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02 January 2013

The Horrifying Legacy of Khmer Rouge

They robbed a country of an entire generation and deserve to pay the ultimate price for their foul work

By Simon Price

There was a strange, little-remarked quote buried in the international news last week that shouldn’t go unchallenged.

The No. 2 leader of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime told a court in Phnom Penh he and his murderous comrades were not “bad people.”

Further, Nuon Chea, trusted deputy of Pol Pot and one of three Maoist leaders accused of crimes against humanity at a UN-backed tribunal, denied any wrong doing.

Which must be news to the few remaining relatives of the estimated 2.2 million Cambodians who died during the Khmer Rouge’s 1970s reign of terror.

It must also surprise the 1,100 Canadian military personnel assigned to Cambodia between February 1992 and September 1993 to serve in the United Nations Transitional Authority Cambodia (UNTAC).

Canada provided the military component of UNTAC with staff officers, force communications specialists and mine clearance personnel. The latter did their dangerous work on the Mekong River and inland at the disputed Thai/Laotian border.

I was there to cover both the ceasefire and lead-up to the 1993 elections. Like the Canadian servicemen and women, I saw the Khmer Rouge’s legacy first hand.

Walking the streets of the capital was a journey through an open wound. An occupying Vietnamese army had just been booted out after they had supplanted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

The evidence of occupation was everywhere, from ruined infrastructure to entire family groups wiped from the face of the earth.

The Khmer Rouge were efficient, cold-blooded murderers. 

A few days after they assumed full control in 1975 they ordered concrete poured into Phnom Penh’s major sewers. 

Then they turned off the water and electricity and emptied the hospitals of patients.

They announced Year Zero and all history of what they called Democratic Kampuchea was to begin from that moment onwards. 

“Dear Leader” Pol Pot’s agrarian revolution required the abandonment of the capital and movement of all city dwellers to the countryside. 

What follows is some of what I heard, first-hand, from the survivors. 

Tens of thousands of men, women and children, everyone from the young to grandparents, were marched into the fields. 

Those who fell by the wayside were shot on the spot. No time for burials. Relatives just had to keep marching. 

The Khmer Rouge asked anyone wearing glasses to step to one side. They were shot. In their perverted belief system, anyone with glasses was an intellectual, to be killed. 

Soft hands? You were unaccustomed to the toil of the proletariat and shot. 

Speak a foreign language? Possess a university degree? Pregnant or carrying a child.

All executed by the roadside. 


The Khmer Rouge turned the city’s beautiful main library into a piggery. It was next to the major international press accommodation in the crumbling French colonial Hotel Le Royal. 

Every morning, I’d step out into the clamour of an open city to be surrounded by young boys with AK-47s slung over their shoulders touting a motorbike ride/lunch/sightseeing/their sister — perhaps all four. The cost was around $5 US. 

There was no inside or outside the wire as you’d find in contemporary militarized cities like Kabul or Baghdad. 

Just chaos and nights of wild gunfire in the distance. 

Before I left Cambodia I went to the infamous killing fields, where those who eventually stopped toiling in the fields were murdered. 

It was a square kilometer pile of bones and bits of discarded clothing, paper, trenching tools and open pits of more bones. 

So, in a way, Nuon Chea is right. The Khmer Rouge weren’t “bad people.

They were far worse. They robbed a country of an entire generation. They deserve to pay the ultimate price for their foul work.


SoRo Update: 

Nuon Chea and his three murderous compatrtiots  are still on trial before an UN-backed court in Phnom Penh.  In his opening statement, the international co-prosecutor, Andrew Cayley. told the court:

“The accused, who are before you, are thieves of time and common murderers of an entire generation of Cambodians. They robbed decades of development and prosperity from this country.  No one in this country is left unhurt or unaffected by what these three elderly men have done.”

He then showed a videoclip circa 2001 where “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea defends the regime’s bloody purges and calls the victims “traitors."

Apart from the facts that totalitarian regimes always disgust me and I believe that their histories should be spoken of often lest they be airbrushed from history, the horrific tragedy of Cambodia, which was on an incomprehensible scale -- it is said that the Khmer Rouge murdered more than 1/3rd of the population, was completely lost on people like Ted Turner, who pride themselves on their intelligence, knowledge, compassion, and social justice bona fides.  Below is the transcript of an exchange between the aforementioned Mr Turner and Bill O'Reilly (I witnessed it live some years ago and was rather stunned.  I've also included the preceding discussion on Castro for its equally revealing content):

O'REILLY: Your association with Jane Fonda. Now, Ms. Fonda is a very far-left individual. And affairs of the heart aside, I don't think anybody could be compatible with Jane Fonda — you were married to her for 10 years — unless you have and share some of the same world outlook. Do you see what I'm saying to you?

TURNER: I'm not apologizing for my political views. I've come to the — after a lot of careful thought and study and research — and I consider myself a progressive, not a liberal.

O'REILLY: Fidel Castro, do you admire the man?


O'REILLY: Now he has murdered people. He's imprisoned people. There are political prisoners now. He won't let his people use the Internet. Nobody can use that. And you admire the guy?

TURNER: Well, I admire certain things about him. He's trained a lot of doctors, and they've got one of the best educational systems in the developing world. And you know, he's still popular with a lot of people down there. He's unpopular…

O'REILLY: But he's a killer. He's a killer. He's a guy who…

TURNER: But that has never, to my knowledge, that's never been proven. I mean…

O'REILLY: He's executed political prisoners. I mean, he enslaves people who don't see it the way he sees it. Come on. He's a dictatorship. If you admire him, then why wouldn't you admire Mussolini? I mean, what's the difference? Mussolini put people back to work. There was order. The educational system was fine. See, I'm not getting this. This is what I don't understand about it.

TURNER: Well, OK, well, if you don't see the difference between Castro and Mussolini, you know, then you know, I likened some aspects of FOX News to the Nazis, so, I mean, you know, it works both ways.

O'REILLY: But you just admitted to me that that wasn't a very good thing to do and wasn't accurate.

TURNER: Hey, listen, I didn't say I wanted to live in Cuba. And I didn't say that I was buddy buddies with Fidel Castro. I just said that I respected certain things that he's done.

O'REILLY: All right, well…

TURNER: What's wrong with that?

O'REILLY: Well, you said respect the man. And I just don't — I can't possibly see how you could do that, but…

TURNER: Of course not.

O'REILLY: Now I asked this question through one of my producers to Ms. Fonda. And I'm going to ask it to you because by reading your book, it struck me that the Vietnam experience changed you. I'm saying to myself, you know, Turner comes into the Vietnam era, conservative guy, pretty much traditional guy, it changes him.


O'REILLY: It changes him. And now he's a very liberal guy. So I asked Ms. Fonda, didn't it ever bother that you after all your activism and getting America out of Vietnam, which it subsequently did in the mid '70s, that 3 million human beings were slaughtered by the people that you were lionizing, the North Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge Communists who wouldn't have been slaughtered if we stayed. And their skulls were stacked on top of each other. And I never heard from you, Jane Fonda. And I never heard a word from Ted Turner about that. And that, to me, is a good question.

TURNER: You've got me. I didn't really think about it. You know, it didn't make the news very much.

O'REILLY: No, it didn't. And you had a vehicle that you could have had — the revisionist history is what I'm worried about here. I think America's a noble nation. I think we've made mistakes. I think we tried to have freedom in Vietnam for the South Vietnamese. Unfortunately, the government was corrupt. I don't think that was a venal, terrible thing to do. I think we were trying to protect people there. Maybe I'm wrong.

But afterward, there's no doubt 3 million human beings were slaughtered. Jane Fonda said not a word. And to this day, she blames America for everything. And I think it's wrong. But you're not Jane Fonda. And it's a pleasure to talk with you. And I'm going to give you the last word. You can say whatever you want. Go.

TURNER: I'd like to have this conversation at greater length about global warming…

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