The Cambodian Killing Fields - 3 years-8 months-20 days
On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot. They forced all city residents into the countryside and to labor camps. During the three years, eight months, and 20 days of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia faced its darkest days, an estimated 2 million Cambodians or 30% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture or execution. Almost every Cambodian family has lost at least one relative during this most gruesome holocaust.
On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese invaded and freed the Cambodian people from Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. 600,000 Cambodians fled to Thai border refugee camps. Fearful to return back to Cambodia, many Cambodians had no choice but to emigrate to the United States, France, or Australia.
Today, many people and organizations are educating the world about the Cambodian Killing Fields. Only through awareness will the world remember the lessons of the genocide, honor the memories of the 2 million killed, and promote peace and tolerance so as not to relive the same dark days
Pol Pot's Year O
Pol Pot declared 'Year Zero' when Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. He immediately directed a ruthless program to "purify" Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion and all foreign influences. He wanted to create Cambodia into an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state. Anyone who opposed were killed. Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished. Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices and private property were forbidden. Members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class and the educated were identified and executed.
The country's entire population was forced to relocate to the agricultural labor camps, the so-called "killing fields". Inmates lived in primitive conditions. Families were separated. Buddhist monks were not allowed to practice their religion and were forced into labor brigades. Former city residents were subjected to unending political indoctrination and brainwashing. Children were encouraged to spy on adults, including their parents.
An estimated 1.5 - 3 million worked or starved to death, died of disease or exposure, or were executed for committing crimes. Crimes punishable by death include not working hard enough, complaining about living conditions, collecting or stealing food for personal consumption, wearing jewelry, engaging in sexual relations, grieving over the loss of relatives or friends and expressing religious sentiments
Facing death: S-21 prison
S-21 was a high school when Pol Pot turned it into an important secret prison operated in Phnom Penh from mid-1975 through the end of 1978. Kaing Khek Iev (also known as Duch) was the governor of the Tuol Sleng detention center. Those that were brought to S-21 were those inside the Khmer Rouge, and thought to have betrayed the movement The families of offenders were often brought to the prison as well in order to keep the deaths of their loved one from being avenged.
Almost all of the prisoners had worked in the armed forces, factories, or administration. Upon arrival at S-21, the prisoners were photographed, tortured until they confessed to whatever crimes their captors charged them with, and then executed in Choeung Ek or the Killing Fields.
The prisoners' photographs and completed confessions formed dossiers that were submitted to Khmer Rouge authorities as proof that the "traitors" had been eliminated. This precise record keeping resembled that of the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust.Of the approximately 20,000 people who were imprisoned at S-21, there were only seven known survivors. At least 20 other similar centers operated throughout the country. Today, S-21 prison is now the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, a reminder to the world of Cambodia’s darkest days
Who is Pol Pot?
Born May 19, 1925 as Saloth Sar in Prek Sbauv in Kompong Thom province. His father is a prosperous farmer and his family has connections to the royal family.1949 Pol Pot wins a government scholarship to study radio electronics in Paris. He fails to obtain a degree but becomes extremely interested in writings on Marxism and revolutionary socialism and he bonds with other likeminded young Cambodians studying in Paris, including Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Khieu Ponnary and Song Sen.
The members of this so-called 'Paris student group' became the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. 1953 After having his scholarship revoked, Pol Pot returns to Cambodia to work for the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP), the Cambodian communist party. He supports himself by teaching history and geography at a private school, where he was well liked by his students. 1966 He makes his first visit to China, where the 'Cultural Revolution' has just been launched. He is influenced by the leading radicals supporting the movement and by Mao Zedong's concept of a continuous revolution.
1967 Pol Pot takes refuge in the northeast of Cambodia. He lives with a hill tribe and is impressed by their simple, non-material way of life, seeing it as a realization of communist ideals.1968 The Khmer Rouge establish the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea in January. Aided by the US, the army launches a small and unsuccessful insurgency campaign.
1969 US President Nixon and national security adviser, Henry Kissenger, authorize secret and illegal bombing raids on Vietnamese communist sanctuaries and supply routes inside Cambodia. By 1973, US dropped a total of 539,129 tons of bombs in Cambodia and 600,000 Cambodians were killed. A military failure for the US during its war with Vietnam, the bombings served to increase support for the Khmer Rouge among Cambodians that were outraged at the US bombings.
1975 Khmer Rouge wins the civil war and controls Phnom Penh, beginning the Killing Fields. 1979 Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot goes into hiding after Vietnamese invasion of cambodia, ending the Killing Fields. 1998 Pol Pot escapes justice and dies of natural causes, at 73 years old, on April 15 in the Cambodian jungles.