JUNE 18, 1997
Fugitive leader Pol Pot's surrender to Khmer Rouge rebels was announced. Those reports have been denied. Either way, Pol Pot, blamed for the slaughter of 2 million Cambodians, has left an devastating mark on Cambodia, a country which remains in a state of political unrest. After this background report, journalists Sydney Schanberg and Nate Thayer will join Elizabeth Farnsworth for a discussion.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The still unconfirmed report that Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, has surrendered has thrust Cambodia, a nation of 10 million people, back into the spotlight. It is a country that has been defined in the West by images like this: Skulls piled high inside a bombed-out building; photos--rooms full of them--taken in the moments just before these people, young and old, were killed--killed under the rule of the Khmer Rouge -- under the leadership of Soloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Online NewsHour links:
June 18, 1997:
A discussion on the legacy of Pol Pot and the struggle in Cambodia.
May 16, 1996:
President Clinton announces his plan to limit the use of landmines.
January 4, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the use of land mines in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
The Cambodian Embassy to the U.S. Home Page
Cambodia in Modern History: a site produced by those who opposed the Khmer Rouge
The Communist Khmer Rouge came to power in this small Southeast Asian nation in 1975 as part of the vast upheaval caused largely by the spilling over of the Vietnam War. Peasants were ruined by the war's destruction, and many supported the Khmer Rouge guerrillas when they overthrew an American-backed military government just days before South Vietnam fell. In the four years they were in power, the Khmer Rouge tried to turn Cambodia into a self-sufficient, agrarian utopia. They forced people to move from cities to the countryside and murdered the educated and the skilled. More than 1 million people were killed or died of starvation.
Pol Pot rarely appeared publicly, but it is widely believed that he gave the orders for the killings. He was overthrown by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. The Khmer Rouge fled West into areas around the Thai border, and Pol Pot went into hiding but continued to call the shots. The Vietnamese placed a faction eventually headed by this man--Hun Sen--in power. He was a former Khmer Rouge but said he'd seen the error of his ways.
Throughout the 1980's Hun Sen, with help from the Vietnamese, continued to fight the Khmer Rouge, who formed an alliance with forces loyal to Cambodia's long-time ruler, Prince Sihanouk. He had been deposed by the military government that took power in 1970. In 1991, all the Cambodian factions, including the Khmer Rouge, agreed to an internationally mediated accord providing for peacekeeping and elections under the United Nations.
In 1992, one of the largest U.N. missions in history moved into almost all parts of Cambodian life. They set up television and radio stations. Election workers traveled into the most remote parts of the country and registered 96 percent of the eligible voters, 4.6 million people.
SPOKESPERSON: And today we have come here to explain to you about the elections and about human rights.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In April 1993, we traveled with U.N. volunteer Melissa Moye as she visited a village near the border with Vietnam.
MELISSA MOYE, U.N. Volunteer: No one can take your registration card or even ask you to write down the number. And even if they do--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: U.N. workers also accomplished what some thought would be impossible--the return of 350,00 refugees from camps in Thailand without major incident. In all, the U.N. spent some $3 billion trying to put Cambodia back together again. But a key task was never fulfilled. The warring factions were never disarmed.
The Khmer Rouge refused to turn over their weapons. As a result, so did the other factions. On our reporting trip then we visited areas near Khmer Rouge camps in Northwest Cambodia, where they were trying to stop the elections. We accompanied Dutch Marines, part of the U.N. contingent, as they tried to make villages safe for the elections.
DUTCH SOLIDER: We will secure all polling stations. The minimum will be four persons per polling station, but there are a lot of polling stations that we secure with eight people, so that's a squad.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because of these efforts the Khmer Rouge failed in their efforts to stop the voting. And the elections produced a coalition government led by Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk's son Ranarridh. They have been vying for dominance ever since. And as part of that rivalry each has tried to win within the Khmer Rouge, and to woo them out of their bases in the Northwest.