Khmer Rouge Rule
Khmer Rouge rule
Stupa which houses the skulls of those killed at Choeung Ek
As the war ended, a draft US AID report observed that the country faced famine in 1975, with 75% of its draft animals destroyed, and that rice planting for the next harvest would have to be done “by the hard labour of seriously malnourished people”. The report predicted that
“Without large-scale external food and equipment assistance there will be widespread starvation between now and next February … Slave labour and starvation rations for half the nation’s people (probably heaviest among those who supported the republic) will be a cruel necessity for this year, and general deprivation and suffering will stretch over the next two or three years before Cambodia can get back to rice self-sufficiency”.
Khmer Rouge Flag
Flag of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea
The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975. The regime, led by Pol Pot, changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. They immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country’s agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. Over a million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease.
Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million, with two million (or about one-third of the population) being the most commonly cited figure. This era gave rise to the term Killing Fields, and the prison Tuol Sleng became notorious for its history of mass killing. Hundreds of thousands fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand. The regime disproportionately targeted ethnic minority groups. The Cham Muslims suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated.
In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia, but by 1984, as a result of Khmer Rouge genocide and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. The professions, such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers, were also targeted. According to Robert D. Kaplan, “eyeglasses were as deadly as the yellow star” as they were seen as a sign of intellectualism.
End of Khmer Rouge rule and transition
In November 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, a Pro-Soviet state led by the Salvation Front, a group of Cambodian leftists dissatisfied with the Khmer Rouge, was established.
In 1981, three years after the Vietnamese invasion, the country was divided up between a further three factions that the United Nations euphemistically referred to as the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. This consisted of the Khmer Rouge, a royalist faction led by Sihanouk, and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. The Khmer Rouge representative to the United Nations, Thiounn Prasith was retained.
Throughout the 1980s the Khmer Rouge, supplied by Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom continued to control much of the country and attacked territory not under their dominance. These attacks, compounded by total economic sanctions from the United States and its allies, made reconstruction virtually impossible and left the country deeply impoverished.
Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989 under the State of Cambodia, culminating two years later in October 1991 in a comprehensive peace settlement. The United Nations was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, and deal with refugees and disarmament known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability in the form of a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia in 1993 making Cambodia the world’s only postcommunist country which restored monarchy as the system of government.
The stability established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d’état, but has otherwise remained in place. Cambodia has been aided by a number of more developed nations like Japan, France, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
In July 2010 Kang Gek Iew was the first Khmer Rouge member found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his role as the former commandant of the S21 extermination camp. He will serve 19 years in prison.