Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia’s genocidal government, dies in his sleep

Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia’s genocidal government, dies in his sleep

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Pol Pot, the architect of Cambodia’s killing fields, dies of apparently natural causes while serving a life sentence imposed against him by his own Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge, organized by Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s, advocated a radical communist revolution that would wipe out Western influences in Cambodia and set up a solely agrarian society. In 1970, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, Khmer Rouge guerrillas began a large-scale insurgency against Cambodian government forces, soon gaining control of nearly a third of the country.

By 1973, secret U.S. bombings of Cambodian territory controlled by the Vietnamese communists forced the Vietnamese out of the country, creating a power vacuum that was soon filled by Pol Pot’s rapidly growing Khmer Rouge movement. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, overthrew the pro-U.S. regime, and established a new government, the Kampuchean People’s Republic.

As the new ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia. The cities were evacuated, factories and schools closed, and currency and private property was abolished. Anyone believed to be an intellectual, such as someone who spoke a foreign language, was immediately killed. Skilled workers were also killed, in addition to anyone caught in possession of eyeglasses, a wristwatch, or any other modern technology. In forced marches punctuated with atrocities from the Khmer Rouge, the millions who failed to escape Cambodia were herded onto rural collective farms.

Between 1975 and 1978, an estimated two million Cambodians died by execution, forced labor, and famine. In 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh in early 1979. A moderate communist government was established, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreated back into the jungle.

In 1985, Pol Pot officially retired but remained the effective head of the Khmer Rouge, which continued its guerrilla actions against the government in Phnom Penh. In 1997, however, he was put on trial by the organization after an internal power struggle ousted him from his leadership position. Sentenced to life imprisonment by a “people’s tribunal,” which critics derided as a show trial, Pol Pot later declared in an interview, “My conscience is clear.” Much of the international community hoped that his captors would extradite him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity, but he died of apparently natural causes while under house arrest in 1998.

Cambodian genocide: Survivors’ stories show how justice can be won in the aftermath of even the worst atrocities

Twenty years ago, on 15 April 1998, Pol Pot, the leader of Cambodia’s genocidal government during the late 1970s, died in his sleep at the age of 73. Born Saloth Sar, Pol Pot was never held accountable for the crimes committed during the three years, eight months and 20 days his Khmer Rouge government subjected the Cambodian population to a reign of terror. Almost 2 million people, one-fourth of the country’s population, perished during this time from starvation, disease and execution.

In the search for truth and justice, many Cambodian survivors have looked to the UN-assisted tribunal currently in progress in the capital city Phnom Penh. Convened in 2006, the tribunal has sentenced the head of the main Khmer Rouge torture centre to life in prison.

The tribunal’s second trial is nearing completion and is expected to result in life sentences for two additional high ranking Khmer Rouge leaders as well. At that point, the tribunal will mostly likely close its doors, and the UN-appointed judges and lawyers will go home. The tribunal is a classic example of “justice delayed is justice denied”.


For the past 30 years, I have studied the legal, political and literary responses to the Cambodian genocide. It is the literary responses – accounts written by survivors themselves – that show how in breaking their silence and in speaking on behalf of those who died, they were able to seek justice and healing.

The Killing Fields

Two important texts, Haing Ngor’s A Cambodian Odyssey, published in 1987, and Vann Nath’s A Cambodian Prison Portrait, published 11 years later, reveal the extraordinary events that led to their writing and publication, as well as the authors’ reasons for recording their literary testimony.

Before the Khmer Rouge took power on 17 April, 1975, Haing Ngor was a successful gynecologist at a medical clinic in Phnom Penh. During the genocide, Ngor was arrested and severely tortured by the Khmer Rouge on three separate occasions. Each time, Ngor’s wife Huoy nursed him back to health from the brink of death. Ironically, near the end of the genocide, Huoy died in childbirth, because Ngor lacked the simple medical equipment to save her and their first child.

Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict

1 /6 Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict

Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


NIC DUNLOP/PANOS/ Andrew Buncombe

Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


Cambodia confronts its past as Khmer Rouge killer awaits court's verdict


Ngor was able to survive the genocide. He was given refugee status by the American government and resettled in Long Beach, California, which has the largest population of Cambodians in the United States. However, he continued to be racked by guilt over not being able to save Huoy’s life.

In the early 1980s, the first film about the Cambodian genocide, “The Killing Fields,” was made based on the book by New York Times war correspondent Sydney Schanberg, who reported on the Vietnam War from Phnom Penh. In casting the role of Dith Pran, Schanberg’s Cambodian translator, Ngor was selected out of a crowd at a Cambodian wedding in Los Angeles.

Despite no previous acting experience, Ngor won the 1985 Academy Award for best supporting actor. Ngor’s instant fame from winning the Oscar transformed him from an anonymous survivor into the world’s most prominent witness of the Cambodian genocide.

Two years later, Warner Books published his 500-page literary testimony, A Cambodian Odyssey, which describes the conditions of extremity under the Khmer Rouge and specifically chronicles his relationship with Huoy, from the time they met prior to 1975 until her tragic death during the genocide.

Bearing witness to Huoy’s senseless death was essential to Ngor’s process of healing. His newly acquired status as an Oscar-winning actor provided him with the platform to affirm the truth of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes. By identifying the victims and perpetrators of the genocide, he attempted to fulfill his responsibility to Huoy and his family members who died. In the book’s introduction, Ngor states: “I have been many things in life: a medical doctor … a Hollywood actor. But nothing has shaped my life as much as surviving the Pol Pot regime. I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am.”

Prison Portrait

The second book to highlight is A Cambodian Prison Portrait, written by Vann Nath, a painter by trade before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. During the genocide, Nath was arrested and sent to Tuol Sleng prison, where approximately 15,000 people were forced to confess to bogus crimes under torture and subsequently executed. Nath was spared execution at the last moment in order to paint portraits of Pol Pot.

Within a year, the Khmer Rouge regime was removed from power by Vietnamese forces, and Tuol Sleng was transformed into a museum to show the world the atrocities that took place there during the genocide. As one of only seven prisoners known to have survived Tuol Sleng, Nath was asked to paint the scenes of torture and execution he had witnessed to be displayed at the museum.


Deeply traumatised by his year in captivity at Tuol Sleng, Nath later tried to rebuild his shattered life and opened a small coffee shop in downtown Phnom Penh. Two humanitarian workers who frequented the coffee shop befriended Nath and convinced him to tell his story, resulting in the writing and publication of Prison Portrait, in 1998.

In 2009, Nath also served as a primary witness at the UN-assisted tribunal during the trial of Duch, the Tuol Sleng prison chief, who was eventually sentenced to life in prison. Similar to Ngor, informing the world of the conditions at Tuol Sleng fulfilled a deep responsibility to speak on behalf of those who suffered and died under the Khmer Rouge.

By publishing their personal accounts, as I found in my research, survivors attempt to fulfill a deep responsibility to speak on behalf of those who died. In doing so, they begin to assert some control over the traumatic memories that haunt their lives. These writers act against forgetting in the hope that the world will never allow another Pol Pot to try to silence the voice of the people.

George Chigas is a senior lecturer in Cambodian studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This article first appeared on The Conversation (theconversation.com)

DEATH OF POL POT Pol Pot, Brutal Dictator Who Forced Cambodians to Killing Fields, Dies at 73

Pol Pot, who created in Cambodia one of the 20th century's most brutal and radical regimes, died on Wednesday of heart failure, according to his Cambodian jailers. He was 73 years old.

Already enfeebled from malaria, Pol Pot had become seriously ill in recent months while under house arrest by some of his former allies. In the last two weeks he was encircled by the Cambodian Government Army and had retreated farther into the jungle. His wife said he died in his sleep.

Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia's seven million people, by the most widely accepted estimates, through execution, torture, starvation and disease.

His smiling face and quiet manner belied his brutality. He and his inner circle of revolutionaries adopted a Communism based on Maoism and Stalinism, then carried it to extremes: They and their Khmer Rouge movement tore apart Cambodia in an attempt to ''purify'' the country's agrarian society and turn people into revolutionary worker-peasants.

Beginning on the day in 1975 when his guerrilla army marched silently into the capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot emptied the cities, pulled families apart,abolished religion and closed schools. Everyone was ordered to work, even children. The Khmer Rouge outlawed money and closed all markets. Doctors were killed, as were most people with skills and education that threatened the regime.

The Khmer Rouge especially persecuted members of minority ethnic groups -- the Chinese, Muslim Chams, Vietnamese and Thais who had lived for generations in the country, and any other foreigners -- in an attempt to make one ''pure'' Cambodia. Non-Cambodians were forbidden to speak their native languages or to exhibit any 'ɿoreign'' traits. The pogrom against the Cham minority was the most devastating, killing more than half of that community.

Assassination He Ordered Becomes His Undoing

Though Pol Pot was responsible for an untold number of deaths, he never faced charges until July 1997, when some of his former Khmer Rouge followers turned on him, denounced him for crimes against humanity in a carefully scripted show trial and put him under house arrest for life.

Pol Pot had incurred the wrath of his former allies by ordering the assassination of a political associate. In a pattern he established when he was in power, Pol Pot blamed Son Sen for his fading grip on the movement. He not only ordered Son Sen killed, but also told followers to execute more than a dozen of his relatives, including grandchildren.

In a magazine interview in October 1997, the sickly ex-dictator expressed regrets about the deaths of his rival's family: ''You know, for the other people, the babies, the young ones, I did not order them to be killed.''

The interview, with Nate Thayer for the Far Eastern Economic Review, portrayed a man succumbing to age, bored and preoccupied with his aches and pains, but free of remorse. ''I came to carry out the struggle, not to kill people,'' he told his questioner. 'ɾven now, and you can look at me: am I a savage person?''

Many experts on Southeast Asia as well as the Cambodians who endured his rule would answer him with a resounding ''Yes.''

But Pol Pot, while acknowledging that ''our movement made mistakes,'' insisted that he had ordered killings in self-defense, to save Cambodia from its Vietnamese enemies, and that the numbers of dead were wildly exaggerated.

Yet even today his legacy fractures the country with continuing violence, political feuds, corruption and social fragility.

Pol Pol's army captured the capital on April 17, 1975, after a devastating five-year civil war. During it, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia in its campaign against Pol Pot than it had unleashed on Japan during World War II. After it, with breathtaking speed, Pol Pot and his black-clad followers immediately ordered weary Cambodians to leave their homes for the countryside and begin life at ''Year Zero.'' After three years of terror, he was driven from power in 1979 by an invasion from neighboring Vietnam.

From then on, Pol Pot used the geopolitics of the cold war to his advantage, convincing most of Asia and the non-Communist world that his Khmer Rouge Government was unlawfully thrown out by Vietnam. His exiled government retained the political recognition of the United States and much of the world throughout the 1980's while Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia was placed under severe international sanctions.

Until the approach of internationally supervised elections in 1992, the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia's seat at the United Nations and took the leading role in agencies like Unesco.

Pol Pot was one of the most secretive of national leaders. His bland face and unthreatening manner, his self-effacement, his rare and turgid public statements and his life in hiding -- even during his years of absolute power -- were some of his chief tactics in keeping his rivals off balance and his hold over his followers.

There was little evident in Pol Pot's background to suggest any personal drama. Since his childhood, the phrases used to describe him were uninspiring: polite, mediocre, soft-spoken, patient, even shy.

Still, people who knew him described him as warm and reassuring, especially in small groups.

An Interviewer Describes His Personal Appeal

One of the few Western journalists to interview him, Elizabeth Becker, now an editor at The New York Times, described his personal appeal in her book ''When the War Was Over'' (Simon & Schuster, 1986).

''He was actually elegant, with a pleasing face, not handsome but attractive,'' she wrote. ''His features were delicate and alert and his smile nearly endearing. There was no question of his appeal. Physically, he had a strong, comfortable appearance. His gestures and manner were polished, not crude.''

In an hourlong interview she had with Pol Pot just weeks before his fall, he railed against Vietnam but never raised his voice, Ms. Becker wrote. 'ɺt most he nodded his head slightly or flicked his dainty wrist for emphasis,'' she added.

Pol Pot was less comfortable and revealing in a larger arena, making few public appearances even when in power, obscuring his identity, changing residences and warning of treachery from every quarter. When he had a stomach ailment, he said his cooks were trying to poison him. When the power at his residence failed, he had the maintenance workers killed.

This fear of treachery -- by foreign nations or by poisonous ''microbes'' within his own organization -- motivated much of his behavior, from his secretiveness to the bloody purges that began to consume his revolution beginning in 1977.

Speaking to a party cadre in 1976, he said: ''We search for the microbes within the party without success they are buried. As our socialist revolution advances, however, seeping into every corner of the party, the army and among the people, we can locate the ugly microbes.''

Pol Pot surrounded himself with men from his early years, those who originally joined the Vietnamese-dominated Communists or others with closer roots to Thai Communists, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen. But he held the kind of absolute power that Stalin had in the Soviet Union.

As a revolutionary, he took the name Pol Pot, which has no particular meaning. He was born Saloth Sar in 1925, in a village near Kompong Thom, 90 miles north of Phnom Penh, the eighth of nine children of a land-owning farmer named Pen Saloth and his wife, Nok Sem.

A Student in Paris Turns Rabid Communist

At the age of 6 he was sent, like many Cambodian children, to live with more prosperous relatives -- in his case a brother who worked in Phnom Penh as a clerk at the royal palace and a cousin who was a dancer there in the Royal Ballet.

Soon after his arrival he spent several months in a Buddhist monastery, a much briefer exposure to Buddhist teaching than was common in Cambodia, where most schooling was conducted by monks.

He completed primary school but failed his exams to enter high school and studied carpentry at a trade school.

In his 20's, he received a Government scholarship to study radio technology in France, where he spent three years and became involved in Communist activities at a time when the French party was dominated by Stalinists. It was there that he began his long association with Mr. Son Sen, Ieng Sary and others who became members of his inner circle.

It was also there that he met his future wife, Khieu Ponnary, a schoolteacher several years his senior whose sister was married to Mr. Ieng Sary.

Pol Pot claimed to have been a good student when he first arrived in Paris. ''Later I joined the progressive student movement,'' he told the Vietnam News Agency in 1976. 'ɺs I spent more of my time in radical activities, I did not attend many classes.''

Others said he passed much of his time reading French poetry, and in 1950 he spent a month working on a highway project in Yugoslavia.

While in Paris he published his first tract, an attack on the Cambodian royalty. It was the King, Norodom Sihanouk, who dubbed this movement the Khmer Rouge, or Red Cambodians.

Eventually the conservative Government of the young King, which was under French colonial rule, canceled his scholarship and he returned home, where he dedicated himself to the underground Communist movement.

In 1954 at the Geneva Convention, Vietnam was split into the Communist north and non-Communist south, and Cambodia became independent. Hoping to remain in power, King Sihanouk demoted himself to Prince and led his own political party to victory in the first elections. He was promptly made head of state.

In 1956, while continuing his underground activities, Pol Pot married Khieu Ponnary and became a teacher of French, history, geography and civics at a private high school.

Rising to the Top Of the Party He Founded

In 1960, in an out-of-the-way corner of the Phnom Penh railway yard, Pol Pot met secretly with other Cambodian Communists and helped create Cambodia's own Communist party, the Khmer Workers Party, separate from the old Vietnamese-dominated Indochinese Communist Party. Within two years, he rose to be its leader.

Fearing arrest, he fled in 1963 to Vietnam, along with Mr. Ieng Sary and Mr. Son Sen, and for the next decade lived in hiding, a pattern that held for most of his life.

Visiting China on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot observed many of the patterns he later instituted in his own country, from revolutionary theory to the soft Chinese-style hats adopted by the Khmer Rouge.

The widening war in Vietnam fueled the Communist movement in Cambodia, and after a peasant uprising in Battambang Province in 1967, Pol Pot began his move into armed rebellion. By 1970 he had 3,000 fighters under arms.

For years the Vietnamese Communists used Cambodia to buy rice, to transport weapons and to channel soldiers from North Vietnam to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Prince Sihanouk and his Government -- intent on getting along with the Vietnamese Communists, who the Prince believed were likely to win the war -- never protested the intrusions.

Nor did he protest when the Americans began bombing suspected Vietnamese positions in eastern Cambodia. The bombing forced the Vietnamese to move deeper into Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge spread with them.

Prince Sihanouk found himself criticized, particularly by the Cambodian Army, for playing both sides of the Vietnam War. In March 1970 the National Assembly deposed him while he was abroad, replacing him with pro-American officials led by his previously loyal Prime Minister, Gen. Lon Nol.

Furious, the Prince joined sides with the Khmer Rouge and soon Cambodia was plunged into the Vietnam War. Within months the Vietnamese Communists and their Khmer Rouge allies controlled vast areas of the country.

In 1973, after the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords with the Vietnamese Communists, American B-52's dropped huge quantities of bombs on suspected Khmer Rouge positions in Cambodia to try to prevent a Communist victory there. Phnom Penh became a swollen refugee center, and many displaced or angry villagers flocked to join the Khmer Rouge army. By the time of its victory in 1975, the army had grown to a force of 70,000, a growth aided by the prestige of Prince Sihanouk, who in one of his many political hairpin turns became titular president of the movement.

Tougher, more disciplined and more brutal than the American-backed forces of Gen. Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh two weeks before the Communists took Saigon, with Pol Pot as a leading commander and political strategist.

By the time Pol Pot himself entered the city, on April 23, 1975, 12 years after he had fled into the jungles, the capital was silent and deserted.

From the very start, his troops pushed radical plans to turn the nation upside down.

Everyone -- the elderly, the blind, the sick, even infants -- was ordered right away to ''return to the villages.'' The Angkar, or organization, ruled in resettlements called rural cooperatives that resembled the Soviet Gulag. Some 20,000 hospital patients were forced to move out, some on wheeled beds. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation and disease in the first weeks of the revolution's victory.

Many others were killed outright: soldiers from the defeated army, bureaucrats, merchants, ''parasites,'' ''intellectuals.''

In his victory speech, Pol Pot claimed that his Communists would build a revolutionary society, becoming 'ɺ prosperous country with an advanced agriculture and industry'' so that ''our people's standard of living will be rapidly improved.''

To that end, Pot Pot made Cambodia one of the most isolated countries in the world, shutting its borders, restricting all but a very few foreign diplomats to their chanceries in an eerily quiet Phnom Penh. Prince Sihanouk, the first President, was confined to his palace and then to a guest house.

Meanwhile, the radical experiment was destroying the country. The slave labor gangs were not producing the food required. With no outside contacts, the country's stocks were becoming depleted. The huge public works projects, especially in irrigation, were shoddily made and fell apart.

Numbering the Dead In the Millions

But Pol Pot refused to believe that his revolution was to blame. He looked for scapegoats: first the Cambodians loyal to the old regime, then Communist leaders of select regions of the country, then key Communist leaders close to him. These suspected 'ɾnemies'' were arrested and taken to security centers, including Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, where they were tortured to confess to imagined crimes and then killed.

Pol Pot was ordering the deaths of his closest comrades as the Vietnamese invaded the country.

Because of the closed nature of the country, it remained unclear to outsiders what was happening, and reports by refugees of the horrors of Democratic Kampuchea were often met with disbelief.

The full picture emerged only in 1979, when the Vietnamese conquerors of Cambodia allowed in foreigners, and hundreds of thousands of sick and starving refugees poured into Thailand.

In the name of a radical utopia, the Khmer Rouge regime had turned most of the people into slaves. Husbands were separated from wives, parents from children. Holidays, music, romance and entertainment were banned. Dictatorial village leaders and soldiers told the people whom to marry and how to live, and those who disobeyed were killed. Children informed on their parents many other youngsters who did not bend to the political mania were buried alive, or tossed into the air and speared on bayonets. Some were fed to crocodiles.

Religion and prayer were outlawed. Buddhist monks were murdered and temples were razed.

Communal work brigades were formed to farm, clear forests and dig canals. Almost all the work was done by hand, without machinery, and people were forced to labor from dawn until late night.

Thousands died from malnutrition, thousands from overwork.

Thousands were jailed, to be tortured and die. The meticulous records kept by the Khmer Rouge of the people they tortured to death proved to be among the most valuable documents establishing their crimes.

Above all, though, were the mass graves and killing fields uncovered after the Khmer Rouge defeat.

Vietnam Puts an End To the Awfulness

Instead of utopia, the Khmer Rouge had brought ruin.

The regime's downfall came after Pol Pot attacked Vietnam and tried to seize territory along the frontier. On Dec. 25, 1978, Vietnamese troops crossed the border in strength and soon there were 200,000 Vietnamese inside Cambodia. Within two weeks they occupied Phnom Penh and much of the rest of Cambodia, overthrowing Pol Pot.

In the years that followed, the struggle for control of Cambodia continued, with China and Thailand giving Pol Pot and his circle refuge, medical care and military support in a game of anti-Vietnamese and anti-Soviet geopolitics.

In an evident effort to improve their image and retain their seat at the United Nations, the Khmer Rouge announced in 1980 that they were no longer Communist and now favored democracy, religious tolerance and free enterprise.

Over the years further announcements were made that Pol Pot had resigned from various posts, culminating in 1985 with one that said he had stepped down as military commander. Few believed those declarations.

After a comprehensive peace settlement providing for Cambodian elections was signed in Paris in 1991, Thailand ceased to recognize Democratic Kampuchea or to give refuge to Pol Pot and his entourage. He is believed to have gone back then to living in a jungle headquarters in Cambodia before his recent overthrow by his former followers.

Earlier, Pol Pot's wife was hospitalized in Beijing with a nervous breakdown, and with her permission he remarried in 1987 and had a daughter with his second wife.

His hardened army, still in their black clothes and sandals, dwindled after the United Nations peace plan, with thousands of soldiers and their families abandoning the mountain stronghold for offers of amnesty from the Government and a chance to lead normal lives. At the time of Pol Pot's death, the Khmer Rouge ranks numbered only in the hundreds.

Though by all accounts Pol Pot remained unremorseful throughout his years in power and in exile, Steve Heder, an American scholar on Cambodia, reported a curious account from a supporter who visited him in 1981.

''He said that he knows that many people in the country hate him and think he's responsible for the killings,'' the supporter said of Pol Pot. ''He said that he knows many people died. When he said this he nearly broke down and cried. There were people to whom he felt very close, and he trusted them completely. Then in the end they made a mess of everything.''

In the interview last fall, Pol Pot was asked if he thought his young daughter would be proud later to call herself his daughter. ''I don't know about that,'' he said. ''It's up to history to judge.''

Why did the Khmer Rouge lose power?

The Khmer Rouge were driven away from power by defectors from the party and their Vietnamese allies in 1979, but why did the Khmer Rouge lose power less than 4 years after gaining it? There are numerous reasons, which we will detail in a following link, but it can also be summarized quite easily. Democratic Kampuchea literally starved and terrorized its working and fighting force, whilst simultaneously trying to foment war with Vietnam.

For an in depth look into why Democratic Kampuchea fell click here.

Due to their backing from China the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea felt that they would support them in any war against the Soviet backed Vietnamese. Yet China under Deng was not the same country as it was under Mao. The Chinese tried to convince the leadership to negotiate with the Vietnamese, which due to their arrogance and to their detriment they refused to do.

China would later invade Vietnam in a punitive attack after the Khmer Rouge lost power in 1979, but they were in reality never going to risk all out nuclear war with the Soviet Union over Cambodia. You can read about the Sino-Vietnamese war here.

Thus when a combined Vietnamese and Cambodian force entered, they faced minimal resistance. Rather than being seen as invaders, they were by and large seen as liberators, or at the very least the lesser of two evils.. Ironically if Pol Pot and his clique had been slightly less arrogant and negotiated with the Vietnamese, they would not only have survived, but would have received western backing.

To read about American backing for the Khmer Rouge click here.

In any other scenario this should have meant Pol Pot and his cronies disappearing into exile, or better still facing trial for their crimes. These though were far from normal times and the Khmer Rouge, and the ever suffering people of Cambodia were about to become Cold War pawns.

Ke Pauk

Ke Pauk, who has died aged 67, was born Ke Vin in Baray, in Kompong Thom province of northern Cambodia. He was only 15 when French forces raided his village. He fled to join communist-led independence fighters. Following France's departure five years later in 1954, King Sihanouk's police welcomed Vin home with a six-year sentence. Released in 1957, he married Soeun, a local woman. They had six children. A neighbour recalls Vin "selling alcohol, buying chickens, and doing political work" in Baray.

In 1964, Vin was "attacked by police and driven into the forest". A witness saw the beginnings of the local Khmer Rouge insurgency: "54 men and women" with two carbines, secretly gathered in Bos Pauk forest. Vin assumed the revolutionary name Pauk, in memory of this hideout. One night in April 1968, the rebels struck, killing seven people in three villages. Pauk had launched a career that would catapult him to the top ranks of a genocidal regime.

When the Vietnam war smashed into Cambodia in 1970, Koy Thuon was running the Khmer Rouge underground's northern zone. Pauk became his military commander. Pauk attacked Lon Nol's US-backed Cambodian troops, Vietnamese communists, and Khmer civilians. A witness, Pon, says Khmer Rouge troops came to Baray in 1971 and "threw grenades into the houses of those who had sheltered the Vietnamese. In some cases they killed entire families." Lon Nol forces found 62 tombs and mass graves, containing 180 corpses.

Khmer Rouge internal divisions grew. According to Pon: "On this side of the Mekong (the north), the Khmer Rouge would not let people wear colourful clothing on the other side they would. On this side they wanted to know why the others did not obey the rules of the Organisation ( angkar ) and they would shoot people coming from there."

The US B-52 bombardment of Cambodia killed up to 150,000 peasants, and reached its height in 1973. Pauk's troops punished villagers for being "CIA agents" and allegedly "bringing in the US planes". Like extremists elsewhere in Cambodia, Pauk was the bombing's regional beneficiary. He became Thuon's rival.

One of his soldiers described Pauk's rule: "In the Kompong Thom region the Organisation (was) led by very severe men. Their discipline was terrible there were many executions. Buddha statues were destroyed and the pagodas secularised. there were camps for women, children, young women and young men meals were eaten communally and rations consisted only of rice soup without meat. children were forbidden to respect their parents, monks to pray, husbands to live with their wives." The totalitarian system of Pol Pot's "democratic Kampuchea" was emerging in northern Cambodia.

In 1973, northern troops invaded Kompong Cham city and deported 15,000 people to the countryside. Early the next year, Pauk's units were redeployed against Phnom Penh and the former royal capital, Oudong. Thousands of peasants took the chance to flee to the Lon Nol-held town of Kompong Thom. "We were forced to work very hard and got nothing," one explained. Black clothing was compulsory, and executions common. Ethnic minorities were to be "broken up". A northern zone order prohibited Muslim Chams from "concentrating in one area". Troops fired into a crowd of Cham fishermen, killing and wounding more than 100.

Forces led by Pauk and southwest zone commander Mok overran Oudong in 1974. A peasant recalls: "40,000 people were sent in all directions. The Khmer Rouge burned houses everywhere."

Khmer Rouge victory came with the capture of Phnom Penh, in April 1975. Pauk's forces helped evacuate its 2m inhabitants at gunpoint. Thuon, transferred to the capital, was purged by Pol Pot's Communist party "centre" in 1976. Pauk became party secretary of the northern zone. He executed Thuon's loyalists and appointed 10 of his own relatives to key positions. When popular revolt broke out in 1977, Pauk had hundreds massacred.

Across the Mekong in the eastern zone, Muslim Chams revolted in 1975. An official there complained to Pol Pot of his inability to implement "the dispersal strategy according to the decision that you, Brother, had discussed with us". Pol Pot had ordered 150,000 eastern Chams to be dispersed across the northern and northwest zones. But Pauk's northern officials rejected the 50,000 Cham deportees. They "absolutely refused to accept Islamic people", preferring "only pure Khmer people". In a message to Pol Pot, Pauk denounced "enemies" such as "Islamic people".

He was promoted to deputy chief of the general staff, under Mok. In 1977 Pauk took his forces to the east to attack across the Vietnamese border. Pol Pot joined him to address the troops: "Each Cambodian is to kill 30 Vietnamese" to take southern Vietnam.

But internal rivals came first. In May 1978, in concert with Mok's forces and Pol Pot's centre units, Pauk's northern troops began slaughtering the suspect eastern zone administration and population. In the largest mass murder in Cambodian history, they murdered more than 100,000 easterners in late 1978.

Vietnam's January 1979 invasion ended the genocide. The Khmer Rouge remnants fled to the Thai border.

In 1996, Pol Pot's former deputy, Leng Sary, defected to Hun Sen's Cambodian government for a "pardon". Fearing more defections, Pol Pot murdered Son Sen, his security chief. Pot's last loyalists drove their trucks over the bodies of their final victims: Son Sen's entire family. Mok turned and arrested Pol Pot.

Then, in 1998, Pauk mutinied against Mok, defecting to the government. As the factions slugged it out, Pol Pot died in his sleep. Cambodian officials captured Mok the next year. He is awaiting trial.

Like Pol Pot and Son Sen, Ke Pauk escaped justice. But they all lived to savour defeat.

Marking the end of Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia

Invoking Syria and ISIL, Prime Minister Hun Sen warns opposing his party equals supporting the murderous Khmer Rouge.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia Days ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen had a strong message for his people: you are either with me or against me.

Invoking embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the devastating war being fought by ISIL and other rebel groups, Hun Sen drew parallels between Islamic fighters in Syria, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime – which he helped to topple 36 years ago – and his domestic political opponents.

Those opposing the Syrian president had strengthened the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said Hun Sen, and those who oppose his own government are, similarly, modern-day supporters of the equally radical Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen’s tirade came just ahead of Wednesday’s “January 7” anniversary that marks the day in 1979 when Vietnamese forces, and members of Hun Sen’s government, deposed Pol Pot.

Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime started in 1975 and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people through starvation, execution, and overwork .

“Any acts that weaken Assad help strengthen ISIS … so it means the same here,” Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast on local TV and radio on Monday .

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [AP]

“You loathe the Pol Pot regime but you also oppose those who overthrew Pol Pot. So, what does it mean?” Hun Sen said.

“It means that they are allies of the Pol Pot regime. If they oppose January 7, they are in alliance with the Khmer Rouge and the genocidal regime.”

Opinions divided

January 7 is a contentious commemoration in Cambodia.

Traditionally, it is a partisan affair celebrated by members and supporters of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which first came to power on the back of the Vietnamese victory over the Khmer Rouge.

Critics see January 7 as the day Vietnam invaded to install a government sympathetic to Hanoi, and which remains in power and indebted to the Vietnamese to this day.

This month also marks Hun Sen’s 30th year at the centre of power. He was first appointed prime minister in 1985 by the country’s then-communist government.

“It’s a very sad day for Cambodia when we continue to label the victims of the Khmer Rouge as perpetrators,” Mu Sochua, a prominent member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), said in response to Hun Sen’s comments.

Referring to Hun Sen’s position as a mid-level Khmer Rouge military commander before defecting to Vietnam in 1977, Sochua said it was ironic the person labelling others as Khmer Rouge sympathisers was himself a former member of the regime, and so were many members of his current government.

“We know who the Khmer Rouge were, and who came out of the Khmer Rouge,” she told Al Jazeera. “The prime minister cannot hide the truth.”

Hun Sen’s equating of January 7 detractors with Pol Pot allies comes after many voters turned away from his long-ruling party in the 2013 national election, and unprecedented protests against Vietnam in Phnom Penh last year. Hun Sen’s CPP now controls just 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55 seats.

Access to the Vietnamese Embassy was blockaded for several days during the protests by hundreds of Cambodians, including a vocal contingent of Buddhist monks, who hurled abuse and burned Vietnamese flags.

Vietnam’s alleged transgressions were both historic and contemporary: loss of border territory, continuing influence over Cambodian politics, and unchecked migration of Vietnamese citizens to Cambodia.

“January 7th is a very old agenda,” said Ou Ritthy, a blogger, youth activist and founder of the popular weekly public discussion forum known as Politikoffee.

Young people “don’t care much” about January 7, Ritthy said. “ It ‘ s about the past, and we have a lot of issues now.”

More important issues for young people are economic development, improving governance, and ending corruption.

Invasion or liberation?

Politically, January 7 is polarising with supporters and detractors generally adopting diametrically opposed views, said Ritthy, adding young people have a more nuanced understanding.

“It was clearly a liberation from Pol Pot, but it was also an invasion from Vietnam,” he said.

Roeun Kosal cut a lonely figure marching on the streets of the Cambodian capital late last year.

His one-man protest saw him slog for hours through rainstorms and flooded streets to reach the courthouse on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where two former leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement are on trial for atrocities committed during their regime.

Kosal carried a black umbrella on his long march to the war crime tribunal. To it he had affixed paper placards naming the culprits he blames for the mass killings, including his parents, during the Pol Pot years.

None of those he named were Cambodian, however.

The Khmer Rouge’s Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea

Pol Pot, who died in 1998, was not one of the names on the protest placards. Neither were the two surviving senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge currently on trial: Nuon Chea, the regime’s second in command, and Khieu Samphan, its former head of state.

“Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea – they did not kill even one person,” Kosal, 44, said this week.

“The one to blame is the Hanoi government … they killed the people,” he said, recounting a conspiracy that goes as follows: the Khmer Rouge movement was infiltrated by the Vietnamese, along with treacherous Cambodians with “Vietnamese minds”, who engineered genocide against the Khmer race.

Blaming Vietnam

Kosal is not alone in his belief.

A surprising number of Cambodians entertain suspicions, or ardent beliefs, that the mass killing during the Khmer Rouge years was not carried out by Pol Pot and his followers.

It’s not a new rendering of revolutionary history.

Craig Etcheson, a scholar who has researched the Khmer Rouge for decades, said public assertions by the Khmer Rouge that it was the Vietnamese who had committed mass crimes date to 1979 and were a propaganda response to Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge popularised the slogan “Khmer do not kill Khmer”, said Etcheson, who spent six years investigating Pol Pot-era crimes at the co-prosecutors’ office at the UN-backed war crimes tribunal.

It was Vietnamese who killed Cambodians. Everything was under the control of Vietnam - even the cooks were Vietnamese.

- Nuon Chea, Khmer Rouge official

“Since the Cambodian people clearly knew that there had indeed been a lot of killing, this slogan begged the question of just who then did all that killing. For the Khmer Rouge, an easy answer was close to hand: it was the Vietnamese. They have stuck with that line ever since.

“The bottom line is that it is the opposite of the truth,” he added.

Ongoing tribunal

On Thursday, the Khmer Rouge tribunal will restart hearings in the second case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, which includes the charge of genocide against ethnic Cham Muslims and Vietnamese people. Both men were convicted of crimes against humanity in their first case, and sentenced to life in prison in August.

Giving testimony in 2011, Nuon Chea used his time in the dock to warn the youth of Cambodia of the dangers posed by Vietnam, and blamed all the crimes during his regime – even scarce meals prepared – on the Vietnamese. As Cambodians are devout Buddhists, the Khmer Rouge could not have committed the acts they are accused of, he said.

“These crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – were not from Cambodian people,” Nuon Chea told the court, according to the Cambodia Daily.

“It was Vietnamese who killed Cambodians. Everything was under the control of Vietnam – even the cooks were Vietnamese.”

Today In History April 15: Death Of Pol Pot

Pol Pot, born Saloth Sar on 19 May 1925, and known in Cambodia as Brother Number One during the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime of 1975-79, died on 15 April, 1998.

After the collapse of Democratic Kampuchea in late 1979, Pol Pot continued to lead the Khmer Rouge forces in a fight against the Vietnamese occupation forces, and later the government of the restored Kingdom of Cambodia.

Following the successful restoration of the Kingdom, the Khmer Rouge lost most of their power, and by the mid 1990’s, factional in-fighting had reduced the forces even further. Many former fighters had defected to the government and major leaders had accepted amnesties and crossed the line.

Pol Pot, by now in his 70’s, had grown suspicious of his former deputy Son Sen (Comrade Khieu) and in June 1997 ordered his death after reports of his imminent defection were reported.

Khmer Rouge cadres killed Son and 13 of his family members and aides, although Pol Pot later claimed he did not order the deaths. Top KR leader Ta Mok (who himself was implicated in Son’s execution) was concerned that Pol Pot could turn on him too. Mok gathered loyal troops one of the last KR strongholds in Anglong Vang, informing them that Pol Pot had betrayed their movement, he took his troops out of the area.

Fearing an attack from Mok’s forces, Pol Pot, along with his family, and several bodyguards fled on foot on 12 June 1997. Pol Pot was now old and virtually crippled and had to be carried. After Mok’s troops apprehended them, Pol Pot was placed under house arrest.

Former top KR leaders Khieu Samphân and Nuon Chea, who were both looking to secure amnesties from the government, sided with Mok.

In late July, Pol Pot and the three Khmer Rouge commanders who remained loyal to him were brought before a mass meeting, with American journalist Nate Thayer invited to film the event.

The Khmer Rouge court sentenced Pol Pot to life imprisonment and three other commanders were sentenced to death. Three months later, Ta Mok permitted Thayer to visit and interview Pol Pot.

On 15 April 1998, Pol Pot died in his sleep, apparently of heart failure. He was 72. His body was preserved with ice and formaldehyde so that his death could be verified by journalists attending his funeral.

Three days later, his wife cremated his body on a pyre of tyres and rubbish, with traditional Cambodian Buddhist funerary rites. There were suspicions that he had committed suicide by taking an overdose of medication.

Nate Thayer later reported that Pol Pot killed himself when he became aware of Ta Mok’s plan to hand him over to the United States, saying that “Pol Pot died after ingesting a lethal dose of a combination of Valium and chloroquine”.

**FILE**A Khmer Rouge soldier stands near the body of leader Pol Pot in a small hut near the Thai-Cambodia border about a mile from Chong Sangam Pass, Thailand, Thursday, April 16, 1998, in this file photo. Pol Pot died on April 15, 1998, and this marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of Pol Pot, who as the leader of the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of about 1.7 million of his countrymen. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, FILE)

Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia’s genocidal government, dies in his sleep - HISTORY

"Why should we flagellate ourselves for what the Cambodians did to each other?"-- Henry Kissinger

[ Like Sadam Hussein, Pol Pot was a CIA asset . Phase one was US "secret bombing" by Kissinger and Nixon which killed up to 600,000 civilians and paved the way for Phase two: Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge killings from 1975 to 1979 where a t least 200,000 people were executed (while estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.4 to 2.2 million out of a population of around 7 million) .]

Khmer Rouge flag Red Black X sign

[2011 Sept] French Revolution's Hidden Depopulation Agenda by Andrew Smith "Pol Pot's regime is surprisingly similar to the French Revolution, 200 years before. Both revolutions began in the French capitol of Paris. Both revolutions conducted deadly purges, resulting in the death of many. Also, when they took over, both Pol Pot and the French declared, 'This is the year zero.' They both made their own 10 day calendar and rejected the thought of any God. Both revolutions were curtailed within a decade." And both were financed by the Illuminati Bankers.

According to Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin, the Pol Pot Regime was "a demonstration model of the NSSM 200 policy". The Khmer Rouge could not have made the gains it did in Cambodia without the aid of Kissinger and Nixon. It was the Nixon Administration's bombing of Cambodia that aided the Khmer Rouge in their takeover of Cambodia. Tarpley and Chaitkin elaborate:
" The most important single ingredient in the rise of the Khmer Rouge was provided by Kissinger and Nixon, through their systematic campaign of terror-bombing against Cambodian territory during 1973. This was called Arclight, and began shortly after the January 1973 Paris Accords on Vietnam. With the pretext of halting a Khmer Rouge attack on Phnom Penh, U.S. forces carried out 79,959 officially confirmed sorties with B-52 and F-111 bombers against targets inside Cambodia, dropping 539,129 tons of explosives. Many of these bombs fell upon the most densely populated sections of Cambodia, including the countryside around Phnom Penh. The number of deaths caused by this genocidal campaign has been estimated at between 30,000 and 500,000. Accounts of the devastating impact of this mass terror-bombing leave no doubt that it shattered most of what remained of Cambodian society and provided ideal preconditions for the further expansion of the Khmer Rouge insurgency, in much the same way that the catastrophe of World War I weakened European society so as to open the door for the mass irrationalist movements of fascism and Bolshevism. "
The ruin visited upon Cambodia by the Nixon Administration paved the way for Pol Pot and his murderous insurgents. The Khmer Rouge forced the Cambodian people out of the cities and into brutal agrarian slave labor. The end result was the death of some two million Cambodians. [2007] The Cambodian Memory Hole by Paul David Collins

[1990] On the Side of Pol Pot: U.S. Supports Khmer Rouge by Jack Colhoun For the last eleven years the United States government, in a covert operation born of cynicism and hypocrisy, has collaborated with the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. More specifically, Washington has covertly aided and abetted the Pol Potists' guerrilla war to overthrow the Vietnamese backed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which replaced the Khmer Rouge regime.

The "secret bombing" of Cambodia by the Nixon-Kissinger gang may have killed as many Cambodians as were executed by the Khmer Rouge and surely contributed to the ferocity of Khmer Rouge behavior toward the urban elite and citizenry whose leaders had allied themselves with the foreign terrorists. . Over a fourteen-month period, ending in April 1970, Nixon and Kissinger authorized a total of 3,630 flights over Cambodia by the Pentagon's count, the planes dropped 110,000 tons of bombs. [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

Henry Kissinger's role in the Cambodian genocide, Chile, and East Timor, makes him a first class war criminal, arguably at least in the class of Hitler's Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop, hanged in 1946. But Kissinger has the impunity flowing naturally to the leaders and agents of the victorious and dominant power. He gets a Nobel Peace prize, is an honored member of national commissions, and is a favored media guru and guest at public gatherings. [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

T he United States gave direct as well as indirect aid to Pol Pot-in one estimate, $85 million in direct support-and it "pressured UN agencies to supply the Khmer Rouge," which "rapidly improved" the health and capability of Pol Pot's forces after 1979 (Ben Kiernan, "Cambodia's Missed Chance," Indochina Newsletter, Nov.-Dec. 1991). U.S. ally China was a very large arms supplier to Pol Pot, with no penalty from the U.S. and in fact U.S. connivance-Carter's National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that in 1979 "I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him but China could." [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

before Pol Pot came to power in 1975, the United States had devastated Cambodia for the first half of what a Finnish government's study referred to as a "decade" of genocide (not just the four years of Pol Pot's rule, 1975-78). The "secret bombing" of Cambodia by the Nixon-Kissinger gang may have killed as many Cambodians as were executed by the Khmer Rouge and surely contributed to the ferocity of Khmer Rouge behavior toward the urban elite and citizenry whose leaders had allied themselves with the foreign terrorists. [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

. "U.S. B-52s pounded Cambodia for 160 consecutive days [in 1973], dropping more than 240,000 short tons of bombs on rice fields, water buffalo, villages (particularly along the Mekong River) and on such troop positions as the guerrillas might maintain," a tonnage that "represents 50 percent more than the conventional explosives dropped on Japan during World War II". This "constant indiscriminate bombing" was of course carried out against a peasant society with no air force or ground defenses. The Finnish government study estimates that 600,000 people died in this first phase, with 2 million refugees produced. Michael Vickerey estimated 500,000 killed in phase one. [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

Scholars uniformly pointed to the important contribution the first phase made to Khmer Rouge behavior in phase two: by destroying the fabric of society and providing the victors "with the psychological ingredients of a violent, vengeful, and unrelenting social revolution" (David Chandler). But for the mainstream media, phase one did not exist Cambodian history began with Khmer Rouge genocide starting in April 1975. [1997] Pol Pot And Kissinger . On war criminality and impunity by Edward S. Herman

To bring about depopulation of large cities according to the trial run carried out by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. It is interesting to note that Pol Pot's genocidal plans were drawn up in the US by one of the Club of Rome's research foundations, and overseen by Thomas Enders, a high-ranking State Department official. It is also interesting that the committee is currently seeking to reinstate the Pol Pot butchers in Cambodia. Targets of the Illuminati and the Committe of 300 By Dr. John Coleman.

What is remarkable about the U.S. coverage of his death is the omission of U.S. complicity in his rise to power, a complicity that sustained him for almost two decades. For the truth is that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge would be historical nonentities-and a great many people would be alive today- had Washington not helped bring them to power and the governments of the United States, Britain, China and Thailand not supported them, armed them, sustained them and restored them.
. Between 1969 and 1973, U.S. bombers killed perhaps three-quarters of a million Cambodian peasants in an attempt to destroy North Vietnamese supply bases, many of which did not exist. During one six-month period in 1973, B-52s dropped more bombs on Cambodians, living mostly in straw huts, than were dropped on Japan during all of World War II, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. The Friends of Pol Pot by John Pilger

One of their favorites was the writer Coudenhove-Kalergi who wrote a book in 1932 entitled "REVOLUTION THROUGH TECHNOLOGY which was a blueprint for the return of the world to a medieval society. The book, in fact, became a working paper for the Committee of 300's plan to deindustrialize the world, starting with the United States. Claiming that pressures of over-population are a serious problem, Kalergi advised a return to what he called "open spaces." Does this sound like the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot? Here are some extracts from the book:
"In its facilities, the city of the future will resemble the city of the Middle Ages. and he who is not condemned to live in a city because of his occupation, will go to the countryside. Our civilization is a culture of the major cities therefore it is a marsh plant, born by degenerated, sickly and decadent people, who have voluntarily, or involuntarily, ended up in this dead-end street of life."
Isn't that very close to what "AnkarWat" gave as "his" reasons for depopulating Phnom Penh?
. Industry is to be totally destroyed along with nuclear powered energy systems. Only the Committee of 300 members and their elitists shall have the right to any of the earth's resources. Agriculture shall be solely in the hands of the Committee of 300 with food production strictly controlled. As these measures begin to take effect, large populations in the cities shall be forcibly removed to remote areas and those who refuse to go shall be exterminated in the manner of the One World Government experiment carried out by Pol Pot in Cambodia. CONSPIRATORS' HIERARCHY: THE COMMITTEE OF 300 by Dr. John Coleman

What happened at Tuol Sleng prison?

Comrade Duch ran Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, the most notorious Khmer Rouge torture site.

It is thought that at least 15,000 men, women and children deemed enemies of the regime passed through the gates of the former school-turned-prison.

Most of them were tortured, forced to confess to fictitious crimes against the Khmer Rouge and then put to death at the so-called "killing fields" just outside the capital.

Prisoners were initially officials from the old government, people accused of being middle class and later mainly Khmer Rouge members suspected of disloyalty.

The guards, who were often teenagers, forced the prisoners to write detailed confessions to whatever they were accused of and implicate friends and family who were then imprisoned in turn.

Those who survived the torture where eventually taken to the "killing fields" at Choeung Ek where they were killed, sometimes after digging their own mass graves.

In the history of totalitarian states, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime comes forth as one of the most brutal and inhumane because of the sheer number of people who died because of Pol Pot’s machinations.

In the four years that the Khmer Rouge laid waste to Cambodia, it is estimated that upward to two million people died due to overwork, starvation and government violence that led to the arrest, detention and subsequent execution of perceived enemies of the Khmer Rouge.

Khmer Rouge Killing Fields | Jeremy Canuto

What started as a hopeful union between right-wing military forces and Pol Pot’s forces soon became a nightmare for Cambodians as the subsequent social engineering failed, even with the support of China.

The Killing Fields

One would think that spaces where unspeakable crimes against humanity would rather be covered up and buried, to prevent these sites from harming the psyche of the future generations in Cambodia.

But history is as much a balm as a somber reminder of things that must not be repeated, so Cambodia, instead of ‘covering up and forgetting’ the Khmer Rouge killing fields, decided to create memorials, museums, and historical sites to explain what these sites were, not just to the ever-curious international community, but to the young Cambodians who deserve to know the truth.

Khmer Rouge Killing Fields | Jim George

And the truth is at one point in history, the country suffered from systematic genocide that claimed millions of lives. Surely a mouthful that no one can really swallow, but it is what it is. One of these sites is the S-21 Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, which used to be the most notorious prisons used by the regime. Around 17,000 men, women, and children were imprisoned and executed at this site alone.

If the military didn’t get them first, diseases and starvation, as well as overwork from the “communal farms” killed them. What Pol Pot thought was the beginning of a glorious return to “Year Zero” turned out to be a dystopian twisting of communism. None of what Pol Pot did could be qualified as neither revolutionary nor scientific. The Khmer Rouge regime, for all intents and purposes, was an oppressive, totalitarian regime that decimated enemies and suppressed intellectuals, branding them as enemies of the state.

Crimes Against Humanity

It is unfortunate that so many years after the fall of Pol Pot’s regime, only three people have been sentenced by the United Nations tribunal for crimes against humanity.

Torture Room – Khmer Rouge | ScreenPunk

The prosecution against surviving Khmer Rouge leaders began in 2009. Pol Pot himself died in his jungle home after he was denounced by fellow Party members. He did not live long enough to be brought to justice, as he died in his sleep, presumably due to cardiac arrest.

Only two top leaders of the regime live to this day – Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. Samphan served as the KR’s chief diplomat. He was once one of the most respectable politicians in Cambodia, as he also served as the international face of the regime.

Nuon Chea, who was slightly older than Samphan, was the chief ideologue of the KR. The two had been neighbors (as cellmates) since the legal proceedings began, and both have also been found guilty of genocide against the Cambodian people in 2018. The third person to be sentenced is Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life for his lead participation in running the infamous Tuol Sleng prison.

Both Samphan and Chea have been noted as to saying that “bygones should be bygones,” and that they “only killed bad people.” The current sentences say otherwise.