached Hanoi, they were welcomed and treated warmly by the Vietnamese leaders. They also had a chance to meet with their old friends who had exiled there after the Geneva Peace Conference in 1954. The delegate took part in secret talks with the Vietnamese Communist leaders, led by Le Duan, the secretary of the party. At the meeting, Le Daun criticized the Cambodian delegation sharply for adopting their own political line. The Vietnamese demanded them to renounce their revolutionary struggle on behalf of Cambodia and waited for the Vietnamese to win the war with the US first. But Sar quietly rejected that demand and pursued an independent line for his own struggle. The session with Le Duan humiliated Sar; his views as the leader of a sovereign party were not treated with respect. If Sar responded stubbornly as his thought, the Vietnamese would find someone else to replace him.
After returning from North Vietnam, Sar faced a lot of changes both inside and outside the country. The Office of 100 along the Vietnamese boder was moved to Rathanakiri Province on the Northeast of the country -- the new base was called Office 104 until 1969. The displacement was to avoid the US bombing raids, to keep the base from being overun by the South Vietnamese and the US forces, and more important than these was to get rid of the Vietnamese Communist control. In Phnom Penh, Sihanouk loosened his grip on power, allowing the right wing group to gain more seats in the national election in 1966. General Lon Nol, a fierce anti-communist man, was appointed as a prime minister. In Vietnam, the US troops continued to build up over 300,000 who put heavy pressure on the Vietnamese Communist troops along the border. However, the Vietnamese continued to press the suicidal alliance on Saloth Sar even though they would be in no position to help his group if they were attacked by the Lon Nol’s army.
When living in Rathanakiri Base, Sar and his communist colleagues were surrounded by tribes people who lived in a form of primitive life, based on slashed and burned agriculture. In Marxist theory, the tribes people had ideological significance. Without access to money, markets, and state control, they enjoyed what appeared to be deeply rooted in the tradition of autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aids. To the communist cadres, participated in “primitive communism,” which in Marx’s historical scheme -- later ratified by Lenin and Stalin-- proceeded the slave and feudal stages of social development. The tribe people were “noble savages,” uncorrupted by materialism and money. The relationship between the communists and tribe people was mutually beneficial. Many tribe people became trusted bodyguards, messengers, and the communist party members later. Sar was protected by his trusted tribe people bodyguards until his death in 1998.
In early 1967, harsh government policies on rice market ignited peasant revolt in Western province of Battambang. Because of people sold their rice in black market to the Vietnamese communists, the government lost millions of dollar on tax revenue. To avoid further loss, the government sent “ action teams” with military escorts to buy rice from peasants at prices lower than those paid by the Vietnamese. Clashes soon broke out between peasants and the government officials. These resistances were encouraged and supported by local communist agents. In April 1967, about two hundred local peasants, some carrying anti-American banners, attacked army posts near Samlot in Battambang province. But the communist leaders in faraway Northeast of the country did not know the attack occurred. The insurgents killed two soldiers and seized a bunch of weapons. The government’s response was swift; hundred of suspects were rounded up, beaten, and interrogated. Hundred of others fled their homes, took refuge in the forests, and finally joined the communists.
Samlot uprising marked the end of the communist political struggle in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk accused the communist elements in the Capital had encouraged the peasant uprising, and he ordered arrests. By late 1967, all the communist leaders including Khieu Samphan, Hou Youn, Hu Nim, Nuon Chea, and hundred of sympathetic teachers and students left Phnom Penh to join with their comrades in the jungle. Now armed struggle was adopted as a sole party policy to win the power. By early 1968, armed clashes frequently occurred between Sihanouk’s army and the Communist Khmer Rouges. Shortly before the Ted Offensive launched by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese against the US occupation in South Vietnam, on January 17, several fighting took place in Battambang Province where the Khmer Rouge forces smashed military posts and captured a number of weapons from the the government troops. On January 17, 1968, was later celebrated as the birthday of the Revolutionary Army of Democratic Kampuchea.
In the middle of 1969, Sihanouk renewed diplomatic relationship with the US after he had cut off in 1963. At the same time, he established a diplomatic relation with the provisional government of South Vietnam, known as the National Liberation Front (NFL), a real enemy of the US and its South Vietnamese allies. To bring the US diplomats back to Phnom Penh, Sihanouk hoped that Americans would provide military aid to turn his army into an offensive force and prevent the Vietnamese communists from encroaching further on Cambodian territory. But no such military aid was forthcoming. Instead, President Nixon, had another game plan for Cambodia. After winning his presidency in 1969 with a promise to end the Vietnam War with honor and dignity, Nixon was committed to withdrawing all American troops from Vietnam by 1973. To protect his troop withdrawals, Nixon planned secret bombing the Vietnamese Communist targets inside Cambodia. News of this bombing campaign in March 1969, was kept secret from the US Congress and the public. The bombings in Eastern part of the country turned many young men and women to join with the Khmer Rouge army. By 1970, the Khmer Rouge armed forces reached four thousands capable fighters. Another effect of the bombings was that the Vietnamese Communists who stationed along the Cambodian border moved deeper into Cambodian territory to avoid the heavy B-52 bombings. Step by step, Cambodia was entering full scale of the Vietnam War.
IV- The Bloodless Coup and Bloody War
6) The Coup Against Sihanouk:
Meanwhile, events were moving rapidly in Phnom Penh. In January 1970, Sihanouk left the country for medical check up in France. Before leaving, he had encountered with the hostile National Assembly which dominated by the conservative group. Moreover, according to Professor David Chandler, Sihanouk was genuinely frightened of the Vietnamese incursions deeper in the country, and he advised Prime Minister Lon Lol to increase pressure on the Vietnamese forces. While Sihanouk was overseas, Supplies to the Vietnamese Communists in Cambodia were cut off, and the government sponsored riots, even consented by Sihanouk, severely damaged the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh. On March 18, 1970, Sihanouk was voted out by a great majority of the National Assembly members. The coup was bloodless, but later pro-Sihanouk demonstrations were broke out in many provinces, and they were brutally suppressed by Lon Nol’s army. When the coup took place, Sihanouk was in Moscow on his way home. Stunning and enraging by this event, he proceeded as planned on the way to Beijing.
The coup took Saloth Sar by surprise while he was still in a secret visit in Beijing too. Sar asked Premier Zhou Enlai to put Sihanouk on an offensive posture toward the Lon Nol’s Regime. At the same time, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong who was visiting Beijing encouraged the prince to resist the US backed government in Phnom Penh, promising full military support and returning him to power in a short period of time. However, the Chinese and Vietnamese leaders concealed Saloth Sar’s presence in Beijing from the prince, who did not identify him as the leader of the party for several years.
In term of international relations, since 1965, China had viewed its relationship with Vietnam through the prism of the Sino-Soviet dispute though Beijing was Hanoi’s biggest source of military aid. Beijing reacted sharply against Hanoi’s decision to hold peace talks with the US in Paris, seeing it as a step toward a US-Soviet bipolar system as Vietnam already dominated in Laos. In Beijing’s judgment, a pro-US regime in Phnom Penh would eventually collapse, opening the way for Vietnam, and in the worst case, the Soviet’s hegemony over Indochina. However, Beijing saw prince Sihanouk as the only tool to stop the Soviet influence in Indochina. As Pillip Short, an author of Anatomy of a Nightmare, wrote that Premier Zhou Enlai during his greeting prince Sihanouk in the airport, had told Sihanouk that a war would be long, hard, dangerous, and sometime discouraging. After that, the Chinese Politburo met and agreed to allow Sihanouk remain in Beijing. In return, Sihanouk promised to return home and fight to the end.
On March 23, 1970, Sihanouk announced that he was forming a resistance movement to be called the National United Front of Kampuchea (NUFK), and he appealed to his compatriots to go to marquis to fight the the US-backed regime. Then, the National Liberation Army was formed, armed and trained by China and North Vietnam. Sihanouk’s appeal was as powerful as De Gaulle’s appeal to the French in 1940 to resist the Nazy German, thousands of Cambodians flocked to the jungle to join the NUFK led by Prince Sihanouk but actually under the Khmers Rouges control. Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the Khmers Rouges leadership was preserved. Only the more popular but less powerful Khmer Rouge leaders: Khieu Samphan, Hou Youn, and Hu Nim were publicly known to the cadres and the people.
The Cambodian Royal Government of National Union (CRGNU) was formally established in Beijing on May 5, 1970, and immediately recognized by China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, and a number of third world countries. This exiled government funded by China, five million dollar annually. Sihanouk accepted a principle of coorperation with the Khmers Rouges, and he was free to lead a diplomatic battle by using his popularity and prestige to rally international support for the exiled government. Saloth Sar had the same capacity to conduct policy and military strategy in the battlefields at home. Each group had a different agenda -- Sihanouk wanted vengeance and Sar needed the prince’s popularity. It was a marriage of convenience, and this marriage would be ended soon when the partners no longer had a common interest.
In Cambodia, even before Sihanouk’s appeal, the Vienamese Communists had drawn up plans for an offensive against Lon Nol’s army if negociation to reopen a supplies route through Cambodia failed. As expected, the negociation failed, on March 27, the last Vietnamese diplomats were flown out to Hanoi. Two days later, 40,000 Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops already in Cambodia, hastily reinforced by additional units from the communist 5th, 7th, and 9th, divisions launched a coordinated attack against the Lon Nol’s small and illed-equipped army. By April 20, the Vietcong units came within fifteen miles of Phnom Penh before being beaten back. By the end of the month, they seized control one half of the country.
At the same time, Americans and their South Vietnamese allies announced a limited military incursion into Cambodian territory to clear the Vietcong bases with the conbined forces of 30,000 Americans and more than 40,000 South Vietnamese supported by tanks, artilleries and B-52 bombers, sweeping through many Eastern provinces, searching and destroying the elusive and abandoned communist bases. But actually, they came to release the heavy burden on the Lon Nol’s army which had been smashed since the coup. There were short-term benefits. The US-South Vietnam’s military operation seized large amount of weapons and killed a number of the communist fighters, but the long term effects were disastrous. The invasion brought more protests from American people and the Congress at home. For Lon Nol’s regime, it destroyed the case against Sihanouk’s National United Front: there was no point telling Cambodian people that Sihanouk was a lackey of the hated Vietnamese while Lon Nol’s own regime was being propped up by another Vietnamese force.
For Saloth Sar and his colleagues, this situation posed a real political dilemma. On one hand, the more territory the Communist Vietnamese seized, the bigger the liberated zones for the Khmer Rouges to control. On the other hand, it was a danger for going too fast because the Khmers Rouges did not have enough troops and administrators to defense and administer the vast liberated zones. Sar told his Vietnamese counterpart that he needed only weapons not the troop from Vietnam. The Khmers Rouges secretly wanted to build its armed forces independently from Vietnamese command. Later, Sar accused the Vietnamese to set up a “parallel state power” in the liberated zones, which was independent of the Khmers Rouges command structure, without the Central Committee’s knowledge. In fact, Sar knew what the Vietnamese was doing; he did not like it, but he had no choice. Sar must be shocked to see Angkor Wat, the very simbol of the Khmer sovereignty was overrun and occupied by the Vietnamese Communists in the early year of the war.
Eight weeks after the coup, Lon Nol, a new leader of Khmer Republic, declared a religious war against the Vietnamese Communists. They were “the enemies of Buddha,” and all Vietnamese, communist or not, must leave the country and return to their home. Over next few years, about 200,000 Vietnamese were deported to their homeland. There was a price to be paid for Lon Nol’s policy of extreme nationalism. During their invasion, the illed disciplined South Vietnamese troops massacred Cambodian civilians to revenge; they stayed in Cambodia longer than the US troops to terrorize the countryside -- raping women, stealing cattle, other properties, and pillaging homes. Comparing to the Vietcong and the Khmer Rouge armies, the South Vietnamese soldiers were the bandits. As a result of this brutality, most Cambodian villagers sent their sons and daughters to join the Khmer Rouge army.
As the bloody war continued, both sides took their policies irrationally. To Lon Nol’s troop, all Vietnamese were communists; to the Khmers Rouges, all foreigners were enemies. Both sides rarely held prisoners of war. All captors were executed or be headed. It was a policy of drawing a clear line of demarkation between the enemies and themselves. In October 1970, Lon Nol renamed the country the Khmer Republic, ending two thousand years of the monarchic rule. The bloody battles between the Khmer Republic army and the Khmers Rouges continued for another four years before the Khmers Rouges won the decisive victory over the desparate, helpless Khmer Republic.
7) The Bloody War Continued 1970-75:
In the first half of 1970s, the Khmers Rouges fought not only one war but four. The first war was waged by the US, using heavy bombers and jet fighters which flew from the US air bases in Guam. Their targets were Vietcong and Khmer Rouges, but the bombs fell massively on the civilian population. The second war waged by the Khmer Republic forces on the ground. This battle always fierce and brutal for both sides; they did not hold or keep their enemy captives. However, the Khmers Rouges were much more brutal than the Lon Nol’s army; whenever they raided the villages or towns, they killed and massacred indiscriminately. They also burned down houses and forced villagers to join them in the liberated zones. I remembered that every time the Khmers Rouges raided my village in Battambang Province, my family members and I ran away from the village as fast as we could to avoid the forcibly evacuation or execution by the Khmers Rouges. Unfortunately, my aunt and three of her children were killed in a ditch nearby their burning house by the Khmers Rouges’ hand grenade while they were hiding in fear from cross fires.
There was the third war, sometime covert or overt, between the Khmers Rouges and the Vietcong. Both of them did not trust each other in the battlefields since the Khmers Rouges always wanted to fight the Lon Nol’s army on their own command while the Vietcong wanted a joined operation. The Khmers Rouges always regarded the Vietcong as the aggressors or invaders, not as comrades on the battlefields even though they were fighting the common enemies. Finally, the fourth war was a struggle for influence, which never spilled over into an open warfare between the Sihanouk group in Beijing and the Khmer Rouge leaders inside the country. The Khmers Rouges viewed Sihanouk and his entourages as the opportunists and old corrupt feudalists whom must be eliminated according to their radical revolutionary dogma. Eventually, Sihanouk group and their supporters were dismantled when the Khmers Rouges won the war on April 17, 1975.
In late 1970 and 1971, the Khmer Republic opened the two big land offensives, called Chenla I and Chenla II Operations, which the Khmer Republic army tried to relieve the besieged city of Kompong Thom in northern Phnem Penh. And more than this, retaliate the Vietcong who had raided and destroyed the Republic’s small airforce in Phnom Penh in early 1970 after the coup. But the Lon Nol’s military columns supported by airforce and tanks were cut and smashed into pieces by the well-armed and disciplined Vietcong and Norht Vietnamese troops before they reached the besieged city. All survivors were pulled back, and Lon Nol declared a limited victory. The second attemp, Chenla II, was more successful in 1971, when the Republic army finally reopened highway 6 from Phnom Penh to Kompong Thom and liberated the city. Through 1970-71, most of fighting against the Lon Nol’s regime conducted by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces. Unlike the Khmers Rouges, the Lon Nol’s army did not have the backing of ground troops provided by their principal allies.
For the year of 1971-72, the battlefield situation remained unchanged. Saloth Sar was eager to create his strong independent army and administration capable of assuming the conduct of war when the peace talks in Paris between the US and North Vietnam produced a settlement in South Vietnam and all Vietnamese troops would withraw from Cambodia. At this time, Saloth Sar wanted to clarify the Khmer Rouge relationship with the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. Then, Sar and his deputy, Nuon Chea, held talks with two top Vietnamese leaders -- Nguyen Van Linh and Tran Nam Trung. After a long week talks, three decisions were taken: the Vietnamese agreed to withdraw all their civilian administrators as soon as they could replace from all liberated zones; they agreed to step up their military training program so that the Khmer Rouge units could fight the war independently; and gradually, all the Khmer-Vietnamese mixed units would be dismantled replaced by all Khmer Rouge units.
By mid-1972, after touring throughout the liberated zones, Sar felt sufficiently confident his military and administration structures were in the good shape. Now it was a turning point, the Khmer Rouge army numbered to 35,000 men, backed by an estimated 100,000 guerrillas and militias, more than enough to hold their ground against the Khmer Republic forces. More than two million population now lived in the liberated zones. From the first two years of the coup, the Khmer Rouge policy in the liberated zones had been relatively moderate. Commune and village elections were held throughout the liberated areas; the candidates did not have to be communists; most of them were the supporters of the NUFK because they wanted Sihanouk to return to power. With rare exception, none of them had any conection with the communist party. Religious practices, market, exchanges, private land and other properties were allowed. But extra-marital affair, gambling, and alcohol were banned. At the same time, theft and corruption were virtually eliminated. However, opposing or rebelling against revolution meaned death.
But over the next two years, the Khmers Rouges imposed tougher control on the liberated zones. The Khmers Rouges demanded all Khmer-Vietnamese mixed units must be dismantled, and all Vietnamese and Vietcong units must station away from the population areas, to give advance notice of troop movement, Vietnamese soldiers to carry a pass whenever they traveled throughout the liberated zones. All Vietnamese troops and civilians were encouraged and forced to leave Cambodia as fast as they could. The sense was clear: the Khmers Rouges, now the dominant military force in the liberated zones, were reasserting sovereignty over their own homeland. At the same time, all forms of private property were banned; land, farm equipments, cattle, and other properties were confiscated. Communal eating were introduced in most areas. All traveling inside the liberated zones required pass or permit from the village chief. These policies were practiced nationwide when the Khmers Rouges seized the power in 1975.
Furthermore, the former Khmer-Vietminh who returned from Hanoi to help training and supervising the Khmer Rouge troops along the Vietnamese now faced the same fate as their Vienamese patrons. They were viewed as the Vietnamese agents and spies. As Saloth Sar commended that those people had lost their national characters, and they had been spoiled and had a political problems. Gradually, all of them (more than 1,000) were removed from high positions to be given low-ranking posts or sent to reform themselves through manual labor camp. Some of them defected to the Khmer Republic side, and others made their way back to Hanoi. Most of them who stayed to work with the Khmers Rouges were executed by 1975. The growing mistrust of Vietnamese intentions had reached its climax inside the Khmer Rouge leadership. Even the pro-Hanoi Soviet ambassador, Ivan Sherbakov, warned that the Vietnamese leaders still spoke of their old dream of a “Socialist Indochina Federation.” Hanoi’s nationalistic approach and its attempts to subordinate the problems of Cambodia and Laos to the interest of Vietnam risked alienating the communist movements in both countries.
8) The Khmer Rouges rejected Peace Talks:
The US-Vietnam peace talks in Paris suddenly picked up speed because President Nixon wanted all his troops home by the end of 1973. For Sar this peace process presented both problems and opportunities. The Khmers Rouges and the Vietnamese Communists, whatever their political differences, had been bounded together by the war against American Imperialist. If Hanoi signed a separate peace with the US, the biggest factor uniting them would disappear. If Vietnamese troops left Cambodia after peace accord, the Khmers Rouges would at last have freedom to follow whatever policy they had chosen without Vietnamese interferences. However, Sar got a pressure from both China and Vietnam to negociate peace directly with the US, a course which he strongly rejected because it would hurt the Khmer Rouges’ long term interest.
Another prospect that worried Sar most was a strategic partnership between China and the US against the Soviet hegemony in Asia. Would the US try to use this new relationship with China to reach a separate agreement with the NUFK headedd by Prince Sihanouk? For the prince, peace settlement for Cambodia with the US and China backing, would allow him to return to power for a neutral government, made up of moderate elements from both Lon Nol’s regime and the Khmers Rouges. Vietnam and China favored this solution, but the Khmers Rouges fiercely opposed any peace talk with the Khmer Republic. Then, the bloody war continued for another years.
From 1973 on, every indicator of policy pointed to the same conclusion: the Khmer Rouge revolution was intering a phase of comprehensive radicalization. Over the first six months of 1973, the US resumed bombings; the B-52 bombers dropped over a quarter million tons of high explosive bombs on both the Khmer Rouge targets and Cambodian villages known as “carpet bombs.” B-52 sorties rate was 81 a day, higher than the rate in Vietnam. As a CIA director, William Colby, claimed that it was now “ the only game in the town.” The Khmers Rouges now, in Indochina, the only force to meet the US mighty air power, but most of Cambodian civilians had paid heavy price. The entire of their villages, properties, and livestock were destroyed by the heay bombs. Thousands of people were killed and wounded, and the survivors were tremble, frightened, and exhausted. The bombings were practically made the Khmers Rouges stronger because the people increasingly hated the US and came to join the Khmer Rouge army, the only source that gave them strenght and support for vengeance.
By mid-1973, the Khmers Rouges firmly controlled two thirds of the country. At the same time, they stepped up military pressure on the Khmer Republic in all directions. The Phnom Penh government now had controlled only the Capital City and a few numbers of provincial capital cities in Southwest and Northwest of the country. All highways connected to the capital city were constantly disrupted, and the Mekong River convoys supplying to the capital came under sustained attacks. People in the countryside were flocking into the besieged cities. In early 1974, my parents sent my brothers, sisters, and me to attend school in Battambang City because the Khmers Rouges frequently came to terrorize my village, killing, burning houses, and forcing villagers to join them with gun points. In my village was very quiet every evening because all women and children were sent to stay in the city every night to avoid Khmers Rouges’s terrorizing. By early 1975, most villages a long highway 5 connecting Battambang and Phnom Penh were controlled by the Khmer Rouge forces. Most of villagers fled to stay permanently in Battambang City where it was already crowded.
The war against the US backed government remained the chief concern of Pol Pot (Saloth Sar), but it was not only one. Theoretically, Cambodia was still on the midst of what Marxists termed a “national democratic revolution” which required broader united front to overthrow the right-wing regime and replace with a progressive one. But Pol Pot’s mind was burning to turn to the next stage, “socialist revolution,” whose purpose was to transform root and branch nature of Cambodian society. Collectivization and elimination of private property were under way. Now Pol Pot’s political goal was socialism, a secret campaign to sharpen the consciouness and revolutionary stand of every party member in preparation for the day of victory.
On the battlefields, the Khmer Rouge forces continued to gain upper hands. The Khmer Republic troop were hampered by chronic deficiencies of poor leadership, corruption, inadequate training, and poor morale. Their main goal now not to win the war but to prevent the Khmers Rouges from establishing secured positions closer than ten miles from the Capital, just beyond rocket range of central part of the city. Pol Pot now moved his headquarter from Kompong Thom to Kompong Tralach, only thirty miles Northwest of Phnom Penh. Son Sen was named a front commander with Koy Thuon as his deputy. On January 1975, the Khmer Rouges lauched three big stages of their offensive around Phnom Penh. About 30,000 fighters advanced on the Capital from north, west, and south. But the Northern zone troop suffered heavy lost when they had faced fierce resistance from the government troop which had dug in on every patch of rising ground. The second stage was more successful as Chinese made floating mines had been brought in, the river convoys were sunken one by one, and the waterway connecting from China Sea to Phnom Penh port was definitely cut off. The third stage was blocking the airlifts, which was only alternative way to supply the besieged Capital City. After heavy shellings killed passengers and destroyed many airplanes, the airlifts were temporary grounded and resumed in mid-March for no choice.
By early March, Pol Pot moved his headquarter closer to Phnom Penh, Sdock Toel, only 20 miles away, and oservation post was set up on Mount Chitrous, offering a panoramic view of the Khmer Rouge troop, swaming across the flat plains toward the Capital defense lines of the waiting government troop. Most foreign embassies’s personnels were evacuated from the country. The Khmers Rouges radio broadcasted a list of 20 top Khmer Republic officials including Lon Nol, Sarik Matak, Long Boret would be executed, but others would be spared. On April 1, 1975, President Lon Nol, a long time nationalist leader, stepped down from power and flew off to exile in Hawaii. Phnom Penh used to be among the most beautiful cities in Asia, now became a dirty, crowded camp of more than two millions displaced people who fled from the Khmers Rouges’ atrocities in the countryside. Food, water, medicine, and shelters were in critical condition. People got only half of their ration from the airlifts, and they endured the constant rocket shellings from the Khmers Rouges in all directions. Hundred of people died every day from rocketshellings and malnutrition.
9) The Khmers Rouges’ Final Victory:
On April 17, 1975, the victorious Khmer Rouge troop marched through the Capital City, welcoming and cheering by large crowds as they passed the broad streets with their black uniforms and red scars on their heads or necks. People began dancing and hugging each other; neighbors began singing and dancing on the streets. It was a physical sense of relief led to general joicing. There were no more rocket shells to fear, no more military conscrition, and peace forever. At the same time, some Lon Nol’s military officials tried to arrange the power transfer, but the Khmers Rouges totally rejected any power arrangement. The harsher voice on the radio announced, “ we are not coming here to negociate, we are entering the Capital City through the force of arms.” The Khmer Rouge units moved soundlessly through the City, taking control of each intersection, disarming the government’s soldiers, and collecting weapons, and ordering the defeated government’s troop to remove their uniforms.
Hatred played its part in the events that followed. More common, especially among young Khmers Rouge troops, was an anger directed against city and all its works. The Khmer Rouge cadres complained that the city is bad because there is money in the city; people could be reformed but not the cities. By sweating to clear land, sowing and harvesting crops, men could learn a real value of things. Also, most of their anger directed against those who continued to live in comfort while they had fought and sacrified their lives to defeat the imperialists and reactionaries. Above all, it was directed at any one and any thing linked to American bombings of their villages. There was something excessive about their anger that reflected what happened to them in their years in the jungle. Now they had been transformed into real actions.
Now the next phase started, the Khmer Rouge soldiers went from house to house throughout the city, telling people that they must leave for two or three days, on the pretext that Americans planned to bomb the city. Soldiers with loud speakers on their trucks repeated the order. It was a terrible move to deport more than two million people out of the crowded city at a few hour notice, with no where for them to stay, no government support, no food and water, and no dedical care, it was a full scale of human suffering. About 20,000 patients in all hospitals were also forced to to leave the City; there was no exception even relatives of the top Khmer Rouge leaders including Thuon Mumm’s brothers and sisters, and worse than this, all Pol Pot’s brothers and sisters who used to raise him from the young age, Suong, Nhep, Chay, and Rearng they all joined the crowds walking north to their village of Kampong Thom Province. Pol Pot’s beloved brother, Chay was collaped and died on his way to the village. It is estimated that some 20,000 people lost their lives during the evacuation of Phnom Penh.
My sister, Phuong, her husband, and her two little daughters were among those 20,000 deaths. Based on accounts told by her surviving friend, Uncle Sang, my sister and her two little daughters, one and three years old, were forced to leave their home with bare hands. She could not take food or any belonging with her because she carried her one year old daughter and walked another on the crowded streets while her husband was still at workplace. When her husban rushed back from work to find his wife and two little kids, they already left home without clue. My sister and her two little kids died in unspeakable condition on the way out of the city because they had nothing to eat and no help. Even more than 30 years ago, my mother still cries whenever she recalls this story. In addition to this, two of my brothers were also killed in the Khmers Rouges’ regime. My brother, Heng, a military officier in the Khmer Republic, was executed when the Khmers Rouges took over the Capital City. My other brother, Bunthoeun, a former student, was arrested and killed in 1977 because he was an educated person.
In Battambang City, the condition during the evacuation was better than in Phnom Penh. The city was evacuated one week later, until April 23 as I remembered. The Northwestern troops, under Rus Nhim, a former Khmer Vietminh commander and now a Zone Secretary, marched on the streets throughout the city. I saw all my neighbors walking out of their homes, cheering, and waiving the Khmer Rouge troop which proceeded through the street. They looked weird and firm, rarely smiled or said to people. But all people were happy and exited because the war was over now, and they expected to return to their normal lives. But on morning April 23, I saw a group of five soldiers came to my home and told my parents to go back to my village as we expected. But they told us to go quickly and walked to next door to tell the same order. I heard a lot of gunshots to the air to scare people to leave their home faster.
By late morning, my father’s tractor wagon was in full load, heading out toward my village, Kachrotest, 20 miles east of the city. On the highway 5 east, I saw crowded pople walking and carying their belongings on the way to the countryside without clear destination. When my family and I reached my village, my old home was already occupied by the Khmer Rouge families because it was among a few big homes left in the village. Then we decided to settle nearby with our relatives. Three days later, the Khmers Rouges ordered all people who had settled in the villages along highway 5 to move at least one mile away from the road both sides. My family and I went to settle in Phum Thmey, two miles west of highway 5, where we lived and worked in a cooperative until the Vietnamese invasion in 1979. During Battambang evacuation, I did not see any death or starvation yet because the people in Battambang were much fewer number than in Phnom Penh, and the destinations were much shorter than from Phnom Penh, 15 to 50 miles ranges. But the problem was people did not have means of transportation and were not allowed to return to take more of their posession, there was no exception. My father and my brother drove the tractor wagon back to pick up more food and belongings from the city, but their tractor was confiscated on the road by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, and they ordered them to walk back home with empty hands.
The relocation of the entire population from the cities to the countryside and the killing of former government officials and educators were almost the perfect paradigms for the period of the Khmer Rouge rule that followed. Most city-dwellers were taken completely by surprise because they had too little attention to the Khmer Rouge and their methods during their long years in the jungle. Some city-dwellers saw the evacuation as an act of collective punishment or vegeance by a neglected underclass against anyone who by birth, education, and official position or wealth had been privileged under the old regime. But most conservative people who lived in the countryside, viewed what happened in April 1975 in terms that were not rational but reached back to the wellspring of Cambodia’s cultural identity: "Buddh Tumniay," a book of Buddhist prophecies, had predicted of dark age. Most of the prophecies in this book usually remembered by many elder people who had told their children from generation to generation. I still remembered what my grand father and my father had told me, “people would be so hungry that they would run after a dog to fight for a grain of rice that had stuck to its tail.” They always reminded me not to throw all left-over food away because somedays I would be hungry like the people who ran after the dog to fight for a grain of rice.
I remembered more, “there are houses without people lived in, there are paths or ways without people walked on, there are money without people used it…. Buddhism would be destroyed and a demon king would come to rule, who would make people think that wrong is right, black is white, good is bad….the wisemen fall into a ditch and the ignorance men come to look on them…. All what they had told me seemed to revealed during the Khmers Rouges rule and the Vietnamese invasion period. Even though all these prophecies are less rational but during their hardship most people recalled all these words as means to release their anger or depress and ready to accept all struggles they would face for their lives.
During the Khmer Rouge rule, my father frequently recalled all these prophecies, and he seemed less angery with the Khmers Rouges even he had lost his three children, his two brothers, and large amount of property, for he was ready to accept this suffering, and he expected it would happened someday according to Buddh Tumniay.
10) New Future For the Khmers Rouges:
Five days after the fall of Phnom Penh, on April 23, 1975, according to Professor Ben Kienon, Pol Pot returned to Phnom Penh where he had last seen twelves years before. He was escorted from his headquarter, 20 miles northwest of the Capital City, surrounding by his top Zone Commanders -- Ta Mok, koy Thuon, Ke Pauk, Vorn Veth -- and his deputies Nuon Chea, Son Sen, and Khieu Samphan. Pol Pot’s motocade was detoured to avoid seeing the dense crowds of urban deportees and proceeded into the railway station where he stayed a few weeks to work out the plans with his entourages. Not like Prince Sihanouk in his triamph return on September 1953 with red carpet, colorful honored gards, and thousands of cheering crowds, Pol Pot’s arrival was secret. There was no announcent, no ceremony, nothing to show he was in the Capital City.
Although evacuation was a pre-plan of the Khmers Rouges, the leadership did not find it easy to justfy. Pol Pot offered two contradictory set of reasons to the Westerners. He maintained that this action was not pre-planned… and there was a plan by the American lackeys to attack on the new regime and promted it. None of those reasons were true. The new regime began to lie, and lying would remain one of its defined characteristics. After April 1975, nothing the Khmer Rouge leaders said could ever be taken at a face value. They lied to hide unpleasant truth. The lie became an instrument of their rule, policy, and secrecy. The evacuation Pol Pot stated later was “an extraordinary measure that one does not find in the revolution of any other country in the world.” It was a party’s political and economic strategy. When the full leadership met, they decided to give absolute priority to raising agriculture production. Pol Pot declared that agriculture is the key both to nation-building and to national defense. And later it became a slogan, “when we have rice, we have every thing.”
From April 1975 onward, all people who lived in rural-cooperatives were classcified into two distinctive classes -- the new people or the April 17 people were those who had lived under Lon Nol’s regime until April 1975, and the based people were those who had lived in the liberated zones until the Khmers Rouges came to power. The based people were entitled to full ration, to hold political posts, to join the army, and apply for party membership based on their merits to the party. The new people were not entitled to what the based people had received, but new people could hold some lowest political positions in the regime such as group leader who supervised ten families, and bloc leader who supervised three to five groups.
I remembered in 1975, my family and I lived in Phum Thmey village two miles from highway 5. My two sisters and my two brothers were placed in Chalat (mobile brigade) to build dikes, canals, and water reservoirs. I was 12 years old; they separated me from my parents and put me in the children camp where I worked from morning to evening on the rice fields, building dikes, canals, and clearing grasses from the rice paddies. We had one or two hours a day to study basic math, reading, and communist ideology after lunch without any specific grade level. We did not have textbooks, notebooks, pens, pencils, and chalks for study; we used charcoals to write on small wood boards. And two or three times a week, we held a meeting to criticize each other and reinforce the rule and discipline. We were taught to love Angkar (Khmer Rouge leadership) without a limit and to determined to serve and followed Angkar for whole life.
Food in 1975 was in very critical condition, but meals remained private until 1976 when communal eating was introduced. We ate all kinds of food that usually were used to feed animals. We were allowed to eat rice during harvest time (from January to April); on the raining season we usually ate gruel. The rice stock was not enough for people to have full ration all year round. People were so skinny and exhausted; some looked like skeletons and easy to fall down from the wind blow. In my village people died almost every day from sickness and starvation, especially during raining season when the rations were reduced to gruel.
Stealing and lying were common practices for the people in order to survive, but they were severely punished if found out. People stole everything that they could eat to fulfill their hungry stomach: vegetable, fruits, rice, fish, and even some animal food. Lying also became a norm or rule to survive from Pol Pot’s secret police. People had to conceal their identities and backgrounds from the old regime. If the Khmer Rouge knew they were former government officials, soldiers, and educators, they arrested and executed them without trial. I frequently saw the Khmer Rouge soldiers walked a couple of people from my village with their arms bounded up to their back; those people never returned home and their family members never knew where they were killed.
11) A Return of the Prince and His Role:
During summer of 1975, Prince Sihanouk was still in Beijing. Neither of his good friends Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung told him that Pol Pot had come secretly to their capitals to discuss the outline of their future relations. Sihanouk’s power had slipped away from him when he had been away in excile. But for Pol Pot, to leave Sihanouk abroad would cause him more trouble than keep him at home. And both Pol Pot’s main allies, China and North Korea, wanted Sihanouk to stay as a head of state of Democratic Kampuchea. And Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai watched the Khmers Rouges carefully how they treated Prince Sihanouk. Then they told Sihanouk that the time was right for him to return home. According to Philip Short’s accound, Mao Zedong told Sihanouk, “Don’t be frightened of having to work with a hoe in the field.” Mao also counseled Khieu Samphan not to make princess Monique and her two children to do manual labor either.
On September 9, 1975, Prince Sihanouk returned home for his first time in the Capital City since the coup in 1970. He was greeted by Khieu Samphan, a representative of the Angkar, and the honored guards of black uniformed revolutionary soldiers, workers, and children. Unusually, Pol Pot came to see the prince, hidden behind the pack of welcoming officials. Sihanouk did not see him and was never told that Pol Pot was there, based on Philip Short’s account. In the next few month, Sihanouk was treated royally. The Royal Palace was cleaned and decorated ready for the prince and his whole family. All essential supplies had been sent ahead of him from Beijing. A Chinese doctor and a nurse were also sent from Beijing to provide medical service for the prince and his family members permanently. Prince Sihanouk was allowed to visit some selected cooperatives in the country and cruised on the Mekong River. The Khmers Rouges were behaving like gentlemen to the prince, leading to his judgement that lives would be better and tolerable under the Khmers Rouges’ regime.
Sihanouk was still a head of state of Democratic Kampuchea; he addressed the UN General Assembly on October 1975, using anti-American rhetoric and defending the Khmers Rouges’ regime. Then, he started a six-week-long tour of Africa, Middle East, and Europe to rally international support for the new regime in Cambodia. In January 1976, he chaired a cabinet meeting which promulgated the new constitution that officially named the country Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge constitution was a radical revolutionary manifesto, not a legal document. For example, every Cambodian has full rights to the material, spiritual, and cultural aspect of life; the mastery of workers and peasants over their factories and rice fields. None of these were put into practices in daily life of people. Instead, all forms of materialism, religious practice, and traditional way of people’s lives were totally eliminated and replaced by revolutionary ideology. Instead of mastery on their own, people were forced to work as slaves without enough food and medicine.
Sihanouk’s other main function was to host receptions of diplomatic corps from China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Albany, Yugoslavia, Romania, and many other third world countries. Only China and North Korea were allowed to use their old embassies; the others were assigned living in one quarter where the side roads were barricaded off, and diplomats were not allowed to walk out off compound without permission. And there was only one shopping place in the country, a diplomatic store where produces, wines, foodstuffs, and other consumer goods were sold for the foreign diplomats only. In addition, all embassies were not allowed to employ Cambodian staff, which meant the diplomats had to cook, wash and clean by themselves. They were not allowed to use cars; they had only one-way phone line service which meant that the Cambodian foreign ministry could call them, but they were not allowed to call out.
The same principles were applied within Cambodia itself. Officials from one ministry to visit another were required special authorization. To travel from one part of the Capital to another required a special pass, even members of the Standing Committee, including Pol Pot himself were stopped at military checked points. Similar restrictions on movements were imposed throughout the country. I remembered when my mother and I visited my sister Sakhon who lived in Rangkrol Village, four miles away from my village, we needed a pass from a village chief who had signed and stated date out and in on the pass. Without this pass, we were not allowed to eat in the conteen and stay in the other village, and we were also at risk in jail. For four years under the Khmer Rouge rule, we lived in a prison without walls and like frogs in a pond. We were not allowed to communicated with friends and relatives from outside village.
Later Sihanouk was allowed to visit three Zones -- East, North, and Northwest Zones --where he met face to face with his people. Later Sihanouk wrote, “My people had been transformed into cattle…My eyes were opened to a madness which neither I nor anyone else had imagined.” There is no doubt that Sihanouk was deeply shocked to see his people suffered in a helpless situation. Could he continue to lend his name to a regime which inflicted unbearable suffering to his people? He truly wanted to resign soon, but he feared to confront with the Khmer Rouge leadership and reaction from China. However, his fear was subdued quickly when he learned in March that Ieng Sary, a foreign minister, had dispatched new Cambodian ambassadors to Beijing, Hanoi, Pyongyang, and Vientiance in violation of all the rules of protocol without asking him, as a head of state, to sign their letter credence. He felt that the Khmers Rouges no longer needed him, and it raised a question of his status.
On March 10, 1976, Sihanouk submitted his letter of resignation to the Khmers Rouges’ regime, in which he pleaded health problem. When Pol Pot and other standing committee members were unable to persuade him to stay in the office, they denied the prince’s contact with foreigners and traveling abroad. Both of his sons who were studying abroad ordered to return home. But a real price to pay was Sihanouk’s relatives who until now had been spared were sent to countryside, working in manual labor, and none of them survived. However, Sihanouk himself and his immediate family -- his wife, his two sons, and his mother-in law -- were too important politically and diplomatically to suffer the same fate. Sihanouk and his immediate family were still treated well as they had done before. There were plenty of food, good medical treatment from the same medical team who treated Pol Pot and his colleages. To reassure China and North Korea’s leaders, the best friends of Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge declared Sihanouk a “great patriot,” and they would build a monument to honor him and pay state pension $8000 a year.
12) A New Face and Model of Democratic Kampuchea:
Now Sihanouk and the United Front Government was over, and the new government of Democratic Kampuchea was purely Khmers Rouges. Pol Pot officially became prime minister. After years hiding from the limelight, Pol Pot forced himself to take a center stage. When his picture was displayed, it took his former friends and foreigners months to identify whom he was. Even his own brothers and sisters were amazed to discover that their new leader was their own brother, Saloth Sar. Even now, after the liberation, secrecy was still a norm of Pol Pot and his colleagues. They based every thing on secrecy, and their secrecy was a fundamental tool to fight their enemies. The king was now replaced by Angkar, personified by Pol Pot, and the king’s subjects by the masses. Throughout the years of revolutionary struggle, the demands of secrecy had meant that this mysterious leadership had remained anonymous. Now comrade secretary, like the god king of the old age, had to reveal himself with a human face.
Pol Pot was consistently recalled by many people who had worked with him as a really nice person. Even when he was very angry, no one could never tell; his face was always smooth. He was easily to order people to be executed with his smiling face. His poliness and silence can be interpreted in many different ways. Like the Khmer traditional teachers who spoke in riddle, imparting wisdom in return for obedience and respect; Pol Pot preferred not to be explicit. He believed revolution would prosper only if the cadres developed revolutionary consciousness which enabled them to act on their own with minimum of guardian. The result was that he was constantly disappointed by his subordinate’s capabilities that fuelled the purge of elements judged to be disloyal to the party. Suong Sikheoun, a Pol Pot’s subordinate, later complained that micromanagement was part of Pol Pot’s conception of leadership. A firm hand with no sharing of power; he monopolize everything.
When Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post, who visited him in late 1978, also found him not what she had expected. She described Pol Pot’s guesture and manner were very polished. During his speech, he never raised his voice or slamed his fist on the arms of chair.
Now the formation of his new government marked the end of one phase of his revolution -- democratic revolution when he allied himself with moderate elements of Sihanouk’s group -- and then the beginning of another, the socialist revolution. The goal was to make a great leap -- an extremely marvelous, extremely wonderful, and prodigious lead into full communism. But this was not what Mao Zedong had advised and what Deng Xiaoping thought best for Democratic Kampuchea. However, realism has never been the strong point of Khmer politics. Sihanouk spent most of his life time to struggle for his country’s independence only. Lon Nol dreamed of restoring an old Angkorean Empire.
Believing in Angkor as the eternal reference point of Cambodia’s glory and denying Cambodia as weak and small country which had to accommodate its powerful neighbors were not Pol Pot’s inventions, but they were rooted in Khmers’ thought for generations. In Pol Pot’s case, his great victory over American imperialist exacerbated the problems. On the radio broadcast in 1975, Pol Pot proclaimed that no country, no people, and no army in this world had been able to defeat the imperialists and scored a total victory like his revolutionary forces. To Pol Pot, Democratic Kampuchea was an island of purity, a precious model for humanity whose revolutionary virtue exceeded all previous revolutionary states. No using money, no market, no exchange, and instead, using a supplied system to meet people’s needs were the unique policy that the world never use it before. This policy had successfully resolved the problem that the mankinds had been wrestling with for centuries.
Pol Pot portrayed his regime as a place of pilgrimage. He claimed that if Cambodian people could defeat imperialism, all people in the world, including American people, would certainly achieve the victory. Over the next few years, Pol Pot courted many communist leaders from Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia; many communist parties in those countries sent their cadres to get military training in Democratic Kampuchea. The Thai Communists were allowed to build their military bases along Cambodian border. Many Khmers Rouges units infiltrated deep into Thai territory to help their communist allies to fight the Thai government troops. As Pol Pot’s view, one day when the Thai communists gain their victory, part of Eastern Thailand where previously was part of the Khmer Empire will be annexed with Cambodia.
13) Great Purge and Relation with Vietnam:
In May 1976, Cambodian and Vietnamese negotiators held talks in Phnom Penh to try to reach an agreement on delineating their common borders. The meeting was intended to pave the way for a summit in Hanoi to sign a border treaty, but it never happened. Cambodian leaders still determined to avoid provoking Vietnam. Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s deputy, told the Central Committee that the guiding principle was to prevent any conflict with Vietnam. The Northeast Zone Secretary, Ney Sarann, instructed his local commanders to solve problem with Vietnam peacefully, not by bloodshed. Numerous border talks were failed and the summit was canceled. But relationship with Vietnam remained cordial; friendship delegation exchanged visits. In July 1976, scheduled air services began between Phnom Penh and Hanoi. Vietnam also needed to be patient with Democratic Kampuchea, as Le Duan, a Vietnamese Communist Party leader declared that friendship with Cambodia and Laos was “the primary and basic content of Vietnam’s foreign policy.”
Nonetheless, Pol Pot now began military preparedness against Vietnam and Thailand. He accused Vietnam of lying, looking for opportunities to make trouble and destroy Democratic Kampuchea. Now security was tightened in the Capital, and a purge of bad elements was launched within military. Chan Chakrey, a famous military commander in Eastern Zone, was the first high level prisoner in Tuol Sleng or S-21 -- an infamous tortured center in the Khmer Rouge regime and today a genocide museum. He was tortured and interrogated for four months and produced nearly thousand of pages of false confession. Chan Chakrey also confirmed the accusation against Chhouk, a Region 24 Commander, So Phim, an Eastern Zone Secretary, Ney Sarann, a Northeastern Zone Secretary, and Keo Meas and Non Suon, the members of the Central Committee. On September 1976, Ney Sarann and Keo Meas were detained and taken to S-21. They were accused of creating a new regime allied to Hanoi.
Pol Pot claimed that the crackdown was necessary because those leaders who thought that the socialist revolution was too deep and the class struggle was not necessary were the same men who doubted the necessity of resisting Vietnam. In a simple language, moderates were traitors. Pol Pot spoke of “death and life struggle” against class enemies. He compared his enemies to an ulser in a healthy body and applied his remedies to cure it. His first step was to verify the life histories of all party members. By late 1976, Pol Pot revealed in the first time that Angkar was a Marxist-Leninist Organization, but later he confused his enemies, announcing his resignation as a prime minister and placing Nuon Chea on his post. Le Duan, a Vietnamese Communist leader informed Moscow that Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were removed from the power because they were the bad guides, but after several months passed, Hanoi surprisingly saw no changes.
As relationship with Vietnam deteriorated, Pol Pot looked to China as his only powerful ally. But on October 1976, Cambodia as well as the World began to receive reports of astounding development in Beijing. Mao’s successor, Hua Guofeng, had secretly arrested the ultra-communist group known as “Gang of Four.” Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were very concerned about this news because all Chinese leaders who had radical views like them were removed from the power. However, Pol Pot had other thought that China had a great strategic interest in Cambodia which was independent of ideology. Later Ieng Sary, a foreign minister, was sent to Beijing to seek assurance from the new leadership that relations between the two countries would remain unchanged. A month later, Pol Pot led a delegation to visit China in secret. The delegation was warmly welcomed by a new Chinese leader Hua Cofeng. But their talks were confused on military cooperation and political ties. After visiting a number of historical places in China, Pol Pot’s confidence in his Chinese ally had been confirmed. When Pol Pot had returned home, he proclaimed that the counter-revolutionary" Gang of Four " anti-party clique had been smashed in China.
In contrast to China, in Cambodia the purge was continuing against the moderate elements; arrests of alleged pro-Vietnamese elements and linked to CIA and KGB was underway. Koy Thuon, a Northern Zone Secretary, Touch Phoeun, a minister of Public Work, Sien An, a former ambassador to Hanoi, Phouk Chay, Pheoun’s deputy, and Hu Nim, a famous leader of the Khmer Rouge Movement and a Minister of Information all were taken to S-21. Whatever reasons for their arrests were forced into an identical confession. They had to confess to being either CIA, KGB, or Vietnamese agents that what they wanted to hear from prisoners. And it does not matter what the victims confessed, they were still tortured and executed later. About 20,000 prisoners were tortured and killed in S-21 Center throughout Democratic Kampuchea rule. Most of the victims in S-21 Center were the based people and mid and high ranked members of the party. By mid-1977, Pol Pot felt able to proclaim that “the enemies’ leadership machine” had been basically wiped out. By this time, five Central Committee members, four division commanders, two zone secretaries, and countless members of the party had been eliminated.
From mid-1977, the purge swept all over the country; in the Northwest Zone, Battambang province, I saw new Khmer Rouge soldiers dressed in different uniforms came to station in my district. After a few months, most of local officals -- heads of villages and cooperatives were arrested and executed by new cadres from the Southwest Zone led by Ta Mok, a Khmer Rouge butcher who died in 2005 at age 80 while he was awaiting for trial in Phnom Penh Jail. The rest of local officials were stripped of power and put to work with the new people. All village and cooperative officials now were replaced by the cadres from the Southwest Zone. They were alienated by local people because they spoke in different dialect and dressed in different way from the local people. But they were very disciplined and hard working people. Fortunately, in my cooperative, Kampong Koe, the purge and execution on the local people or new people were completely ended when the new cadres came to rule my cooperative. Since April 1975, all new people who were suspected of serving the old regime were arrested and killed almost every day.
My brother Bunthoeun, a former student, had been arrested and executed only three months before the Southwestern cadres came. At the same time, My other brother Sophat fled to Thai border when he heard that the Khmer Rouge solders were on the way to arrest him after Bunthoeun. But Sophat and his friends were arrested by the new Khmer Rouge soldiers from the Southwest near Thai border. This time his life was spared, and they sent him and his friends back home. When he got home all the old officials who had ordered to arrest him were executed by the new cadres. Now his life was spared again, thank God.
Despite the arrest and execution against the new people ended, the new cadres still ruled similar to the old ones. Communal eating and working condition continued as usual, but food more available than before. Now in my cooperative people no longer ate gruel even in the raining season;we still ate rice or rice with corn all year round though they were not plentiful meals. Because lack of improvement in agriculture production in the Northwest Zone, the new cadres’s goal was to increase rice production, three tons in a hectare became a rice production slogan. To meet that expectation, the way of farming now was totally restructured. All people in the cooperative were regrouped and all farming equipments and cattle were redistributed equally to each group. All mobile brigades were brought home to help farming in the cooperative rather than sending them out to build dikes, canals, and water reservoirs in other places.
Meeting was held every three months for all people in the cooperative to listen to reports from all sectors in the cooperative, and a head of each group read the data of the group’s achiement to the meeting. The rule and law in the villages now were less restricted than before; people were allowed to wear clothes in any color they wanted without dying them into black. People could do private cooking at home without fear of arrest. For me, life had no change; I still lived in the children camp, working like adults on the rice fields without schooling. I was allowed to visit my parents every three months. As rumors of Vietnamese invasion spread all over the country, the Khmer Rouge officials tended to loosen their grib on people. In late 1978, I was allowed to live with my parents again, but it was no time to enjoy with this reunion because the war with Vietnam now started. We were busy to prepare for the worst, building bunkers, stocking some food, and being ready for moving.
V- War With Vietnam
14) War and Purge:
Border clashes continued with Vietnam, provoking an angry exchange of diplomatic notes between the two countries. By this time Hanoi realized that Pol Pot was undertaking a sweeping anti-Vietnamese purge inside the country and military aggression along the borders. On April 1977, the Khmer Rouge units supported by artillery, crossed the border into Vietnam territory, slaughtering hundreds of civilians and razing their villages. There had been similar atrocities on the frontiers with Thailand. As the Khmer Rouge were butchering their own people mercilessly, they would hardly treat their traditional enemies, Vietnamese and Thai, any better. After two years unofficial conflict, now both sides officially accused each other of the act of aggression. All their ancient hatreds now abruptly exploded. Fierce fightings continued a long the border areas; thousands of civilians fled from the frontier areas in both sides. Democratic Kampuchea relied on China, which it saw as a barrier to stop the Vietnamese power. As Cambodia moved closer to China, Vietnam also moved away from China and closer to the Soviet Union.
The chance of total war for both sides was imminent; Democratic Kampuchea created two new military commands along the border areas headed by Son Sen and So Phim. The Khmer Rouge Commanders now began telling their soldiers that their ultimate goal was to liberate Kampuchea Krom land where has been occupied illegally by Vietnam since eighteenth centuries. Although it was not an official policy of Democratic Kampuchea, it helped motivated the troops. On the other side of the border, a Vietnamese Defense Minister, General Vo Nguyen Giap, a famous Vietnamese General in the first and second Indochina wars, ordered his troops to intensify their counter-attacks. China saw Vietnam and Cambodia’s conflict as its political dilemma. First, China wanted to see Cambodia and Vietnam stop fighting and return to conference table.
Nevertheless, both sides saw no end of conflict easily. On September 1977, two Eastern Zone divisions crossed into Tay Ninh province; they penetrated about four miles inside Vietnam territory, leaving behind them the unusual trail of horror. The Vietnamese government invited some Western journalists to witness this atrocity. The journalists described hundred of rotting bodies of men, women, and children spread all over their villages. As the news of this new atrocity reached Hanoi, the Vietnamese government ordered a total retaliation. On October 1977, General Giap was authorized to launch a limited incursion into Cambodia territory, penetrating more than 25 miles deep into Cambodian territory. In contrast to their opponents, the Vietnamese troops committed less atrocious than the Khmer Rouge soldiers. The Vietnamese incursion was not a real relaiation but a prelude to their invasion later. The Vietnamese wanted to show Cambodians that they were the liberators not the invaders. This policy of encroachment has been used for hundred years, but the Vietnamese have never won hearts and minds of Cambodian people. A lost of Kampuchea Krom was a historic proof to justify the Vietnamese as the aggressors and invaders, not liberators for Cambodians in any circumstance.
The prospect of the conflict now moved elsewhere. The U.S. saw this conflict as a “proxy war” between the Soviet Union and China. The US now began its military partnership with China in order to form a defacto alliance against the Soviet power in Southeast Asia. Now the line was being marked between the two camps -- Vietnam and Soviet Union one side and Cambodia, China, and the U.S. was another. The Vietnamese Politburo held a series of meetings guided by the pro-Soviet leadership. The final decision was concluded that Vietnam could not continue to coexist with the hostile government in Phnom Penh any longer. Pol Pot’s regime must be overthrown -- either by inciting an uprising within the regime or a full scale of invasion. Also, Vietnam did not expect any thing good from Beijing; they accused China of using Cambodia to put pressure on Vietnam to return to China’s sphare of influence. The Khmers Rouges now interpreted every Vietnamese action through a prism of ancestral hatred while Vietnam’s view of Beijing was distorted by atavistic memories of Chinese suzerainty and repression. The result was to generate a series of self-fulfilling fears.
China’s military aid program to Cambodia, launched two years earlier, now appeared to Hanoi as a great threat. Border clashes were becoming increasingly frequent, not just with Cambodia, but also on Vietnam’s frontier with China. Vietnam now saw millions of ethnic Chinese who had lived in Vietnam for generations as a great threat to its internal security. To break their power, Vietnam nationalized all Chinese-owned private businesses and caused almost half a million of refugees fleeing Vietnam to China and other countries in Southeast Asia. China retaliated by suspending all economic aids to Hanoi pulling out all Chinese technicians from Vietnam.
By summer 1978, the Vietnamese government began to set up training camps for Cambodian refugees at American former bases. The Vietnamese leaders again recruited the former Khmer Vietminh who had exiled in Hanoi since 1954, and many former Khmer Rouge commanders such as Hun Sen , Heng Samrin, Chea Chim, Sar Kheng …who had defected to Vietnam to form a nucleus of a future regime in Cambodia. Three months later, the Chinese Politburo approved a plan to “teach Vietnam a lesson” for its mistreatment ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. The Chinese government ordered military build-up along Vietnam’s Northern border. As the imminent threat came close, the Vietnamese leader, Le Daun, quickly traveled to Moscow to strengthen tie with the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe. Now the Soviet arms and military advisors began puring into Vietnam to bolster Hanoi’s defense against the Chinese threat of force.
At the same time, Chinese arms and other military equipments were shipped to Cambodian seaport of Kampong Som as hundred of Chinese technicians rushed to rebuild the railways for the Khmer Rouge regime. The “proxy war” now struck the cord in Beijing; Vietnam became Cuba in the East, a stalking horse for the Soviet’s ambition in Asia. Now the conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia was no longer a local dispute; the outcome of this conflict could affect the global balance of power. Through Cambodian history, the paranoia miscalculation of its leaders means that its fate would be decided not by its own people but by outside powers.
To prepare for a war with the greater and more powerful enemy, Pol Pot called for a new strategy to unite all forces that can be together -- rich peasants, feudalists, capitalists, and whoever, if they were with him, they were not with the enemies. The search for international support came along with the United Front at home. He began with a visit to China and North Korea. By late 1977, Burmese President, Ne Win, became the first head of state to visit Democratic Kampuchea and others including President Ceausescu of Romania. By early 1978, Pol Pot became more visible in both domestic and abroad. Relationship with Thailand now improved in order to eliminate two fronts war. A stream of friendship delegations came from Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Japan began puring into Democratic Kampuchea on good will visits. Also, a handful of Western journalists and academics from the U.S., Britain, and Yugoslavia traveled to Phnom Penh to search for truth, including Alizabeth Becker, a Washington Post correspondent who wrote a great detailed book about Democratic Kampuchea.
By Spring of 1978, more openness and greater tolerance were introduced in order to win domestic support: no random executions on people who suspected had cooperated with the old regime or educated people except they were linked to Vietnamese agents, CIA, and KGB. As the clashes were continuing with Vietnam along the border, Pol Pot still suspected the internal enemies as a greater threat to his regime than the Vietnamese on the border. On his slogan, “Purify the party! Purify the army! And Purify the cadres!” Pol Pot launched his greatest and probably the last purge against his army and cadres. This time, his eyes focused on Eastern Zone and Norhteast whose failure to resist the Vietnamese incursion in late 1977. This Purge was the worst of the self-inflicted blows the regime had suffered. The Eastern Zone troop that was well-known as the well-disciplined army and died-hard in the battlefields was totally disarmed; its commanders in all levels were brought to S-21 Center in Phnom Penh. The Zone Secretary, So Phim, was summoned to see Pol Pot at the Capital when on his way to Phnom Penh, he was ambushed by Pol Pot’s security gards, and he later committed suidcide after enduring his serious injury from the ambush.
Along with the army, thousand of villagers who were suspected of cooperating with the fallen leaders and the Vietnamese were massacred. Heng Samrin, Pol Saroeun, and their colleages fled to Vietnam for help. In addition to the purge in Eastern Zone, the Northeastern Zone Secretary, Ney Sarann, the Western Zone Secretary, Chou Chet, and the Northwestern Zone Secretary, Ruos Nhim, were arrested and brought to execute in S-21. All these zone secretaries were the well-known and brave military commanders who had fought the two great wars against the French Colonizers in 1940-50 and Amrican Imperialists in 1970s. Now they were not given a final chance to defense their country against the most dangerous enemies, the Vietnamese expansionists. Pol Pot picked up his wrong enemies at a wrong time; this is the time to unify and strengthen the leadership and the army in order to fight the common enemies.
In totalitarian despotism, a purge can strengthen a regime or fatally weaken it; Pol Pot’s purge brought a great destruction on his army and leadership. In late 1978, when the Vietnamse were ready to attack Cambodian forces, only Ta Mok’s force in Southwestern Zone and Ke Pauk’s force in the Central Zone were considered reliable on the battlefields. In these bleak circumstances, Pol Pot did what Stalin had done when the German attacked Soviet Union in 1941. He sought strength in ancient, immutable values of his people’s culture, the bedrock of their national identity. Stalin turned to Russian Orthodox Church to instil in the Russian people a sacred mission to defend their homeland. In Cambodia the practice of Buddhism was completely banned, and all Buddhist temples converted to prisons or warehouses. It was very shameful for Pol Pot to call for his people to fight the Vietnamese to protect Buddhism, a core value of the Khmer people like Lon Nol had done in previous war.
However, Pol Pot still had another nationalist card to play. When Stalin turned to Orthodox Church, Pol Pot turned to Monarchy, the only traditional institution which was preserved to minimum care. Prince Sihanouk who virtually lived under house arrest since he had resigned in early 1976, was given a banquet and that occasion was photographed, showing the prince, princess, and their entourage in a good shape. Pol Pot now desparatedly needed the prince for help, and now he carefully kept the prince in reserve, to be produced like a rabit from a hat at a moment of his choosing.
On September 1978, Pol Pot secretly flew to Beijing to see Deng Xiaoping who strongly condemned Vietnam’s aggression, but he also rebuked the Khmer Rouge for bringing this trouble on themselves, their excessive radicalism and their troops' anarchic behaviors on the border with Vietnam. Nonetheless, Deng advised Pol Pot that he needed Sihanouk’s role and prepare to fight a protracted guerrilla war. Deng also made clear that China would not send ground troops to help the Khmer Rouge; they had to fight on their own. In contrast to Deng’s confirm, inside the country, rumor spread among Khmer Rouge soldiers that China would send their troop to help them. But when Phnom Penh fell into the hands of Vietnamese troops, there were still no a single Chinese soldier in Cambodia. Some Khmer Rouge soldiers who walked pass in front of my home boasted that if China help them they would smash the Vietnamese bones into pieces.
While Pol Pot was talking to Deng Xiaoping in Beijing, Le Duc Tho was meeting with Heng Samrin, Pen Sovann, and other Khmer Rouge defectors in a former U.S. military base in the suburb of Ho Chi Minh City. Le Duc Tho told them that Vietnam planned a full-scale invasion of Cambodia at the coming dry season that the newly Cambodian resisstance would fight alongside with Vietnamese troops. In the meantime, the Cambodian United Front for National Salvation (CUFNS) was set up to assume power when Pol Pot’s Regime fell. History repeated itself. For the third time in many decades, the Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi now created a successful Cambodian resistance movement in order to gain their interest and political patronage over Camdodia.
On international stage, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong eagerly proposed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the non-communist states in Southeast Asia and solemnly assured them that Hanoi had no expansionist ambitions. But the treaty proposal was politely rejected because it was too much, too suddenly, and too late. Also, Vietnam’s efforts to woo the U.S. was not either successful. President Carter saw relationship with China more crucial than Vietnam, but Vietnam’s relation with Soviet Union stronger when they had signed a friendship treaty which provided for the two countries to take “appropriate and effective steps to safeguard their security if either were attacked.” The immediate purpose was to deter China from escalating its conflict with Vietnam. Hanoi felt confident that if it attacked Cambodia, China would not intervene.