Khmer Rouge

The political events of the last 5 years had prepared the ground for the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975: the excessive corruption and incompetence of Lon Nol's government, the intermitent USA bombing in Cambodia during 1969-73 that killed around 150,000 peasants, the American and South Vietnamese invasion of Southeastern Cambodia that drove the North Vietnamese troops deeper into the country and the support showed by Sihanouk to the Khmer Rouge led many Cambodian's to believe that they would be better off under the Pol Pot led party.

At the beginning the Khmer Rouge had been dependant of their Vietnamese allies, but as they grew stronger and gained support in the countryside, they became more independent and their ideological line took a different approach: they pursued an indigenous communism based in the agrarian Chinese Cultural Revolution (as opposed to the more Soviet style communism followed by the Vietnamese), supported by strong nationalist feelings. Despite their earlier collaboration cambodian communism was embedded in strong antivietnamese feelings.

Agrarian Utopia

In 1975, after a long civil war against Lon Nol's army, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and were greeted by effusive crowds that believed the end of the war and harship would finally be over. Nothing further from reality, the new regime (Democratic Kampuchea) would be the most brutal in Cambodian history. Next day the Khmer Rouge started evacuating all the cities and relocating all their citizens to the country side. Cambodia was reinvented into a radical agrarian utopia: all foreign influences, capitalism, western culture, religion and modern life were abolished. Embassies were closed, foreigns expelled, newspapers, radio and television stations were closed, health care and education eliminated, money and markets banned. Children were removed from their parental guard and put in communal camps. Cambodia was taken back to "year zero".


The Khmer Rouge an estimated 2 million Cambodians.

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims.

The Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians in a four year period. Deadly purges were conducted to "purify" the society. At the beginning they were aimed at the elements of the "old society": teachers, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, wealthy people, Buddhist monks, police, former government officials and the educated. Towards 1967-68 the party became obssesed with the idea of enemies infiltrating into the party ranks and the bloody purges were carried out against party cadres.

Malnutrition and disease claimed a big number of deaths. The regions were given unrealistic quotas of rice that have to be sent to Phnom Penh and more often than not people would be left with no food in order to meet the quotas. Starvation along with lack of medical care (there were no trained people and no medicines) proved fatal, and by 1977 the country could not sustain itself due to the high percentage of death. However, delusions of grandeur of the regime led them to raid Vietnamese villages in order to gain control of the Mekong delta.

The poorly equipped Khmer troops were not match for the Vietnamese forces, and the results were catastrophic. Pol Pot responded with more purges within his party members and a number of them escaped to Vietnam. Amongst them was Heng Samrin, a militar whom the Vietnamese chose to replace Pol Pot, who was becoming a nuisance for them. In 1979 dissident Cambodians assisted by around 90,000 Vietnamese soldiers invaded Cambodia and Pol Pot's regime fleed to neighbouring Thailand. Despite the antivietnamese feelings of Cambodians, Vietnamese occupation was eagerly welcomed.


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