Pol Pot’s Regime

Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
Early days
ŸIn 1951 the first Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) was formed under the direction of North Vietnam and was a French resistance movement. It was formed when the Indochinese Communist Party divided into three: Vietnamese, Khmer, and Lao. Its immediate aim was the removal of the French. Saloth Sarexternal image arrow-10x10.png joined with Ieng Sary in January 1953.
ŸSihanouk labelled one of the parts of the CPK the Khmer Rouge.
ŸBy 1959 the Khmer Rouge had little popular support and the communist appeal was strongest among students and intellectuals. Initial members were the alienated Cambodians.
ŸSaloth Sarexternal image arrow-10x10.png (Pol Pot) became a member of the party’s Central Committee in 1960. By 1963 he was party secretary and in 1963 he entered the jungles of Eastern Cambodia to organise support for the Khmer Rouge among the peasantry. The Khmer Rouge had to be more nationalistic than Sihanouk to overcome his pragmatism and widespread support. Radical class and nationalist elements were thus deeply implicated in the Kampuchean communist movement.
ŸIn 1968 the Khmer Rouge began its armed struggle against Sihanouk with an army of 5,000.
Role of Sihanouk
ŸIn early 1965 as the American War escalated, Sihanouk continued to balance Cambodia’s neutrality by maintain diplomatic relations with the USA, the Soviet Union and China. In May, Sihanouk severed all diplomatic ties with the USA and ordered the embassy staff to leave Cambodia. Sihanouk then established closer ties with North Vietnam and the NLF.
ŸAs the economy began to decline, Sihanouk began to lose control of the domestic situation. His rule became brutal and illegitimate, and he was essentially losing control of the country due to the Vietnam War spilling over into Cambodia- bombing of Ho Chi Minh Trail and incursions.
Ÿ He directed the Prime Minister Lon Nol, to crush the growing insurgency of the Cambodian communist movement and in 1967 order a violent suppression to a peasant revolt in the north west. Sihanouk turned away from internal affairs focusing on his own pursuits such as gamblingexternal image arrow-10x10.png and the arts and began to be seen as a trivial leader, in a time when Cambodia needed clear direction and strong leadership.
ŸThe economy was in ruin. Inflation ran at about 250 percent a year, industrial and agricultural production was permanently declining, exports were almost nonexistent. The government and the population it controlled were now on American welfare-about 95 percent of all income came from the United States-and the welfare officer was Tom Enders. It was he, together with the U.S. AID officials in the embassy, who determined what the exchange rateexternal image arrow-10x10.png should be, how far electricity prices should be raised, how slumps in production might be slowed. The government was often reluctant to accept his orders; frequent harrowing meetings with ministers were necessary.
Bombing of Kampuchea
ŸThis was complemented by increased Communist insurgency from 1967-68 and on the 17th March 1969 the US began their secret bombing of Cambodia with the private approval of Sihanouk.
ŸSihanouk took this action under the false belief that the North Vietnamese were directly backing and encouraging the Cambodian communist insurgence. The North Vietnamese however, were content to see Sihanouk remain as long as he didn’t interfere with their use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
ŸThis bombing forced the NVA further into Cambodia and magnifying the effects of war, made the eastern provincial Cambodians more responsive to political change, killed thousands of innocent Cambodians and destroyed major rice growing areas further burdening the weak economy.
ŸOn 11 June 1969 Sihanouk restored diplomatic relations with the USA and received economic and military aid immediately. To save the economy, Sihanouk reversed his earlier policy of nationalisation, returning the financial sector to private sectors and deregulating foreign tradeexternal image arrow-10x10.png.
Lon Nol’s Coup d’ etat
ŸWhile Sihanouk had left the country in January 1970, General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak staged a coup d’ etat. Lon Nol was in tears when his co-conspirator Matak forced him at gunpoint to sign a document, taking over control of Cambodia from his long time friend Sihanouk. The immediate impact of the Lon Nol/Sirik Matak coup was the end of Cambodian neutrality. It was also the first big step for the Khmer Rouge impetus to power.
ŸAs well as the end to neutrality, Sihanouk’s coup d’ etat had brought large scale North Vietnamese operations within the Cambodian jungle.
ŸLon Nol aligned immediately with the US and Khmer Rouge assumed the anti-US, anti Lon Nol nationalist mantle, giving the party a broader appeal.
ŸThe exiled Sihanouk announced on 23 March 1970, the formation of a National United Front (NUF) of Kampuchea which included his former enemy, the Khmer Rouge. The United Front called for a general uprising against Lon Nol. Sihanouk’s calls sparked a wave of demonstrations and protests throughout the country which were viciously suppressed. Lon Nol received much support from the urban areas and cities who had suffered under Sihanouk, but in the countryside many peasants remained loyal to Sihanouk and opposed Lon Nol under Sihanouk’s orders. They sympathised to the God-King and followed his lead in supporting the United Front of Kampuchea.
Growth of Khmer Rouge influence
ŸBy 1970 the size if the Khmer Republic’s Army had increased from 35,000 to 150,000 soldiers, all volunteers who had been persuaded to join the almost holy war against the Vietnamese and restore the glory of Buddhism in Indochina.
ŸIn the early 1970s, the heroic age of Indochinese communism, Sary and his comrades were riding the wave of the future, symbolising for radicals everywhere and for millions of sympathisers in the West, hopes of a more just and democratic world. The Khmer Rouge attempted to avoid acts which would alienate the population, and the behaviour of the Vietnamese Communist soldiers was exemplary compared with the South Vietnamese.
ŸLon Nol became increasingly repressive, corrupt and brutal, driving more people into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, and massacring Vietnamese (many fifth generation) who lived in Cambodia, but he was unable to succeed in using his inexperienced army to inflict a large defeat on the war hardened NVA.
ŸOn 30 April 1970 the South Vietnamese and US Army attacked communist forces in Cambodia and remained there for two months before withdrawing.
ŸThe ill-equipped, untrained and brutal army of Lon Nol continued to fight both the North Vietnamese and expanding Khmer Republic. The Khmer Rouge was supported through arms from China and Hanoi. As the war progressed the areas under Khmer control were subjected to horrible savagery, according to accountsexternal image arrow-10x10.png from refugees.
Treatment of Vietnamese
ŸLon Nol also saw Cambodia’s 400,000 ethnic Vietnamese as possible hostages to stop the PAVN attacks and ordered that they were to be rounded up and interned.
Ÿ15 April 1970: 800 Vietnamese men were rounded up from a village by Lon Nol’s soldiers, tied together, executed, and their bodies dumped into the Mekong. They then floated down the river delta to South Vietnam, a message to both South Vietnam and North Vietnam, not to interfere in Cambodia.
Decline and decay under Lon Nol
ŸIn April 1971 Lon Nol promotedexternal image arrow-10x10.png himself to Marshal and abolished the National Assembly.
Ÿ The elite of Phnom Penh began to leave the country for France.
ŸBy 1972 one-third of the population were refugees in Phnom Penh and the Khmer Republic’s military spending was more than double its total annual revenue. Phnom Penh, the capital went from a population of 600,000 to 2 million.
ŸUS aid totalled $US1.95 billion in both military and economic aid between the years 1970-75.
ŸThe gradual withdraw of US troops from Vietnam and the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in January 1973 had an immense effect on the fragile Khmer Republic. These two events led to a massive deterioration and the eventual overthrow of the Lon Nol regime by the Khmer Rouge.
ŸBetween February the 8th and 15th August the Khmer Republic was carpet bombed by US B-52’s. they dropped over 257 465 tons of bombs. This bombing had drastic repercussions on the Khmer Rouge:

a)The bombing, led to a virtual collapse of agriculture and ruined the remaining traditional lifestyle of the peasants. This combined with the indecisiveness of the Lon Nol regime, led to an influx of nearly two million refugees into Phnom Penh. Public services disintegrated and inflation took off.
b) There was widespread loss of life and destruction to livestock and property.
c)The dislocation and destruction drove many new recruits into the revolutionary ranks of the Khmer Rouge, which was helped by their very effective propaganda. The swelling of numbers also confirmed the radical beliefs of their leaders.
d)Many Khmers blamed the Vietnamese for their role in the bombing.
ŸBy the time the bombing had ceased the nation was in chaos. The Khmer Rouge controlled two-thirds of the country and all the main roads into Phnom Penh, food shortages were chronic, and Lon Nol’s army was in dispirited.
ŸBy mid-1973 the Khmer Rouge had increased the size of its army from less than 5000 in 1968 to over 40,000.
Khmer Rouge accession to power
ŸBy the end of 1973 the Khmer Rouge was in striking range of the capital. But throughout 1974-1975 they consolidated their control over the countryside until they had fully encircled Phnom Penh.
ŸNo Vietnamese main-force unit had fought in Cambodia since 1973.
ŸThe Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh on the 17th April 1975 and effectively seized control over the entire Cambodian nation. They took power of a country in chaos.
ŸOn taking power in 1975, the first action of the Khmer Rouge was to evacuate Phnom Penh and urban centres. Cambodians were told they were being evacuated because the US were about to bomb and destroy the city, but it was to ignite the new society into submission, prevent opposition and abandon the corrupting influences of capitalism (the city was a metonymy for capitalism).
ŸThe forced evacuation was horrendous, brutal and tragic.-see killing fields. Everyone was made to leave the city and those who refused or were too sick to leave, were shot or beaten to death. Even the invalid and pregnant.
ŸNeil Davis on the Khmer Rouge: “A xenophobic clique of disenchanted so-called intellectual.”
ŸBecause the power base was so weak, the Khmer Rouge turned to extreme violence, to cement power
ŸThe people were forced into the countryside to live in communes.
ŸSo, ends the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power, and after 2-3million died the KR fell…

Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot
“it reminds us that massive evil is not necessarily the work of monstrous psychopaths, but of organised groups convinced of the righteousness of what they do”- Paul Monk on Pol Pot
"Pol Pot is very charming. ... His face, his behaviour is very polite, but he is very, very cruel." Sihanouk
ŸThe very speed of the victory in 1975 in some aspects held the seeds of their undoing. As a Khmer Rouge village chief put it: ‘the train was going too fast. No one could make it turn.’
ŸThere were many causes of the egregious tragedy that fell Cambodia in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and many had responsibility.
ŸThe overconfidence of the country’s new leaders, above all of its principal leader Pol Pot, was a major element that led to the auto-genocide in Cambodia and caused its downfall.
Leadership clandestinity
ŸThe Khmer Rouge leadership, Pol Pot (Saloth Sar), Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, launched and carried out their struggle from positions of anonymity
ŸIn 1976 a year after the Khmer Rouge victory, Pol Pot emerged from his clandestinity. Pol Pot once told his secretary ‘It is good to change your name, the more often you change your name the better. It confuses the enemy.’ ‘If you preserve secrecy, half the battle is already won.’
ŸThroughout the 5 year civil war most people inside and outside of Cambodia had believed that Khieu Samphan was leading the movement. As nominal Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the resistance army, Samphan travelled to Beijing to meet Mao. He issued communiqués detailing the war’s progress, and in 1973, when Sihanouk, having concluded an improbable alliance with his former communist opponents, visited the ‘liberated zones’, Samphan acted as host. But that was a smokescreen. Power lay in the hands of others, whose names were unknown outside the inner circle of the communist leadership itself. Sihanouk’s police in the 1950s ‘knew who he was, but know what he was.’
ŸThe CIA knew who he existed but failed to connect him with the mysterious ‘Pol’, whom the agency had identified as the head of the Khmer communist movement.
Aims of Khmer Rouge
ŸThe regime’s principal aim was to reverse the long decline that had lasted ever since the Angkor Empire. April 17th became the day when ‘two thousand years of Cambodian history ended’ and Cambodians began building a future ‘more glorious than Angkor’ and without the corrupting foreign influences. The Khmer Rouge was to create a brand new society and without an urban population and middle class. It would build socialism without any reference to any existing model.
ŸAll would cooperatively and harmoniously farm the land for the greater good of the community. There would be no private lives, no self, just the greater good of the Khmer people and Angkar. Ieng Sary fatefully prophesised that the CPK would lead Cambodia along roads where ‘no country in history has ever gone before.’
ŸThe principles of the Khmer Rouge were based on the ideas of Khieu Samphan and sought racial and cultural purity;
1.Cambodia could only develop on the basis of its agriculture-radical agrarian Marxism (collectivisation)
2.the landowning classes had to be eliminated,
3. the cities were ‘parasitical,’ the Khmer Rouge wanted a society untainted by the 20th C
4.existing international relations hindered Cambodia’s development,
5.only people who could contribute to agriculture would be able to live,
6.those who did not earn a living through agriculture should be liquidated.
7.anyone who had been corrupted or tainted by modern, western ways had to be destroyed and markets/money
8.all ideas not in strict conformity with the party had to be rooted out and eliminated.
9.once racial and cultural purity had been achieved, then Cambodia’s new classless society of agricultural labourers would move forward.
Implementation of policy
ŸIn May 1976 the leaders of CPK decided to disband the ‘united front’ with Sihanouk’s supporters and other non-communist groups who had helped them to win power, to jettison the relatively moderate policies that such an alliance implied; and instead to make the leap- to install, full communism, without compromise or concessions against China’s advice.
ŸIt is impossible to pinpoint the moment at which Cambodia’s descent into madness began under Pol’s guidance. In Jan 1976 the CPK Central Committee formally approved the abolition of money.
ŸIntellectuals, those wore glasses, those with soft hands, those with mixed ancestry, the Muslim’s and Buddhists (and obviously monks), the educated, the wealthy, taxi drivers, those who opposed in any form-were summarily executed. Buildings, vehicles, machinery and western medicine were destroyed under Pol’s orders. Cambodian society became a society of terror and confusing totalitarian rule.
ŸThe Khmer Rouge established a strange body which combined the government at all levels, a political ideology/philosophy and a social and economic system called “Angkar” the “higher organisation” from which all orders had to be carried out. The shadowy Angkar hid the activities and name of Pol Pot. It was not until 1977 that he declared himself leader of Democratic Kampuchea and of the Kampuchean Communist Party.
ŸAll those who held senior positions in Lon Nol’s pro-American regime from the rank of lieutenant upwards, higher civil servants and policemen risked death. 2 million people were killed in a hecatomb to achieve Saloth Sar’s political aims. Montagnard’s and Cham people were targeted as well as Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. The Khmer Rouge possessed a fanatical hatred of the Vietnamese, similar to the Germans and the Jews.
ŸPol Pot was a fervent admirer of Mao Zedong, and China was the only country that Cambodia maintained close ties with from 1975-78.
ŸThe methods he chose were naive, brutal and inept. In 1976 a hastily written Four Year Plan sought to triple the country's agricultural production within a year--without fertilizer, modern tools or material incentives. The plan paid no attention to Cambodian geography or common sense; the nation's farmers were prostrate after five years of civil war. Attempting to meet impossible quotas and frightened of reprisals, Khmer Rouge workers cut back the grain allotted for consumption. Tens of thousands of Cambodians starved to death. Thousands more collapsed from overwork and the almost total absence throughout the country of medical attention.
ŸPol Pot refused to accept responsibility for these disasters or to ameliorate rural conditions. Instead, he blamed "hidden enemies, burrowing from within" and set off a wholesale purge of the Communist Party. His paranoia, propping up his self-assurance, knew no bounds
ŸThe definition of the enemy shifted constantly as the party failed to win power and failed to achieve the desired economic miracles. A swing in party politics or a change in revolutionary theory created new categories of enemies. Fear of enemy classes was replaced by fear of enemy elements who had infiltrated the party. Angkar was on a path of complete self-destruction, complete atomisation of society. – Becker.
Ÿ The Khmer Rouge regime held Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations, thus giving it international recognition and legitimacy.
Downfall of Khmer Rouge
ŸIn 1977 relations between Democratic Kampuchea and Vietnam soured. An attempted coup in February was alleged to have had Vietnamese backing. In 1977 he made a state visit to China, which promised him military assistance against Vietnam and moral support for his radical agenda. Sporadic fighting between Cambodia and Vietnam flared up toward the end of the year, and on 31 December Radio Phnom Penh announced that diplomatic relations with Hanoi were suspended.
ŸFull-scale war between the two countries broke out in 1978. Pol Pot declared that if every Cambodian soldier killed 30 Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge could win the war.
ŸIn 1978 the relations between Democratic Kampuchea and Vietnam had further implications. Vietnam signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR, while Kampuchea moved more under the influence of China. China saw Cambodia in terms of its geo-political position. Since China had been in conflict with the USSR since 1960, any enemy of the Soviet Union was by definition a friend of China’s.
ŸMid 1976 lower echelons of the Khmer Rouge, lower cadres were targeted because they weren’t working the prisoners hard enough to pay rice to the Chinese.
ŸBy 1977 the Khmer Rouge began to cannibalise, and internally collapse, purging its leaders and the upper echelons of the party. The Tuol Sleung Interrogation Centre (S-21) was filled with former leaders of the party, where previously the enemies of Angkar and evil CIA spies had been held.
Ÿ Frequent border attacks by the Khmer Rouge on the western borders of Vietnam killed thousands of Vietnamese and destroyed whole villagers. The Khmer Rouge were exhibiting a façade or false display of strength against the hated Yuon’s.
ŸOn 25th December 1978 the escalating conflict between Democratic Kampuchea and Vietnam exploded when Vietnam invaded Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge crumbled.