The Khmer Rouge regime

"Khmer Rouge" means Red Khmers, and is the name given to the left wing in Cambodian politics by King Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s. Since then, the name has come to be identified with a particular faction of the Cambodian left, formally known during the 1970s as the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and during the 1980s and 90s as the Party of Democratic Kampuchea.

Considering the astonishing levels of violence which have racked Cambodia and Cambodian politics during modern history, the core leadership of the CPK has been remarkably stable. The Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the CPK has consisted of the same core group for some 25 years. Often called the "Party Center," this group is comprised of Solath Sar (alias Pol Pot), Nuon Chea, Chhit Chhuon (alias Mok), Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, Yun Yat, Ieng Thirith, and Ke Pauk.

On April 17, 1975, a bitter five year civil war was concluded with the Party Center leading the Khmer Rouge to victory over the US-backed Khmer Republic of General Lon Nol. Thus arose the "Khmer Rouge regime."

The Khmer Rouge subsequently established the State of Democratic Kampuchea, and instituted what was arguably the most radical experiment in social engineering of the twentieth century. In an effort to "purify" the "Khmer race" and create an absolutely classless utopian society, the Khmer Rouge began by emptying all Cambodian urban centers of their population, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, reorganizing traditional kinship systems into a communal order, and elimina ting private property so completely that even personal hygiene supples were communal.

Extreme levels of coersion were required in order to effect this total transformation of Cambodia's conservative, agrarian Buddhist peasant society. The cost in human life was high. Of the total Cambodian population of some 7 to 8 million in 1975, various estimates put the death toll over the following three years and eight months at 15% to 40% of the total. The official tally published by the successor regime to the Khmer Rouge sets the number of dead at 3.1 million. Several demographic anal yses (by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and the U.N. Population Bureau) have estimated the death toll to be between 1 million and 2 million. The most competent empirical analyses by Western scholars of Cambodia p lace the estimate at between 1.5 and 1.7 million dead from execution, disease, starvation and overwork.

One of the objectives of Yale University's Documentation Center is to attempt to improve the empiricals underpinning of these various estimates and establish more clearly the human cost of the Khmer Rouge revolution.

One of the conceits of the Khmer Rouge Party Center was that Democratic Kampuchea was capable of seizing through military conquest regions of present-day Vietnam which were lost to Cambodian control through Vietnamese expansion over the last five hundre d years. It is a puzzle of Cambodian history how this notion could come to exercise such a hold on the imagination of the Khmer Rouge leadership, considering that Vietnam's population, economy and military was an order of magnitude larger than that of Cambodia. After several years of border conflict, Vietnam finally invaded Cambodia on December 25, 1978, aiming to resolve the issue once and for all. Within two weeks, on January 7, 1979, Vietnamese armed forces entered the Cambodian capitol at Phnom Penh and proclaimed the end of the Khmer Rouge State of Democratic Kampuchea.

Today, however, some seventeen years and three Cambodian regimes later, the "National Army of Democratic Kampuchea," as the Khmer Rouge military is known, continues to wage warfare from jungle redouts in an attempt to regain control of Cambodia and resume their utopian experiment.