The Khmer Rouge was a brutal regime that ruled Cambodia, under the horrendous leadership of Marxist dictator Pol Pot, from 1975 to 1979. Pol Pot’s attempts to create a Cambodian “master race” through social engineering ultimately led to the deaths of more than 2 million people in this Southeast Asian nation. Those killed were either executed as enemies of the regime, or they died from starvation, disease or overwork. Historically, this period—is depicted in a film titled, ‘The Killing Fields.’ Referred as Cambodian Genocide. Cambodia as we all know is surrounded by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand.
Although, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge didn’t come to power until the mid-1970s, the roots of their takeover can be traced back to the 1960s, when a communist insurgency first became active in Cambodia, which was then ruled by a monarch.
Throughout the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge, operated as, the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the name the party used for Cambodia. Operating primarily out of remote jungles and mountain areas in the northeast of the country, near its border with Vietnam, which at that time was involved in its own civil war. Khmer Rouge did not have popular support across Cambodia, particularly in the cities, including its capital Phnom Penh.
After a 1970 military coup that led to the ouster of Cambodia’s ruling monarch, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge decided to join forces with the deposed leader and form a political coalition. This was because the monarch had been popular among city-dwelling Cambodians, and through this coalition the Khmer Rouge began to garner more and more support of the city-dwelling Cambodians.
For the next five years, a civil war unleashed between the right-leaning military that had led the coup, and those supporting the alliance of Prince Norodom and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Eventually, the Khmer Rouge side, seized the advantage of the conflict, after gaining control of, increasing amounts of territory in the Cambodian countryside.
In 1975, Khmer Rouge fighters invaded Phnom Penh and took over the city. And with the capital in its grasp, the Khmer Rouge had won the civil war and, thus, started ruling over the country.
But notably, the Khmer Rouge opted, not to restore power to Prince Norodom, and instead, handed it over to Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge. And Prince Norodom was forced to live in exile.
As a leader of the Khmer Rouge during the days of insurgent movement, Pol Pot had come to admire the tribes in Cambodia’s rural northeast. These tribes were self-sufficient and lived on the goods that they produced through subsistence farming.
The tribes, he felt, were like communes that worked together, shared the spoils of their labour, and were untainted by the evils of money, wealth and religion, the latter being the Buddhism, quite common in urban Cambodia.
Once installed as the country’s leader by the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and the forces loyal to him quickly set about, remaking Cambodia, which they had renamed Kampuchea, in the model of these rural tribes, with the hopes of creating a communist-style, agricultural utopia.
They declared 1975 as the “Year Zero” in the country. Pol Pot isolated Kampuchea from the global community. He resettled hundreds of thousands of the country’s city-dwellers into rural farming communes and abolished the country’s currency. He also outlawed the ownership of private property and the practice of religion in the new nation.
Workers on the collective farms established by Pol Pot soon began suffering from the effects of overwork and lack of food. Hundreds of thousands died from disease, starvation and even damage to their bodies sustained during back-breaking work or abuse from the ruthless Khmer Rouge guards overseeing the camps.
Pol Pot’s regime also executed thousands of people that it deemed as enemies of the state. Those seen as intellectuals, or potential leaders of a revolutionary movement, were also executed. Legend has it that, some were executed for merely appearing to be intellectuals, because they wore glasses and were able to speak a foreign language.
As part of this effort, hundreds of thousands of the educated, middle-class Cambodians were tortured and executed in special centres established in the cities. Most infamous of which was Tuol Sleng jail in Phnom Penh, where nearly 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned during the regime’s four years in power. In what became to be known as the Cambodian Genocide, an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodians died during Pol Pot’s regime.
Finally, the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia in 1979 and dislodged Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from power, after a series of violent battles on the border between the two countries. Pol Pot had sought to extend his influence into the newly unified Vietnam, but his forces were suitably rebuffed.
After the invasion, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge fighters quickly retreated to remote areas of the country. Where, they remained active as an insurgent group, albeit with declining influence. Vietnam retained control of the country, with a military presence, for much of the 1980s, even over the objections of the United States.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge that happened decades back. Cambodia has gradually re-established ties with the world community, although the country still faces problems, including widespread poverty and illiteracy. Prince Norodom returned to govern Cambodia in 1993, but he now rules under a constitutional monarchy.
Pol Pot himself lived in the rural northeast of the country until 1997, when he was tried by the Khmer Rouge for his crimes against the state. The trial of course was an eyewash, and the former dictator died while under house arrest in his jungle home. Since he had died in his jungle house his body parts were sent for a DNA test.
The stories of the suffering of the Cambodian people at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge have garnered worldwide attention in the years since their rise and fall, including through a fictional account of the atrocities in the popular 1984 movie The Killing Fields.
Corona Virus reminds me of the filthy communist dictator Pol Pot.
Stay home. Stay safe.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
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