Friday, May 8, 2009

Kampuchea ... and the Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge is the word one will get very intimate with, if you want to understand the people of Cambodia. Under the Nixon doctrine, stating that the United States henceforth expected its allies to take care of their own military defense, bombing covering east Cambodia started, where they believed Vietcong guerrillas were hiding. Hundreds of Cambodian civilians were killed or maimed in these raids (which continued until 1973 and are widely acknowledged to have led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge). Left-wing disquiet began to grow, and Gneral Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Matak seized the opportunity to depose Sinhanouk (king of Cambodia) while he was away in France in 1970. The Vietnamese were ordered to leave Cambodian soil, but instead they pushed deeper into Cambodia, pursued by US and Southern Vietnamese troops, transforming the country into a savage battlefield. Thousands of war refugees fled the fighting and headed to Phnom Penh. With the country in complete disarray under a weak and ineffective leadership, the communist Khmer Rouge regrouped, and began taking control of large areas of the provinces.

Khmer Rouge forces marched into Phnom Penh on April 17. 1975 to the cheers of the Cambodian people. the war was over, and peace would prevail, they assumed. Unfortunately, this was not to be. From the very day that the Khmer Rouge arrived in Phnom Penh, a systematic process of communist re-engineering was ordered, presumable by the communist party leader Saloth Sar, or Pol Pot aka Brother number 1 as he was subsequently known.

The deranged attempt to transform the country into an agrarian collective, inspired by Maoist ideology, proved a monumental human disaster and caused international outrage, but little action. The entire population of Phnom Penh and other provincial capitals was forcibly removed to the countryside to begin their new live as peasants - and they were the lucky ones (can you imagine what our cities would look like if we would tell everyone to leave at once ... crazy thought, but it happened ... even hospitals were emptied, many of the inhabitants dieing on the way to their new locations - the countryside, mostly across the country, so a move back would be difficult)

Pol Pot ordered the mass extermination of intellectuals (even though Pol Pot himself was educated in french Universities, but seemingly was able to hide his intellectual past), teachers, writers, educated people and their families. Even wearing glasses was an indication of intelligence - a crime - punishable by death! The brutal regime lasted four years before invading Vietnamese forces reached the capital in 1978; by this time estimated three million Khmers had died as a result of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Pol Pot and his supporters fled to the jungle bordering Thailand, from where they continued to wage civil war on successive governments in Phonm Penh.

The Vietnamese backed a government led by Hun Sen, a Cambodian who had served in the khmer rouge, but defected to Vietnam (like many others).Meanwhile, a Chinese-backed coalition government in exile was being created to unify opposition to the Vietnamese government. It was dominated by the Khmer Rouge, and headed by Sihanouk (the former king). For Cambodian people the Vietnamese occupation was by no means the perfect solution, but compared to the suffering and death of the previous four years, it was a welcome change. The international community, however, came down on the side of a Khmer rouge -dominated coalition!! and refused to recognize the new government! After all, the new Vietnamese occupation could be the start of communist expansionism, whereas the Khmer Rouge, despite being communists, only killed their own and didn't pose a threat to the capitalist world!!

So Thailand, the uk and the us colluded to train the genocidal rebels, shelter them on Thai soil, provide money, arms and food, and offered them the Camnodian seat in the UN!! (which they they took and supposedly is the reason why almost none of the leader ever stood trail ....)

However, in 1985, there was a transformation in the international communist landscape. Michael Gorbachov rose to power in the Soviet Union, and in the face of harsh economic pressures, cancelled aid to Vietnam, Vietnam in turn could no longer support the Cambodian occupation, and in 1987, negotiations began between Hun Sen government and the coalition led by Sihanouk. Finally, after intense fighting between rival factions of the coalition in Cambodia, the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1991 ...

The Khmer Rouge were responsible for one quarter of the Cambodian people being killed in just three years ... it seems impossible to understand who humans can do such things to each other ...even more worrisome is the fact that only 30 years later we barley know about it ...

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