BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: In Depth: Cambodia
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

BBC News
Archive footage of the Khmer Rouge in power
 real 28k

BBC News
Former Khmer Rouge commander Yim Phanna: "we didn't want to fight"
 real 28k

BBC News
Khmer Rouge radio announces the death of Pol Pot (in Khmer)
 real 28k

BBC News
Khmer Rouge radio on Pol Pot's cremation (in Khmer)
 real 28k

Friday, 24 July, 1998, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Masters of the killing fields
The Khmer Rouge today: demoralised and faction-ridden
The Khmer Rouge today: Demoralised and faction-ridden
By regional analyst Joe Havely:

Twenty-three years ago, time began again in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge and their infamous leader, Pol Pot, had taken power. "Year Zero" had begun.

Money, private property, education and religion were abolished and Cambodia's towns and cities were emptied as the population was forced into massive, unworkable agricultural collectives.

This was the era of the Killing Fields in which more than a million people would lose their lives.

Opponents of the ultimate aim of restoring Cambodia's medieval greatness were deemed enemies of the state and dealt with accordingly.

Secretive organisation

Workers in the infamous Killing Fields
Workers in the infamous Killing Fields
The Khmer Rouge have always been a shadowy and secretive organisation.

The name itself was coined by their enemies rather then adopted by them, and for much of their time in power, they hid behind the name 'Angkar', or the Organisation.

Today reports on the state of the Khmer Rouge are sketchy.

The group's mission has never been fully explained. But they were and are a fiercely nationalist body with a particular hatred for the Vietnamese who they see as the oppressors of the Khmer (Cambodian) people.

Legacy lives on

Anlong Veng: the last Khmer Rouge stronghold fell earlier this year
Anlong Veng: The last Khmer Rouge stronghold, which fell earlier this year
Almost 20 years since they were evicted from power by the invading Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge's legacy of death, starvation and suffering lives on across Cambodia.

It is most visible in the piles of skulls and bones across the country. But it can also be seen in the countless unexploded landmines and the psychological problems suffered by many who cannot forget whey they saw.

After years of fighting government forces in the mountainous jungle near the Thai border, in 1996 almost half of the Khmer Rouge forces broke from their ruthless leadership and made a deal with the Phnom Penh government.

1979: Pol Pot leads the Khmer Rouge back into the jungle after the Vietnamese invasion
1979: Pol Pot leads the Khmer Rouge back into the jungle after the Vietnamese invasion
Last year a group led by General Ta Mok, known as "the Butcher", came close to negotiating a similar deal. But the ageing Pol Pot objected, beginning a bloody purge of Khmer Rouge ranks.

The showdown ended up with Pol Pot being put "on trial" in what the Khmer Rouge described as a people's tribunal.

He was sentenced to house arrest and his three accomplices were executed. Television pictures of the trial were the first the outside world had seen of Pol Pot in years.

Internal breakdown

In an October 197 interview Pol Pot declared 'my conscience is clear'
In an October 1997 interview Pol Pot declared: 'My conscience is clear'
Pol Pot himself died in April, amidst reports that the Khmer Rouge were willing to hand him over to an international court for trial on charges of genocide.

Many Khmer Rouge defectors said that without him there would be no Khmer Rouge.

Over the last two years the Khmer Rouge resistance has collapsed; not so much because of military defeat, but as a result of internal factionalism, frustration at poverty and ideological decay.

The group has ended up fighting itself.

Reports say the rump Khmer Rouge that remains, led by Ta Mok, can count on between 500 and 2,000 fighters.

Immunity from prosecution

Almost every family in Cambodia lost relatives to the Khmer Rouge
Almost every family in Cambodia lost relatives to the Khmer Rouge
Mass defections have been encouraged by the so-called 'win-win policy' of the country's powerful Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen that offers defectors immunity from prosecution.

The policy has been criticised for allowing many former Khmer Rouge commanders to become senior officials in the Cambodian government.

After their former military stronghold of Anlong Veng fell to government forces earlier this year, the forces in the dense northern jungles are little more than an irritating, although still potentially deadly, thorn in the government's side.

As Cambodia approaches its general election, the Khmer Rouge have vowed to disrupt polling and a series of political murders have been blamed on them and their desire to continue to make their presence felt.

The Khmer Rouge may be in their death throes but, in the words of one Thai intelligence officer, "they will fight until they die."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Links to other Cambodia stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Cambodia stories