A Delicate History
New School Textbook Finally Confronts Khmer
cover of the new 12th grade history textbook, which includes a contraversial
chapter on the Khmer Rouge years
Editor's note: The following is a condensed
translation by Cambodia Daily associate editor Pin Sisovann of a
chapter in a 12th grade textbook chapter that contains a history of
the Khmer Rouge. For the first time since the 1980s, Cambodia students
are being taught about the Khmer Rouge movement and the Pol Pot
regime, with the help of the chapter, which was written by members of
a Ministry of Education committee. The chapter, scheduled for release
last September, underwent several drafts before being published last
Cambodia in the 20th Century
After Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown as head of state on March 18,
1970, by the clique of Marshal Lon Nol, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak and In
Tam, the general situation in Cambodia was chaotic, with turmoil almost
Bitterness from War, 1970-1975:
Because it was full of corruption, the Republican Lon Nol regime had no
political and economic stability. The regime was kept alive with aid from
the US. It could govern only in Phnom Penh and in some provincial capitals
only about one-third of the country. Refugees from the civil war flocked
into towns, living in poor conditions. Inflation, unemployment and
corruption rose higher and higher because of war between the Khmer people.
On March 23, 1970, the Cambodia National United Front and Armed Forces for
the Liberation of Kampuchea was formed in Veun Sai, Ratanakkiri. On April 4,
1970, a National United Royal Government was formed. The National United
Front of Kampuchea declared its goal of struggling against the US invasion
and to topple the Lon Nol government.
On March 24, 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, president of the National United
Front of Kampuchea, appealed to all Cambodians to join the Armed Forces for
the Liberation of Kampuchea. From April 1970 to 1974, the Armed Forces for
the Liberation of Kampuchea fought the Lon Nol army by cutting roads used
for transporting food and blocking transportation on the Mekong River.
In January 1975, the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Kampuchea opened a
general offensive. On April 12, 1975, the US ordered helicopters to take US
Ambassador John Dean, other military advisers, 82 US embassy personnel, 35
foreigners and 159 officials of the Khmer Republic out of Cambodia. A number
of Khmer Republic leaders who did not leave were later killed by the Khmer
On April 17, 1975, Armed Forces for the Liberation of Kampuchea opened
attacks from all directions into Phnom Penh. At 9:30 am, Liberation Forces
from every direction shook hands in Phnom Penh.
The Difficulty from War 1970-1975:
The civil war and US bombing destroyed the country, with more than 1 million
Cambodians killed or injured. A lack of food and shelter caused the deaths
of children and the elderly. Four-fifths of industrial factories were
destroyed and two-thirds of rubber plantations damaged. Seventy percent to
80 percent of roads and railways were damaged. Ports and docks, and 80
percent to 90 percent of communities and schools suffered serious damage.
On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh residents congratulated and greeted Armed
Forces for the Liberation of Kampuchea when they entered Phnom Penh. But the
soldiers used their might to force all citizens to leave their homes.
Many innocent people were battered and killed. Hospital patients died on the
road after leaving the city. People were sent out of Phnom Penh and other
provincial towns and were regarded as prisoners of war. They dispatched
people from towns to live in collective communities in rural areas and were
forced to work for long periods.
An eight-point directive from Pol Pot, who was secretary general of the
Communist Party of Democratic Kampuchea, was announced after the victory
over the Lon Nol regime:
1. Evacuate people out of the towns and cities.
2. Abolish markets.
3. Abolish the currency of Lon Nol's regime and set aside a new
4. Force monks to leave the monkhood and work as farmers.
5. Kill the leaders of the Lon Nol regime.
6. Form collective communities throughout the country and create communal
7. Send out all ethnic Vietnamese from the country.
8. Send all armed forces to border areas, especially the border with
In their third congress on Jan 5, 1976, Khmer Rouge leaders praised and
announced officially the main roles of the people, especially workers and
farmers who joined in the war and sacrificed their lives, property, children
and husbands to bravely serve on the front lines. The congress also pointed
out the great sacrifice of the military, which had helped build Cambodia
into a society full of happiness, justice and real democracy, with no rich
people, no poor people, no oppressing class and no oppressed class—a
society where people lived in safe harmony.
So, Democratic Kampuchea had a government, a national assembly and a
constitution. But most citizens were the slaves of the Angkar.
Division of Administration Area:
In 1976, the Northwest Zone of Pursat and Battambang provinces welcomed new
people evacuated from the Southwest and West zones. The population of the
zone was 1.79 million and they were mobilized to do the farming and were
forced to work for 15 hours a day. They lacked food and shelter and many
entire families died. Some families were destroyed by Angkar after being
accused of moral mistakes relating to love and of betraying Angkar.
Governing Structure and Control of Democratic Kampuchea:
Pol Pot and other top Democratic Kampuchea leaders were mostly born from
farmer families and from the lower classes. Their basic doctrine was from
that of [Chinese Communist leader] Mao Tse-tung. Pol Pot's status as
political leader made him the cruel slave master.
Aiming to deceive the world, the regime held elections and formed
legislative, executive and judiciary bodies. But in fact, Democratic
Kampuchea had only one-power-holding structure: Angkar, which controlled
Above all, the Communist Party of Kampuchea named leaders to a Permanent
Committee. The committee assigned duties and ordered all operations. In it,
Pol Pot was in complete charge of the army and the economy. The general
secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea was the highest post.
Economy, Culture and Economy:
A Democratic Kampuchea slogan stated that "To have [unhusked] rice is
to have everything." Democratic Kampuchea completely destroyed
factories, business enterprises, transportation and means of communication.
They abolished money and markets. Culture and education were closed down in
all villages. All buildings were changed into weapons arsenals, animal
shelters, detention centers and warehouses. Pagodas, which had been sacred
places, were destroyed. Singing, dancing, drama and movies also were banned.
They ordered girls and women to dress in black and wear their hair short.
They forced men and women to marry in ceremonies that differed from
tradition by only having them hold each other’s hands.
Democratic Kampuchea formed a worker and laborer class and new collective
farmer communities by forcing all people to live, eat and work in complete
union. They separated family members from one another into age groups.
Fathers and mothers were separated from their children because boys and
girls were considered to be the children of Angkar.
Anyone who went against Angkar was destroyed. They killed not only
government officials, policemen and intellectuals, but also members of
Angkar. During the three years, eight months and 20 day period, Democratic
Kampuchea was an authoritarian regime which cruelly killed its own people.
More than three million innocent Cambodians died. Throughout Cambodia, there
was no family that could escape from the genocidal policy of Democratic
People Republic of Kampuchea (1979-89):
Jan 7, 1979, was the date that Cambodian people were freed from the
In March 1976, people in Siem Reap province demanded better living
conditions and that families could live together. In January 1977, people in
the northern part of Siem Reap province and Battambang province also stood
up against Pol Pot.
These movements strongly affected the leadership of Pol Pot. From April 30,
1977, Pol Pot started killing Cambodian people cruelly and barbarously in
all provinces. But with more killings, a struggle movement developed even
faster. In the Eastern Zone, an insurgence erupted under the leadership of
comrade Heng Samrin. The rebels tried to appeal to Cambodian people all over
the country to unite and fight the cruel regime of Pol Pot and to rebuild
Cambodia in independence, peace, liberty and happiness.
A congress, representing the liberation forces all over the country, under
the leadership of nationalists, was held Dec 2, 1978, in a liberated zone.
The congress formed the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea
and voted to elect a Central Committee Front of 14 members with comrade Heng
Samrin as president.
Victory Day, January 1979:
With the assistance of Vietnamese forces, the Armed Forces of the United
Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea stood up and rebelled to
destroy Pol Pot's army and liberate the people. From Dec 30, 1978, the
United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea and Vietnamese forces
liberated series of towns such as Kratie on Dec 30, Svay Rieng on Jan 3 and
Stung Treng on Jan 4. On Jan 5 and 6, 1979, Neak Leung and Kompong Cham were
liberated. On Jan 7, the armed forces advanced into Phnom Penh at 12:30 pm.
The Condition of Cambodian Society:
After liberation day, Cambodian people returned to their birth places. Those
who had lived in the cities, came back to the cities. Those who lost hope in
living in Cambodia fled to the Thai border and lived in refugee camps under
the care of the UN.
For those who returned to their birth places, some met their brothers,
sisters, fathers, mothers and other relatives. Most of those who returned to
their birthplaces were widows, children and the elderly. They were empty
handed and had no farming equipment. Many families lived in difficult
conditions and had to look for rice.
After liberation day, people had stable living conditions and lived with
their families. Collective farming groups were formed to help widows,
orphans and the elderly. In each village, they divided into groups of 10
The People Republic of Kampuchea regime was mainly run by officials who had
struggled in the Eastern Zone and those who had studied in Vietnam after the
1954 Geneva conference. Later, after the country's security was more stable,
officials from the Sangkum Reastr Niyum and Lon Nol regimes were considered
for positions. The main leaders were comrades Hun Sen, Chea Sim and Heng
Samrin, who came from the farmer and worker classes.
National Reconciliation Policy:
After liberation, the genocidal clique escaped into the jungle and brought
insecurity to the people.
With the support of the UN, the US, China and Thailand, the guerrilla forces
fought against government and Vietnamese forces. Guerrilla forces cooperated
and formed a front headed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The guerrilla group
sat in Cambodia's seat at the UN, and the US and China persuaded Asean
countries to not form relationships with Indochinese countries.
In November 1984, France hosted a meeting between Prince Norodom Sihanouk
and representatives of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. But a settlement
failed because the Khmer Rouge refused to take part.
Finally on Oct 23, 1991, the Paris Peace Agreement was signed.
Representatives of all factions shook hands and agreed to have a general
election supervised by Untac. Although the Khmer Rouge boycotted the 1993
election, it was held as planned. Twenty political parties took part. A
constitution was adopted on Sept 24, 1993, from which a royal government was
The royal government faced a number of secessionist zones controlled by the
Khmer Rouge. Unfinished war, insecurity and political instability continued
in the country. Abiding by national reconciliation principles, these
problems were abolished and the second mandate of the royal government,
headed by Samdech Hun Sen as prime minister, was formed on Nov 30, 1998.
An election was organized by Cambodians on July 26, 1998. Cambodia achieved
national unity and political stability without secessionist zones. People
throughout the country lived safely and in peace.|
The photo credit is