|“||We must purify our armed forces, our party and the masses of people in order to continue fighting the enemies in defense of Cambodian territory and the Cambodian race.||„|
|~ Khmer Rouge radio broadcast, May 1978.|
The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia during the Cold War. It was formed in 1968 as an offshoot of the Vietnam People's Army from North Vietnam and served as the ruling party of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, during which the country was known as Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot served as the organization's overall leader, with his inner circle consisting of Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Ta Mok, and Khieu Samphan.
The Khmer Rouge army was slowly built up in the jungles of Eastern Cambodia during the late 1960s, supported by the North Vietnamese army, the Việt Cộng, the Pathet Lao, and by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Khmer Rouge fought alongside North Vietnam during the Vietnam War beginning in 1972.
Although originally fighting against the exiled head of state Norodom Sihanouk, on the advice of the CPC, the Khmer Rouge changed its position to support Sihanouk after the latter was overthrown in a 1970 coup by Lon Nol who established the pro-United States Khmer Republic. Despite a massive American bombing campaign against them, the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian Civil War when they captured the Cambodian capital and overthrew the Khmer Republic in 1975.
In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical communist program that included isolating the country from all foreign influences, closing schools, hospitals, and some factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, and collectivizing agriculture. Khmer Rouge theorists, developing the ideas of Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan, believed that an initial period of self-imposed economic isolation and national self-sufficiency would stimulate the rebirth of the crafts and the country's latent industrial capability.
They also orchestrated the Cambodian Genocide, in which many people were expelled out of the cities into rural concentration camps. There, they were forced into hard physical work, with torture and executions being frequent. The regime opposed intellectualism as well, and educated people were also sent to "killing fields" where they were brutally murdered with pickaxes. The ban on education also lead to a lack of doctors, which caused the disease to escalate, and the unhealthy living conditions of farmers also lead to mass starvation. This culminated in roughly 2 million dying as a result of the Khmer Rouge. Most of these killings were carried out by the Santebal, the Khmer Rouge's internal security branch that also served as the secret police of Democratic Kampuchea.
Khmer Rouge's economic policies took a similarly extreme course. Trade was officially restricted only to bartering between communes, a policy which the regime developed in order to enforce self-reliance. Banks were raided and all currency and records were destroyed by fire thus eliminating any claim to funds. After 1976, the regime reinstated discussion of export in the period after the disastrous effects of its planning began to become apparent.
Commercial fishing was said to have been banned by the Khmer Rouge in 1976.
When Cambodia was invaded by the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1979, the government claimed that one Cambodian soldier was equal to 30 Vietnamese soldiers, so if they could amass two million soldiers from their population of eight million, it could wipe out all of Vietnam’s population (which was 3 times larger than Cambodia's) and still have six million people left. This arrogance lead to the Khmer Rouge being overthrown during the invasion and being replaced by the Cambodian People's Party. Though they were forced to retreat to Thailand, the Khmer Rouge continued fighting Vietnamese forces from there (mainly via the use of guerrilla warfare) until it largely lost power during the '90s and surrendered completely in 1999.
In 2014, almost 40 years from the date of their rule's establishment, three major high-ranking former leaders of the disbanded Rouge (Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, and Kang Kek Iew) were sentenced to life in prison by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity that they committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.