A great deal more is known about the Khmer Rouge than about Cambodia’s Pol Pot. To most history-subjected magazines Pol Pot was just another of those dictators who bumped off a few million of his own countrymen, and would probably have liked the opportunity to do the same to many more millions who were not his countrymen. But first we look at the unattractively-named Khmer Rouge:
It was a communist guerrilla force, violently opposing the right-wing government of Prince Sihanouk. Well led, this force managed to depose Sihanouk in 1970, and gain control of Cambodia by 1975, despite a United States invasion of the eastern part of that pathetically beautiful country.
Once Mr Pot was in charge, he set about creating a ‘Democratic Kampuchea’. As usually happens when the word ‘democratic’ is employed by persons who have not the smallest interest in Democracy, Mr. Pot forced the people to leave the towns and go to the country, where he created ‘agricultural cooperatives’ just as if Cambodia was Soviet Russia. When this did not work the peasants were described as ‘bourgeois elements’ and exterminated.
In late 1978, however, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge were forced to flee to the region of the borders with Thailand, much to the horror of the people of Thailand who were heavily involved in a burgeoning tourist industry. There the Khmer Rouge waited until the Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, when it mounted several offensives in western and southern provinces. It has been estimated that the force consisted of between 20,000 and 35,000 armed men (armed by whom I wonder).
There were multi-party elections in 1993 but the ‘Party of Democratic Kampuchea’ as the Khmer called itself opposed everything and refused to take part in elections. Then, as happens with great frequency within such groups of radicals, the Khmer began furious arguments between themselves. A large section of the force went to join the proper Cambodian Government.
Mr Pot was seen as the overall leader of the Khmer Rouge and he was arrested and committed to a trial to which all the TV cameras in the world were invited. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but offended everyone by dying in 1998. Other former leaders had been executed by Mr Pot, so could not be imprisoned, such as the military leader Son Sen. Khieu Samphan, another leader who had survived Pol Pot, pledged allegiance to the Government in 1998.
Saloth Sar a.k.a. Pol Pot was born in 1925 and started his life as a very young worker on a rubber plantation. He was anxious to join the anti-French resistance which he did in the 1940s, becoming an ardent member of the Indo-Chinese Communist Party as well as the Cambodian Communist Party to make sure one knew where he stood politically.
In the 60s and 70s he led the Khmer Rouge guerrillas against Prince Sihanouk and General Lon Nol. He disposed of the general and by 1975 at fifty years old he became Prime Minister. He governed an extremist regime which certainly led to the loss of an estimated two and a half million lives. The regime was overthrown (as we have seen above) by Vietnamese troops. Mr Pot appeared to be defeated but was not, at least for some heart-breaking years. After his show trial he died in captivity in 1998. He was seventy-three. He should have been prosecuted at the International War Crimes Court, but was not.