The Khmer Rouge regime terrorized Cambodia and its residents for more than twenty years and were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians.
Their bloody deeds have touched each Cambodian in some way and the country is only today beginning to recover from the political party’s dastardly actions.
When It Started
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge marched into the streets of Phnom Penh as the ruling communist political party. People took to the streets to celebrate the end of the five year civil war that had ravaged the capital. On April 17, 1975 the capital was filled with hope as Cambodia was finally at peace. Hope quickly turned to fear however, as the new regime forced everyone young and old to evacuate the city and claimed it was going to be bombed by the United States.
The soldiers knew very well that there were no American planes in the vicinity: it was merely a tactic to get residents out of the city and into the countryside where they would be forced to toil in the fields and work as virtual slaves.
The Khmer Rouge regime believed that cities were the Petri dishes of despised capitalism and that all Cambodians should live an agrarian existence. They referred to the capital city Phnom Penh as the “whore of the Mekong”.
Anyone who stayed and lived in the city was seen as a friend of capitalism who had thus declared their allegiance to the dollar. They were seen as enemies by the soldiers and many lost their lives simply for living in the city. The evacuations and terrible living conditions were not only limited to Phnom Penh, but enforced all around Cambodia.
What They Did
Under the leadership of Pol Pot and his close group of party decision makers known as the “Angka” the Khmer Rouge regime began to impose its new policies and doctrine on all Cambodians. Religion was banned, money was banned, private ownership was banned, family relationships were banned and people were often forced into coupling with strangers. Cambodia was sealed off from the rest of the world and no communication with outside permitted.
Pol Pot envisioned a Cambodia that was free of public institutions such as banks; free from religions and devoid of modern technology. It was Pol Pot’s aim to turn Cambodia into the world’s first completely agrarian communist society in record time and with no concern for the human cost.
With a self-imposed strict deadline to achieve his society, Pol Pot chose simply to exterminate anyone who did not fit his communist ideal. Khmer Rouge soldiers established a prison at an old secondary school in Phnom Penh where prisoners were tortured, imprisoned in inhumane conditions and ultimately executed. Between 1975 and 1979 it is estimated that 20,000 people were imprisoned at what was known as Security Prison 21.
The Killing Fields
Outside of Phnom Penh Cambodians were forced to work around 14 hours per day. Thousands of people died either from malnutrition, disease or from execution and their mass graves were later discovered and became infamous as “The Killing Fields”. Similar mass graves have been unearthed in other areas of Cambodia also.
The reign of terror lasted until 1979 when Vietnamese-led forces ousted Pol Pot from government and forced the Khmer Rouge deep into the Cambodian countryside. Many of Pol Pot’s soldiers escaped into Thailand where they were captured and jailed as illegal immigrants. The Vietnamese became involved in trying to depose the Pol Pot led communist party in earnest in December 1978 after tiring of several years of border disputes and the constant stream of refugees seeking safety in Vietnam.
Unfortunately this was not the last that Cambodians would have to endure of Pol Pot’s Maoist army who continued to wreak havoc throughout the country well into the 1990’s. When the Vietnamese army marched into Phnom Penh, Pol Pot fled into the southwestern Cambodian jungle. The last stronghold of the terrorist group in the Anlong Veng district was captured by the Cambodian government in 1998. In 1997 Pol Pot was finally arrested, but died in 1998 before being brought to justice.
So in short…
The Cambodian Red Army ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians from execution, starvation and exhaustion.
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