Pourquoi les Khmers rouges? Understanding Democratic Kampuchea. Dr Henri Locard
Pourquoi les Khmers rouges
Comprendre les Khmers rouges
Why the Khmer Rouge
What happened under Democratic Kampuchea
& why such horrific crimes were committed
• The origin of my book, Pourquoi les Khmers rouges
(Why the Khmer Rouge) was a request, on the part of
ADHOC (Association de défense des Droits de l’Homme
au Cambodge) to write a report detailing the reasons
why the Democratic Kampuchea regime was so lethal.
• That was part of its outreach mission while the Duch
trial was taking place at the ECCC. Later, a French
publisher made me sign a contract to expand my
report into a book.
• A History of democratic Kampuchea by Dc-Cam : what
happened, not much about the whys. Genocide.
Itinéraire d’un intellectuel khmer rouge
ou: Les Bonnes intentions de l’enfer
• Testimony of perpetrators. See: Red Undertow from
Kieng Sieu Lim, 2010.
• How a youth became politicized in post-war C.
• Years in France; the Marxist-Leninist Circle. “The
Parisians” & Angkar,
• Beijing In early 1970s
• How the Ministry of Foreign Affairs operated,
• Negotiations up to 1991 Paris Agreement
• DK was divided in 1991-93 and UNTAC did not
take advantage of that.
The Khmer Rouge Trap
• Much more humane, practical vision of Ministry of
Foreign affairs; daily life under DK: children, food,
re-education, KR newspeak.
• Another view SS who is a “political beast &
therefore not a man”. In SS’s memoirs his wife (on
the side-lines), but great heroine.
• Estranged couple and personal tragedy, rejection of
any responsibility for what happened to her: a
believer. 1882 photos. Rejection of 1991 letter
through Japanese journalist. “I wished to be civil
party to the Tribunal: my wish was rejected” (414)
A vade mecum, a handbook, a Que sais-je?
about Democratic Kampuchea (DK)
• Not claim to bring many new pieces in the DK
puzzle – except in my research on provincial
prisons-torture-execution centres and the
significance of the myth of Angkor for the KR.
• My purpose has been to make DK accessible to the
layman among the labyrinths of interpretations,
revisions and denials. Students, journalists &
Cambodia’s watchers or visitors. Most useful
researchers David Chandler & Philip Short. Vast
amount of life stories of the victims. Perpetrators
or KR intellectuals. Some archival material. Living
in this country and understanding its culture &
• Very banal; but further evidence of this are
cropping up all the time.
• E.g. the Chinese had the compulsive habit of using
code numbers for referring to institutions and
people. That was to cloak them with secrecy. Mao
was Mr. 87, Liu Shaoqi, Mr. 89. During his first visit
in 1965-66, Saloth Sâr-Pol Pot (Ta Pouk, then)
could have been mesmerized by this ploy : he would
add a 0, one of the most brilliant inventions of
mankind, and become “Mr. 870”.
Questionable assertions – Inaccuracies
• Falsehoods during PRK regime: “Pol Pot-Ieng
Sary regime” – No, Pol Pot – Nuon Chea
• One prison: Tuol Sleng 150/200
• East Region milder : local leaders fled to
Vietnam because feared for their life, not
because they disagreed with policies.
• The KR planned to conquer Kampuchéa Krom.
• Was autarkic entirely dependent on China:
AK-47, Kalashnikov. Hoes, bicycles …
Inaccuracies - 1
• A peasant revolution: none of main leaders were from poor
• Freewheeling independent farmers were turned into slave
proletarians tied to great machine Angkar.
• Besides, the KR did all they could to develop industry,
revived factories and built new light industrial centres like
weaving or traditional medicine plants.
• The model was the Great Leap forward. Marx’s definition
of proletarians as the appendixes, simple cogs of Angkar.
• No Ministry of Agriculture, just an agricultural committee,
with Nuon Suon, purged in April 1976.
• There were great regional variations and the big
regions were appanages of local war lords.
• Not so: the tandem, the duo Saloth Sâr – Nuon
Chea have always been in charge since 1960. Only
variation: from centre to periphery.
• Communications through messengers or radio.
Reports. Re-education sessions in the regions or at
• Highly structured and centralized repression system
and Duch, with Son Sen and Nuon Chea at the
Why the Khmer Rouge came to power ?
The revolutionary regime could come into existence only
through the combination of three factors : the geopolitical
context in Southeast and East Asia in the last phase of the
Cold War: in particular the capital rôles played firs by
Communist Vietnam and next by Maoist China.
The existence of a coterie of ruthless politicians
determined to exercise absolute power over their fellow
citizens, together with the rôle of Sihanouk from 1970 to
The historical, political, religious and cultural environment
in Cambodia itself.
All manner of political regimes in the past century
• 1904-1947, colonial protectorate, with the King as de facto
constitutional monarch and the Résident supérieur as de facto PM.
• 1947-1955: a budding democracy with the first constitution and
the Democratic Party.
• 1955-1970: and autocratic one-party system with the Sangkum
Party and Sihanouk as the autocrat.
• 1970-75: Second attempt at establishing democracy, but the
ineptitude of Lon Nol and the civil war turned the regime in one
• 1975-1979: a ultra-Maoist totalitarian communist regime.
• 1979-1991: a Vietnamo-Soviet type of communism.
• 1991-1997: third attempt to bringing democracy to Cambodia
• 1997-2013: one more autocratic regime along with a de facto one
Party-State under Hun Sen who will have been soon PM for 30
years. Today 4th Attempt ? : One-party system or 2-party system
Why all the evacuation-ruralisation of the
entire urban population?
• Not just the capital, not just provincial capitals, but down
to every township.
• KR said: American bombings; humanitarian, food in the
countryside, terrible state of hospitals. Nuon Chea
• Real reasons, according to KR: towns a nest of spies and
traitors.; in China, revolutionize existing institutions had
failed: destroyed mad race with Vietnam: totally
collectivize before them.
• In fact: KR unable to control cities, unlike Vietminh.
Impossible to establish people’s communes. Rice=hard
currency. First purge of bad elements: problem had to be
solved. Automatic creation of one class: wandering
External causes: France
• France: At the time of the creation of the revolutionary
movement, many were ex Khmer-Vietminh, like Nuon
Chea, Ta Mok, Mat Ly, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Yun
Yat, Ney Sarann, Koy Thuon, Kaè Pauk, Sao Phoem
etc. Others had been students in France, but not in
universities or came back with no higher education
diplomas: Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, with two
exceptions Khieu Samphân, and Ieng Thirith. All the
others were only marginal to the regime: Thiounn
Mumm & his brothers (Chum, Thioeun, Prasith) Suong
Sikoeun … and none among the decision makers.
• For the latter, everything came from France was a
model, like the US today – including the fast food.
Communism was an ideal. Robespierre a hero.
External causes: Vietnam
• The Cold War, along with Lenin could make his October
1917 coup because of WWI, similarly the KR entered
PPenh because of the Second Indochinese War: war is
the matrix, origin of all upheaval & revolutions.
• From the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) 1930:
Christopher Goscha, Stephen Morris & Steve Heder tell
the whole story.
• The Vietminh routed the inexperienced Lon Nol army in
1971-2, making it possible to handle to The KR marge
swathes of rural Cambodia. Only from 1973 did the civil
war really become a civil one.
• Some historians and mainly Sihanouk claimed that the Chinese
advised the Khmer Rouge not to repeat their mistakes and
tread carefully the road to communism.
• Andrew Mertha in forthcoming Brothers in Arms: the present
day Chinese embassy claims that Chinese aid was purely
humanitarian: medicines, rice and hoes to cultivate rice.
• Sihanouk boast having been a very intimate friend with Zhou
Enlai. Very urbane, diplomatic and clever. What he fails to
mention is that Zhou never opposed any of the most radical
policies of Mao. Quite the opposite; e. g. during the Great
Leap Forward, or Great Famine (Hungry Ghosts of Jasper
Becker or Mao’s Great Famine of Frank Dikötter), Zhou
insisted that quotas established with Soviet Union and
therefore was pushing for greater requisitions: starvation of
the people mattered less that the demands of the State.
The two lines
• In the 1970s, Mao’s last years, was the years of 2
strategies: the headlong pursuit of demented policies with
the “Gang of Four” or the more pragmatic approach to
the economy of a Deng Xiaoping. Who had the upper
hand and who escorted the KR leaders in their journey or
long re-education in China ?
• Duch gave the answer at the Tribunal, 30 April 2009: the
slogan of “the super Great Leap Forward”. And that was when
the country started to make 10 steps when china had only made on.
Pol Pot’s theory was more radical that the Cultural revolution and
more cruel than the Gang of Four”.
Radicalisation of the radical line
• « In Mao’s China, there were 4 classes: the workers,
the peasants, the petits-bourgeois, the capitalists. They
were represented of the flag by 4 small stars, the
large one being the Communist Party.
• On the DK flag, there were the 3 towers of Angkor
Wat: the central one represented the Party, the two
others, the workers and the peasants.
• If someone opposed becoming a worker-peasant
(kamekâr-kasekâr=proletarian), he became an enemy.
The chain of power: the decision makers
& the technicians
• Which China are we talking about? That of the
radicals? That of the pragmatist? That of the
thousands of experts who staffed all technical
services under DK? Or that of the decision makers
at the time, and Mao himself ?
• Mao died just half way through the DK regime, but
radical ideas prevailed with his successor Hua
Guofeng till late 1978 and the return of Deng. Is
not this a curious coincidence that the KR regime
collapsed with the collapse of the diehard Maoists
in China ?
Mao « the Supreme guide »
• Pol Pot: « Chaiman Mao had personally led the famous
Cultural Revolution and succeeded in smashing counterrevolutionaries and anti-socialist headquarters of Liu Shaoqi,
Lin Piao and Deng Xiaoping.”
• His works “summed up the experiences of Marx, Engels,
Lenin and Stalin, they illuminate Marxist-Leninist literature
and are immortal”. (FBIS, 20 Sept 1976)
• Chinese experts in their thousands: military, irrigation and
agriculture, communication and railways, health. Well-paid,
well-fed, well-housed. Lived apart. Aware people were
suffering and helped when Angkar did not see. Kompong Som
oil refinery problems. Gone through the Cultural Revolution
and some the Great Leap Forward. Submission and loyalism.
Travellers & decision makers
• Pol Pot made number of travels and stays in china where he
soon felt quite at home: late 1965, 1970, 1975, 1976, 1977..
Some stays secret, some public. Who did he meet? What
revolutionary places did he visit?
• 21 June 1975: fully approved PP’s radical plans?
• Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Son Sen, Keo Meas, Sit Chhê,
Ney sarann, Sao Phoem and their children or trainees of every
• In 1965 PP met Chen Boda (Mao’s secretary) & Zhang
Chunqiao, a rising Shanghai leader . Kang Sheng ? Head of
CPC International Liaison Department & Mao’s security chief.
• Approval of launching the People’s war. Unlike Vietnam
A few Chinese radicals who came to DK or/and
had contacts with KR leadership
Kang Sheng (1898-1975)
Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Zhang Chun-qiao, (1917-2005)
Chen Yonggui, (1915-1986), connu aussi sous les
noms de Chen Yung-kuei, M. Dazai ou, en
khmer, Ta Chay,
• Hua Guofeng (1921-2008)
• Wang Dong Xing ( 1916-1996)
Kang Sheng (1898-1975)
• Could have met Saloth Sâr in 1965-66 at a time when the
Cultural Revolution was conceived by Mao and his
faithful supporter like Jiang Quing, Chen Boda et Lin
Biao: it would make revisionism unconceivable by
eliminating all those who were lukewarm about a radical
communism. KS was still to be in charge of security
during the Cult. Rev. He is the link between Stalinist
repression & Maoist.
• At his death in 1975, flowers were brought to the chinese
embassy with thos words: « Our sincere and deeply felt
condolances fot the sad death of his excellency Kang Sheng, this
remarkable figure of the Chinese revolution and this comrade-inarms of the Cambodian people. » (FBIS 24/12/75).
Political career of Zhang Chunqiao
« Le Cobra » or the brains behind the Gang of Four
Born in 1917 in Shanghaï. A typical apparatchik : journalist,
head or propaganda propaganda à Shanghaï. In 1958, he
created the le slogan “Destroy bourgeois ideas of legal
property! » and became on of the most fervent partisans of
Party Secretary of Shanghai in 1966, met Jiang Qing and
launched the Cult Rev in the city with Wang Hongwen &
Deputy Prime Minister in 1976
Arrested just after Mao’s death in September 1976 and was
sentenced to death like Jang Qing, commuted to life
Freed in 1998 for medical reasons and lived in obscurity.
Under the new name of Robin Zhang, he created an NGO
whose aim was to put an end to purges in the entire word.
He died in 2005..
Sihanouk triomphant in Beijing on 11 April 1973, after « the
success of his inspection tour of liberated zones in March: Zou
En-lai, PM, Li Sien Nien Finance Minister, Zhang Chunqiao &
Norodom Yuvaneath (1943).
The leader of the “Gang of four,” Zhang Chunqiao, escorts Prince
Norodom Sihanouk, Princess Monique & Ieng Sary to a banquet in
• This notorious member of the “Gang of Four”, had
taken a special interest in Cambodia. After having over
the years established special links with KR leaders, he
came on a secret visit in January 1976.
• He was the one who contributed to the first draft of the
DK constitution du KID.
• He opposed (1971 - 1975) any peaceful solution to civil
• Information from: A Personal Reflection on Norodom
Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai: An Extraordinary Friendship on the
Fringes of the Cold War.
• Julio A. Jeldres, Monash University
The Constitution of DK : a few elements:
• Proclamation of a single unified class (worker-peasant).
What happens to the rest of society ?Do they disappear
as a class or as individuals ? ?
• Total absence of the word freedom or liberty.
• Work is totally collectivized .
• Art. 12 : « There is absolutely no unemployment in DK »
=slave labour for all ? Including children and old people ?
• « People’s courts » to try dissidents. Nothing about how
they are established & run.
• Art. 10: Sanctions: more minor deviations: re-education
within the people’s communes. « Hostile & destructive
actions that threaten the people’s State will be dealt with
by the most severe form of punishment ». Death ? .
• Abolition of all traditional religions.
• Zhang Chunqiao found enthusiastic disciples
among the leaders of Angkar, and Pol Pot could
declare after that visit : «There is a continuous, nonstop struggle between revolution and counter-revolution.
We must keep to the standpoint that there will be
enemies 10 years, 20 years, 30 years in the near future
… Are these enemies strong or not? That does not
depend on them. It depends on us. If we constantly take
absolute measures, they will be scattered and smashed to
bits » (Short, p. 357)
Hua Guofeng (1921-2008)
N 1 from February 1976 to September 1980
• He is the one who lavishly welcomed Pol Pot on 29 Sept.
1977 for the October celebration of the 28th anniversary
of Mao’s entry into Beijing in 1949, on the day after his
longest speech on 27th
• This was the first official journey of the PM. « Tens of
thousands are on Tienanmen square to welcome him to
express their revolutionary friend ship and solidarity with
the Kampuchean revolution and the CPK.” (FBIS,
• HG was dismissed from power by Deng Xiaoping in
December 1978, exactly at the time the KR were chased
from Phnom Penh.
• Slogan : «Learn from Dazhai» was drummed into the
Chinese people from to time of the Great Leap
Forward to that of the Cultural Revolution.
« Implement Mao’s thoughts! » «Move mountains to
create fields! », « Work diligently and ardently to turn
your village into a Dazhai within 3 years ! ».
• Not just manicured rice fields and plentiful crops, but
entire irrigation networks in hilly and dry terrain.
Magnificent dams, aqueducts spanning deep valleys,
• The whole base on the principle of self-sufficiency and
self-help, with no financial or technical aid.
• A gigantic fraud: massive aid from Revolutionary Army.
Ta Chai comes to DK
Six weeks after PP’s long stay in China from 28
Sept. to 22 Oct. 1977, Chen Yonggui comes to
DK fro 3-15 Dec 1977. He visited all the model
sahakor, accompanied by PP, and the 2 deputy-PM,
Ieng Sary & Vorn Vet: « realized in 3 years what
we could not do in 30 »
Admired the complete collectivisation. The
model for the KR utopia.
Dazhai was discredited from 1980s
Wang Dongxing ( 1916-1996)
• Vice-President of the CPC & ex-chief bodyguard
of Mao accompanied by Hu Yaobang, future Party
General Secretary, made a visit 4 – 8 November
• Wang Dongxing had been in charge of the arrest
of the Gang of Four in n1976.
• Came to explain to Angkar that they will not send
military personnel, and advised the KR to return to
guerrilla tactics and kill as may Vietnamese as they
could : 50,000.
• Lost all power at the beginning of the 1980s.
• Political: impossible democracy with the 4 attempts to
establish it : 1946-55, 1970 & 1991-97 & 2013.
• The rôle of Sihanouk
• The criminal incompetence of Lon Nol.
• Massive use by the KR of child soldiers and the
indigenous peoples of the periphery.
• Khmer leaders have always « eaten the kingdom » rather
than administer it. Gulf that separates the governors and
• Weak modern State, hence the temptation for total
control on the part of the State.
• “That thirst for the most pompous titles, honours and
powers has already caused many troubles in the kingdom”
30 June 1916 François Baudoin.
Tension between submission to authorities and a violence that can burst out
any time. But submission and the gentleness of the vast majority of the Khmer
people leave those prepared to take advantage of power free to exploit the
An implicit caste system : big people/little people.
Fanatical individualism. Collectivism could only be imposed through terror.
• Low level of education; prevailing superstitious beliefs: lynching of so-called
sorcerers. No Age of Reason or Enlightenment. No Voltaire.
• Confusion of chauvinism/jingoism with patriotism and sense of public good
and public service.
• Tradition of the patronage system and nepotism leading to endemic
corruption. Under DK not corruption of money but of absolute power. Led
to the abolition of money
• Tradition of slavery: endemic in industry and home workshops . A Slave State,
• The myth of regaining a lost paradise: return to the grandeur of Angkor or the
original communism of the ethnic indigenous groups of the Northeast. The
future is in an imaginary past, not in constructing the years to come.
• Ideology becomes a religion and an instrument of political
control: Pol Pot-Nuon Chea-ism is similar to the rules of a
fundamentalist sect based on Buddhism: generalisation of
monastic rules to the entire population who must all become
ascetics and …
• - renounce all worldly possessions
• - renounce all family bonds
• - renounce all individual conscience and in the end one’s own
self: the dissolution of the individual, of the self in my collection
• In order to merge into the Supreme being the Angkar-God, to
empty one’s mind and slavishly submit to all the diktats of the
• According to Short, everywhere communism seized power, it has
cast itself into the mould of the dominant religion –
Confucianism in China, Buddhism in Cambodia..
• Declarations de Nuon Chea at the Tribunal.
In the end …
• .. The ingredients of the Khmer Rouge bomb were
essentially an uncompromising Maoist ideology
implemented to the extreme degree of its logic,
• a strong belief in the matchless greatness of
Khmer civilisation able to achieve wonders,
• the necessity for the entire society to renounce all
pleasures and attachments and become ascetics who
withdraw from worldly enjoymrnts,
• and in the end a coterie of leaders prepared to see
their dreams come true – whatever the human cost.