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Cambodia: WHY WOULD IT KILL ITs OWN PEOPLE? [KH]

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  • Description: Khmer Rouge was formed to fight foreigners, not kill its own, the former public face of the regime said. "Why would it kill its own people?" Khieu Samphan asked. "For what reason? Who would live in the country then?" Khieu Samphan, who has already selected a foreign attorney to defend him against possible indictment by Cambodia's hybrid tribunal, said he had not heard of the killing fields, of the starvation suffered by his countrymen, until at least the 1980s. Cambodians "were hungry and dug up tubers. I didn't know it was like that. I found out at the end of 1989." Given room to speak, Khieu Samphan raises points that have been raised before, shifting blame from the Khmer Rouge for its autogenocide to foreign powers, often the Vietnamese and the Americans. The Khmer Rouge "fighting movement experienced plight, hunger, sickness, slept in trenches," Khieu Samphan said. "B-52 bombs were dropped [and] when you were just near them, you became crazy because you were so frightened." The Khmer Rouge rose out of loyalty to its leaders, he said, as much as the bombing. "Leaders would ask us to crawl into a crab hole," he said, a common Cambodian expression that describes loyalty. The Khmer Rouge had loyalty structure where each person had a group, or strand, and every strand spied on the other, he said. Khieu Samphan said the evacuations in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power, were Pol Pot's idea. So too was discipline. "Those who were good and worked hard, should be encouraged," he said, "and those who opposed, should be dealt with accordingly." Vietnamese interference might have been the reason so many people began starving once they were forced out of the city and into agricultural work camps, Khieu Samphan said. "What did the starvation from 1975 to 1976 come from?" he said. "Not from Pol Pot. Could Pol Pot do it alone?"

    On their side, the rebellious soldiers considered the townsmen with a sovereign contempt: they was the "enemies" (khmang) which one had spoken to them, "capitalists" (nay tun) which refused to join the revolution. Less than twenty-four hours after, all the inhabitants of Phnom Penh accepted the order to leave the city. At that time, the Khmer Rouges could hardly but erect scaffolding of the plans and dream with the victory. Seen Office 100, the Kampuchean revolution appeared quite remote. To start, the Kampuchean Communist Party was not armed.

    Laura Summers: The evacuation of Phnom Penh, which was roundly criticized by the rest of the world as "barbaric" was really justified according to the standard total academic view which she supported. As her justification, she writes "By all accounts, however, universal conscription for work prevented a postwar famine," but admits that "It also appears that some work groups, in lieu of other forms of re-education, are obliged to work harder and longer than others." One must wonder how she knows this, given that she has not been inside the country. Does she have a reference? No source is listed. With respect to statements from refugees and Khmer Rouge defectors sponsored by resistance groups abroad, Summers dismisses them entirely. She writes: These public pleas for support and the public concern raised by sensational, but false, documents finally provoked the Paris Mission of Democratic Kampuchea to protest that some journalists were degrading their profession and that the French held a major share of the responsibility for allowing these activities to continue. Some of the documents to be discredited were, for instance, several faked photographs and interviews which between 1976 and 1977 were published in newspapers from Australia to America. Furthermore, evidence that the evacuation was planned well before April suggests that strategic advantage, not the well-being of the citizens mattered to the Khmer Rouge. Hou Youn's dissertation had sufficiently maligned cities as to make them appear useless to the country. Not only was class order reversed, but city dwellers would be made to farm the land, in a complete occupational reversal.

    Porter and Hildebrand conclude from this that the "death march" characterization was "unfounded." Finally, leaving nothing to chance, Porter and Hildebrand hold that "the temporary clearing of most hospitals, far from being inhumane, was an act of mercy for the patients." They argue that the hospitals of Phnom Penh had become overcrowded and unhealthy. It was thus necessary, for the well-being of the patients, to evacuate them. And what could they expect onto the elsewhere?
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