40 years ago Pol Pot walked Phnom Penh
We are the end of the Khmer New Year holidays, a time of happiness and good wishes for all Cambodians and their friends. 40 years ago, on April 17, 1975, there was also a Khmer New Year celebration. But that new year, the one of the rabbit, was going to be under the Khmer Rouge social utopia: the start of the most extreme communist experiment on earth: the Democratic Kampuchea of Pol Pot.
The year of the rabbit, according to the Chinese calendar, means calm, composition, reserve, elegance, art, talent, friendship, kindness and passion, things that precisely were abolished from the Cambodian society by a group of intellectuals that wanted to create something completely new, out of ideas, concepts… The rabbit did not enter Cambodia that year. the Sussadey Chinam Thmey (Happy New Year) was not valid, because Cambodia passed suddenly to a “Year Zero” as Fr. François Ponchaud wrote in the first ever denounce on the atrocities by the Khmer Rouge regime.
To understand what happened with the Khmer Rouge, why they came to be the murderous regime they became, it is necessary to go back in time, to see a bigger context of events, protagonists, unresolved mysteries, criminals of any sort and nationality that went into the hidden of history. In the biggest frame there is the Cold War and the intervention of world powers – not only Westerners, but also China, the Soviet Union and even Vietnam itself.
Many speak with terror of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, portraying them as the last responsible of the Cambodian destruction. But some forget that the horror started time before, from the same moment that Lon Nol did a coup d’etat to Prince Norodom Sihanouk. It is not possible to forget also of the atrocities of the Lon Nol military to farmers and Khmer Rouge guerrillas captured in the war fields. The soup of hatred that the Khmer Rouge showed to the Cambodian middle and high classes got its time of preparation and explosion.
Washington and Hanoi pact the withdrawal of the mariners from the Indochina peninsula by April 1975, letting the way to the unification of Vietnam under the Hanoi regime, but also the advance of the Khmer Rouge guerrilla towards Phnom Penh, the main target of Pol Pot. Years before Lon Nol coup d’etat, the Khmer Rouge was a weak group heading to extinction under the Sihanouk´s strong policies towards them. Without doubt, the Nixon´s secret bombing of the south of Laos and north of Cambodia, trying to destroy the Hanoi-Vietcom route through their territories, would become only an empowerment to that communist guerrilla, the perfect opportunity for Pol Pot. The stateless farmers, ignorant and attacked by heavy war machines without their understanding, put them at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Those farmers, coming from very far provinces where the Phnom Penh´s elite never went to, were the ones to enter the hated capital on April 17, 1975 with weapons donated by North Vietnam and China.
The Phnom Penh elite trusted the protection of the mariners to the end. As crew of the Titanic, they were celebrating the 1975´s Khmer New Year with joy and dedication, listening the approaching bombs as fireworks. Only when they saw their protectors quickly embarking in helicopters, evacuating the city as fast as possible, as the Titanic started to sink in a sea of blood, they realized that the new year was going to be in the hands of a new regime.
On April 17, 1975 the Lon Nol´s République du Cambodge ended. It was 4 years old, a Republic without glory, a government that was only sowing the land of blood, preparing it for a worse regime: Kampuchea Democratic, led by Pol Pot, “defender of the king.”