Monday, July 8, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

95) General Lon Nol (1970--1975, Capital: Phnom Penh) General Lon Nol was Prince Sihanouk’s minister of defense. After successfully removing Prince Sihanouk from power in a coup d’etat in 1970, Lon Nol set about to establish a republic on the skeleton of a roughly 2000-year old Cambodian kingdom. He renamed the country Khmer Republic and proclaimed himself as head of state. Lon Nol’s first political move was to order the North Vietnamese communist troops, who had quietly been using Cambodian northeastern territory along their border as a staging area for guerrilla warfare against the U.S.-back government of South Vietnam, to leave Cambodia’s soil within a few days. His order fell into a deaf ear, for it was neither possible, nor realistic for the battle-hardened North Vietnamese troops to obey a government which had hardly any standing army to challenge them. Responding to the North Vietnamese disregard of his order, Lon Nol then embarked on a military campaign known as Chenla I and Chenla II to drive them out. Sadly, Lon Nol’s military campaign against the North Vietnamese troops was a failure, and many of his badly-trained, poorly-equipped amateur soldiers were killed in the expedition. In the mean time, the North Vietnamese troops began to militarily train, supply, and assist the Prince Sihanouk-supported Cambodian communists known as Khmer Rouge to wage a full-scale civil war against Lon Nol. For five years, the civil war between the North Vietnamese/Sihanouk-supported Khmer Rouge led by a man named Pol Pot (a.k.a. Saloth Sar) and Lon Nol’s government spread throughout the country. As the war raged on, living condition in Cambodia began to deteriorate and worsen every day. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted from their homes, and they were forced to live as refugees or displaced persons on the margin of society. On the battle fronts, the fighting grew even more savage as both sides resorted to killing each other indiscriminately. With regard to government, the Lon Nol’s regime appeared to be both incapable and corrupt. The leadership was utterly weak and incompetent. Many politicians cared more about amassing wealth for themselves than tending to the suffering of the population or preserving the nation as a whole. As a result, more and more alienated people began to rally to or join the Khmer Rouge in their revolution to overthrow the decadent and corrupted Lon Nol’s government. After five years of fighting a losing battle, Lon Nol fled Cambodia in early March of 1975. He went into exile in the United States of America. One month later on 17 of April, the communist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot took over Phnom Penh and effectively put an end to Lon Nol’s rule and his republic. 96) Pol Pot [a.k.a. Saloth Sar] (1975--1979, Capital: Phnom Penh) Pol Pot was Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), better known as the Khmer Rouge. He was born in Prek Sbov village, Kompong Thom province--the son of a middle class farmer. During his early childhood, Pol Pot was brought up, educated, and partly raised in Phnom Penh by one of his older brothers named Lot Suong who was a staff protocol (clerk) in the royal palace. He also had a sister and a cousin who were consorts of Prince Sihanouk’s grandfather, King Sisowath Monivong. It was believed that, through the helps of some influential government officials and his siblings and cousin who had links to the royal palace, Pol Pot was able to obtain a government scholarship in 1949 to go to study in France where he met fellow Cambodian communists such as Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen and begin to form a communist movement. Pol Pot was an obscure politician who lived his life in secrecy. Little was known about his personal background and political activities. Presumably, he joined the left-wing, communist-oriented political movement in the late 1940’s when Cambodian resentment against the French colonial rule was at its peak. During the mid 1950’s and early 60’s, Pol Pot worked as a schoolteacher in Phnom Penh and secretly participated in an underground communist movement to bring reform to Cambodia and/or overthrow the corrupt and decadent government led by Prince Sihanouk. In 1962, Pol Pot was appointed Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), and one year later in 1963, fearful of Prince Sihanouk’s prosecution of leftist-communist-oriented politicians, he went into hiding in the jungle in northeastern part of Cambodia where he organized and launched a successful communist revolution. Upon taking over the power in Cambodia in 1975, Pol Pot and his fellow communists embarked on a swift and radical change in an attempt to transform Cambodia into a utopian society according to their communist vision. They changed the country’s name from the Khmer Republic to Democratic Kampuchea and immediately ordered people to evacuate the cities and urban centers. Within the first few days of their rule, Pol Pot and his associates instituted the abolition of private properties, money, market, religion, and all other societal practices which they considered contradictory to the communist doctrine. In a fervent revolutionary zeal, Pol Pot had completely transformed Cambodia into a primitive agrarian society. The whole country was turned into a gigantic agricultural production camp in which people from all walks of life were forced to work without adequate foods and medicines or any regard of their health and abilities to perform the tasks. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people were starved or worked to death, and the whole endeavor became a terrible disaster. In an attempt to find scapegoats for his failure, Pol Pot unleashed a punitive purge among the ranks and files of both his communist associates and those suspected of engaging in counter-revolutionary activities. The purge lasted for a few years, and hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured, and executed ruthlessly. As the purge was intensified, many of Pol Pot’s army officers, fearful for their lives, escaped to neighboring Vietnam and began to organize a resistance to his rule. In 1979, with the help from the Vietnamese army, they invaded Cambodia and, eventually, overthrew Pol Pot from power. In a tumultuous retreat, Pol Pot and his associates along with thousands of loyal supporters were able to escape to Thailand and, with the support of the Chinese communist government, began to reorganize their forces to wage another insurgency against the rebels who had just toppled them from power. For the record, Pol Pot’s ruthless rule had led to the loss of about 1.7 million lives. Roughly, one out of every four Cambodians died as a result of his utopian communist policy. And Cambodia was left in ruin, economically and socially. Most of the surviving population was badly malnourished and left in a horrible condition. Almost every infrastructure throughout the country was destroyed or neglected. By the end of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia was brought down to its knees and in need of everything imaginable in order to survive the nightmare and ordeal it had been through. (To be continued)

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