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Khmer Rouge
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Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge or Khmers Rouges ("Red Khmers") was the French name, also widely used in the English-speaking world, for the communist organisation which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The organisation's official names were Communist Party of Cambodia and later the Party of Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge are generally held responsible for the deaths of at least a million people during their rule.

Table of contents
1 Rise to power
2 The Khmer Rouge in power
3 Decline and fall
4 See also
5 External links

Rise to power

The Communist Party of Cambodia was founded in the early 1950s, although in its early years it remained subordinate to the Communist Party of Vietnam. In the 1970s the Party adopted the name "Party of Democratic Kampuchea," ("Kampuchea" being an alternative spelling of Cambodia), but became commonly known by the French name Khmer Rouge.

Between 802 AD and 1970, Cambodia was a hereditary monarchy. On March 18, 1970, Cambodia's ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed while out of the country by a coup which brought to power CIA-backed General Lon Nol. The new leader rejected the neutrality of the King, and joined with the USA in fighting the North Vietnamese. However, US-led bombing of Cambodia, where many North Vietnamese were sheltering, combined with Cambodia's own losses, made Lon Nol's government unpopular, and allowed the Khmer Rouge to grow in strength.

The Khmer Rouge army (the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea), aided by North Vietnam and supported by Sihanouk, in exile in Beijing, launched a military campaign against Lon Nol's government, quickly gaining control over most of the country.

The ideology of the Khmer Rouge combined an extreme form of Maoism with the anti-colonialist ideas of the European left, which its leaders had acquired during their education in French universities in the 1950s. To this was added resentment against the Cambodian Communists' long subordination to the Vietnamese. The Khmer Rouge thus combined Stalinist ruthlessness with the extreme utopianism of Maoism and a powerful xenophobia. When they came to power, they attempted to force Cambodian society to move immediately to the most radical form of Communism ever envisaged by a party in power.

On April 17 1975 the Khmer Rouge armies captured Phnom Penh and overthrew Lon Nol's regime, renaming the country Democratic Kampuchea. The Standing Committee of the Khmer Rouge's Central Committee ("Party Center") during its period of power comprised Pol Pot (the effective leader of the movement), Nuon Chea, Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, Ke Pauk, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Yun Yat, and Ieng Thirith. The leadership of the Khmer Rouge was largely unchanged between the 1960s and the mid-1990s.

The Khmer Rouge in power

When the Khmer Rouge came to power they were determined immediately to create a classless society by force. They carried out a radical program of emptying the urban areas, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking and currency, outlawing religion, ending private property, and driving the population at gunpoint into "collective farms" which were little better than labour camps. The Khmer Rouge justified such actions by claiming that the country was on the verge of mass starvation as a result of American bombing campaigns, and that this required evacuating the cities to the countryside so that people could grow their own food.

This policy, known as "Year Zero", resulted in the deaths of a huge number of Cambodians through executions, overwork and starvation. The Khmer Rouge regime also systematically executed anyone with connections to the former government, professionals and intellectuals, and the ethnic Vietnamese population. Most sources indicate that the Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for the deaths of a higher proportion of its own country's population than any regime in modern history. The lowest estimates put the proportion who died at 10%. It is generally held that a credible estimate is 20 to 25%, this achieved in only four years in power. The terms democide and autogenocide have been used to describe the Khmer Rouge's policies.

The exact number of people who died as a result of the Khmer Rouge's policies is debated. The regime which succeeded the Khmer Rouge claimed that 3.3 million had died, but this figure has little credibility. The CIA estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge, but executions represented only a minority of the death toll, which mostly came from starvation. Three sources, United States Department of State, Amnesty International and the Yale Cambodian Genocide Project, give estimates of the total death toll as 1.2 million, 1.4 million and 1.7 million respectively. R. J. Rummel gives a figure of 2 million. Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot, who could be expected to give underestimations, give figures of 1 million and 800,000, respectively. An estimate of 1.5 million (from a total population of about 7 million in 1975) seems a reasonable consensus.

Decline and fall

In December 1978, after several years of border conflict and a flood of refugees into Vietnam, Vietnamese troops invaded, capturing Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979 and deposing the Khmer Rouge regime. Despite Cambodians' traditional fear of Vietnamese domination, the Vietnamese invaders were helped by widespread defections of Khmer Rouge activists, who formed the core of the post Khmer Rouge government. The Khmer Rouge retreated to the west and continued to control an area near the Thai border for many years, unofficially protected by elements of the Thai army and funded by smuggling diamonds and timber. In 1985 Khieu Samphan officially succeeded Pol Pot as head of the Khmer Rouge.

All Cambodian political factions signed a treaty in 1991 calling for elections and disarmament. But in 1992 the Khmer Rouge resumed fighting and the following year they rejected the results of the elections. There was a mass defection in 1996 when around half the remaining soldiers (about 4,000) left. Factional fighting in 1997 led to Pol Pot's trial and imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge itself. Pol Pot died in April 1998, and Khieu Samphan surrendered in December 1998. On December 29, 1998 the remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge apologised for the deaths in the 1970s. By 1999 most members had surrendered, or been captured. With the capture of Ta Mok in March 1999, the Khmer Rouge effectively ceased to exist.

Five years later, however, trials of the leaders remain stalled and it is highly unlikely that any of them will be brought to justice. Young Cambodians remain largely ignorant of the atrocities committed less than a quarter of a century ago. Many observers believe that the slow progress of Khmer Rouge trials is in large part due to the fact that many members of the current government were former officials of the Khmer Rouge and may be implicated in crimes.

See also

External links