Pol Pot (/pɒl pɒt/, US: /poʊl/; Khmer: ប៉ុល ពត; 19 May
1925 – 15 April 1998) was a Cambodian revolutionary and
politician who served as the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
from 1976 to 1979. Ideologically a Marxist-Leninist and Khmer
nationalist, he led the Khmer Rouge group from 1963 until 1997.
From 1963 to 1981, he served as the General Secretary of the Communist
Party of Kampuchea.
Born Saloth Sar (Khmer: សាឡុត ស) to a prosperous farmer in
Prek Sbauv, French Cambodia,
Pol Pot was educated at some of
Cambodia's elite schools. In the 1940s he moved to Paris, France,
where he joined the
French Communist Party
French Communist Party and adopted
Marxism-Leninism, particularly as it was presented in the writings of
Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Returning to
Cambodia in 1953, he joined
Khmer Việt Minh
Khmer Việt Minh organisation in its guerrilla
war against King Norodom Sihanouk's newly independent government.
Following the Khmer Việt Minh's 1954 retreat into North Vietnam, Pol
Pot returned to Phnom Penh, working as a teacher while remaining a
central member of the Cambodian Marxist-Leninist movement. In 1959 he
helped to convert the movement into the Kampuchean Labour
Party—later renamed the Communist Party of Kampuchea—and in 1960
took control of it as party secretary. To avoid state repression, in
1962 he relocated to a Việt Cộng encampment in the jungle before
Hanoi and Beijing. In 1968, he re-launched the war against
Renaming the country
Democratic Kampuchea and seeking to create an
agrarian socialist society, Pol Pot's government forcibly relocated
the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms.
Those regarded as enemies of the new government were killed. These
mass killings, coupled with malnutrition and disease, killed between
1.5 to 3 million people, a period later termed the Cambodian genocide.
Marxist-Leninists unhappy with Pol Pot's government encouraged
Vietnamese intervention. In 1978, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia,
toppling Pol Pot's government in 1979. The Vietnamese installed a
rival Marxist-Leninist faction opposed to
Pol Pot and renamed the
country as the People's Republic of Kampuchea.
Pol Pot and his Khmer
Rouge retreated to a jungle base near the Thai border. Until 1993,
they remained part of a coalition internationally recognized as
Cambodia's rightful government. The
Ta Mok faction placed Pol Pot
under house arrest, where he died.
The combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions,
malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately
25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1
to 3 million people (out of a population of slightly over 8 million)
perished as a result of the policies of his four-year
1 Early life
1.1 Childhood: c.1925–1941
1.2 Later education: 1942–1948
1.3 Paris: 1949–1953
2 Revolutionary and political activism
2.1 Return to Cambodia: 1953–1954
2.2 Developing the Communist Party: 1955–1962
2.3 Plotting Rebellion: 1962–1968
2.4 Civil War: 1968–
3.1 Control of the countryside
4 Leader of Kampuchea
5 Conflict with Vietnam
7 Political ideology
8 Personal life and characteristics
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Pol Pot was born in the village of Prek Sbauv, outside the city of
Kampong Thom. He was given the name of Saloth Sâr, with the word
sâr ("white, pale") referencing his comparatively light skin
Philip Short placed his birth in March
1925, although an earlier biography by
David P. Chandler noted
that French colonial records place it on 25 May 1928. His family
was of mixed Chinese and ethnic Khmer heritage, although they did not
speak Chinese and lived as though they were fully Khmer. His
father, Loth—who later took the name of Phem Saloth—was a
prosperous farmer who owned nine hectares of rice land and several
draft cattle. Loth's house was one of the largest in the village,
and at transplanting and harvest time, he hired poorer neighbours to
carry out much of the agricultural labour. Pol Pot's mother, Sok
Nem, was locally respected as a pious Buddhist.
Pol Pot was the
eighth of nine children; two were female, and seven were male.
Three of them died young. They were raised as Theravada Buddhists,
and on festivals they travelled to the Kampong Thom monastery.
Prek Sbauv, the village where
Pol Pot was born and spent his early
At the time,
Cambodia was a monarchy but the king had little political
control, which was instead exercised by the French colonial
regime. Pol Pot's family had connections to the Cambodian royal
household; his cousin Meak was a consort of the king, Sisowath
Monivong, and later worked as a ballet teacher. When
Pol Pot was
six years old, he and an older brother were sent to live with Meak in
the capital city of Phnom Penh; informal adoptions by wealthier
relatives was a standard practice in Cambodian society at the
time. In Phnom Penh, he spent several months as a novice monk in
the city's Vat Botum Vaddei monastery. There he became literate in
the Khmer language.
In the summer of 1935, Sâr went to live with his brother Suong and
the latter's wife and child. That year he began an education at a
Roman Catholic primary school, the École Miche, with Meak paying
the tuition fees. Most of his classmates were the children of
French bureaucrats and Catholic Vietnamese. Here, he became
literate in French and familiar with Christianity. Sâr was not
academically gifted and he was held back two years, only receiving his
Certificat d'Etudes Primaires Complémentaires in 1941 when—Short
argues—he was already eighteen. Sâr had continued to visit Meak
at the king's palace and it was there, among some of the king's
concubines, that he had some of his earliest sexual experiences.
Later education: 1942–1948
This article contains Khmer text. Without proper rendering support,
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While Sâr was at the school, the King of
Cambodia died and in 1941
the French authorities appointed
Norodom Sihanouk as his
replacement. A new junior middle school, the Collége Pream
Sihanouk, was established in Kampong Cham, and in 1942 Sâr was
selected to become a boarder at the institution. This level of
education afforded him a privileged position in Cambodian society.
There, he learned to play the violin and took part in school
plays. Much of his spare time was spent playing football and
basketball. Several of his fellow pupils, among them
Hu Nim and
Khieu Samphan, later served in his government. During the new year
vacation in 1945, Sâr and several friends from the college theatre
troupe went on a provincial tour in a bus to raise money for a trip to
Angkor Wat. In 1947, he left the school.
That year he passed exams that admitted him into the Lycée Sisowath,
meanwhile living with Suong and his new wife. In the summer of
1948, he sat the breret entry exams for the upper classes of the
Lycée but failed; unlike several of his friends, he could not
continue on at the school for a baccalauréat. Instead, he
enrolled to study carpentry at the Ecole Technique in Russey Keo, in
the northern suburbs of Phnom Pehn, in 1948. This drop from an
academic education to a vocational one was likely a shock for the
student. Here, his fellow students were generally of a lower class
than the students which he had encountered at his previous school,
although they were not peasants. It was there where he met Ieng
Sary, who became a close friend and later became a fellow member of
his government. In the summer of 1949, Sâr passed his brevet and
secured one of five scholarships allowing him to travel to France to
study at one of its engineering schools.
Amid the Second World War, France was conquered by
Nazi Germany and in
1945 the Japanese ousted French control over Cambodia, with Sihanouk
proclaiming independence for his country. After the war ended in
the defeat of Germany and Japan, France re-asserted its control over
Cambodia in 1946, although allowed for the creation of a new
constitution and the establishment of various political parties.
The most successful of these was the Democratic Party, which won the
1946 general election. According to Chandler, Sâr and Sary worked
for the party during its successful election campaign, although
Short maintained that Sâr himself had no contact with the party.
The king opposed the party's left-leaning reforms and in 1948
dissolved the National Assembly and began ruling by decree. A
nascent communist movement had also been established in
operatives of Ho Chi Minh's better established Vietnamese communist
group, the Việt Minh, although it had been beset by ethnic tensions
between the Khmer and Vietnamese. News of the group was censored from
the press, and it is unlikely Sâr was aware of them.
Sâr arrived in Paris, France (pictured in 1960)
Access to further education abroad marked Sâr out as part of a tiny
elite in Cambodia. Sâr and the 21 other selected students sailed
Saigon aboard the SS Jamalque and arrived in
Marseille nearly a
month later; on the journey they stopped at Singapore, Colombo, and
Djibouti. In Paris, Sâr enrolled at the École Française de
Radioélectricité to study electronic technology. He took a room
in the Cité Universitaire's Indochinese Pavilion, and then
lodgings on the rue Amyot, and eventually a bedsit on the corner
of the rue de Commerce and the rue Letelier.
He spent three years in Paris, although left on several holidays.
In the summer of 1950, he was one of 18 Cambodian students who joined
French counterparts in traveling to Yugoslavia, a Marxist-Leninist
state, to volunteer in a labour battalion building a motorway in
Zagreb. He returned to Yugoslavia the following year for a camping
holiday. In Paris, Sâr made little or no attempt to assimilate
into French culture, never becoming completely at ease with the
French language. He spent much time reading and visiting the
cinema. He gained a familiarity with much French literature, one
of his favourite authors being Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His most
significant friendships in the country were with Ieng Sary, who had
joined him there, Thiounn Mumm, and Keng Vannsak. He was a member
of Vannsak's discussion circle, whose ideologically diverse membership
discussed means to achieve Cambodian independence from French
Ieng Sary and two others established the Cercle Marxiste
("Marxist Circle"), a Marxist-Leninist organisation arranged in a
clandestine cell system. The cells met to read Marxist texts and
held self-criticism sessions. Sâr joined a cell that met on the
rue Lacepède; his cell comrades included Hou Yuon, Sien Ary, and Sok
Knaol. He helped to duplicate the Cercle's newspaper, Reaksmei
("The Spark"), named after a former Russian paper. In October
1951, Yuon was elected head of the Khmer Student Association (AEK; I
'Association des Estudiants Khmers), establishing close links between
the organisation and the leftist Union Nationale des Étudiants de
France. The Cercle Marxiste manipulated the AEK and its successor
organisations for the next 19 years. Several months after the
Cercle Marxiste's formation, Sâr and Sary joined the French Communist
Party (CFP). Sâr attended party meetings, including those of its
Cambodian group, and read its magazine, Les Cahiers
Internationaux. The Marxist-Leninist movement was then in a strong
position globally; the
Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China had recently come to
Mao Zedong and the
French Communist Party
French Communist Party was one of the
country's largest political parties, attracting the votes of
around 25% of the French electorate.
Pol Pot came under the influence of Marxist-Leninist
Joseph Stalin and
Mao Zedong through their writings
Sâr found many of Karl Marx's denser texts difficult, later revealing
that he "didn't really understand" them. Instead he became
familiar with the writings of the Soviet Marxist-Leninist leader
Joseph Stalin, including Stalin's The History of the Communist
Party of the
Soviet Union (Bolsheviks). Stalin's approach to
Marxism-Leninism—known as Stalinism—gave Sâr a sense of purpose
in life. Sâr also read Mao's work, especially On New Democracy, a
text outlining a Marxist-Leninist framework for carrying out a
revolution in colonial and semi-colonial, semi-feudal societies.
Alongside these Marxist texts, Sâr read the anarchist Peter
Kropotkin's book on the
French Revolution of 1789, The Great
Revolution. From Kropotkin, he took the idea that an alliance
between intellectuals and the peasantry was necessary for revolution;
that a revolution needed to be carried out to its final conclusion
without compromise for it to succeed; and that egalitarianism was the
basis of a communist society.
In Cambodia, growing internal strife resulted in King Sihanouk
dismissing the government and declaring himself Prime Minister. In
response to Sihanouk's growing power, Saloth wrote the article
"Monarchy or Democracy?"; it was published in student magazine Khmer
Nisut under the pseudonym "Khmer daom" ("Original Khmer"). In this
essay he referred positively toward Buddhism, portraying Buddhist
monks as an anti-monarchist force on the side of the peasantry. At
a meeting, the Cercle decided to send someone back to
assess the situation and determine which rebel group they should
support; Sâr volunteered for the role. His decision to leave may
also pertain to the fact that he had failed his second year exams two
years in a row and had thus lost his scholarship. In December, he
boarded the SS Jamaique, returning to
Cambodia without having
gained any formal degree.
Revolutionary and political activism
Return to Cambodia: 1953–1954
Sihanouk disbanded the Cambodian government and National Assembly
before securing independence from French colonial rule in 1953.
Sâr arrived in
Saigon on 13 January 1953, the same day on which
Sinahouk disbanded the Democrat-controlled National Assembly, began
ruling by decree, and imprisoned Democratic Members of Parliament
without trial. Amid the broader
First Indochina War
First Indochina War in
neighbouring French Indochina,
Cambodia was in a state of civil
war, with civilian massacres and other atrocities being carried
out by all sides. Sâr spent several months at the headquarters of
Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey—the leader of one of these
factions—in Trapeng Kroloeung, before moving to Phnom Pehn,
where he met with fellow Cercle member Ping Say to discuss the
situation. Sâr regarded the most promising resistance group to be
the Khmer Việt Minh, a mixed Vietnamese and Cambodian guerrilla
sub-group of the larger Việt Minh, the Vietnamese anti-imperialist
militia organised by the Marxist-Leninist Ho Chi Minh. Sâr believed
Khmer Việt Minh
Khmer Việt Minh to the broader
Việt Minh and thus the
international Marxist-Leninist movement made it the best group for the
Cercle Marxiste to support. His recommendation was agreed by the
Cercle members in Paris.
In August 1953, Sâr and Rath Samoeun travelled to Krabao, the
headquarters of the
Việt Minh Eastern Zone. Over the following
nine months, around 12 other Cercle members joined them there.
They found that the
Khmer Việt Minh
Khmer Việt Minh was run by—and numerically
dominated by—Vietnamese guerrillas, with Khmer recruits largely
given menial tasks; Sâr was tasked with growing cassava and working
in the canteen. He gained a rudimentary grasp of Vietnamese,
and rose to become secretary and aide to Tou Samouth, the Secretary of
the Khmer Việt Minh's Eastern Zone.
Sihanouk desired independence from French colonial rule, and after the
French government refused his requests, in June 1953 he called for
public resistance to their administration. Khmer troops deserted the
French Army in large numbers and the French government—fearing a
costly and protracted war to retain colonial control—relented.
In October, full military powers were transferred to
Sihanouk and in
November he declared
Cambodia an independent kingdom.
Post-independence, the civil conflict intensified, with France backing
Sihanouk's war against the rebel groups. Following the Geneva
Conference held to end the First
Sihanouk secured an
agreement from the North Vietnamese that they would withdraw Khmer
Việt Minh forces from Cambodian territory. The final Khmer
Việt Minh units left
North Vietnam in October 1954.
Sâr was not among them, deciding to remain in Cambodia; he trekked,
via South Vietnam, to Prey Veng to reach Phnom Penh. He and other
Cambodian Marxist-Leninists now decided to move on from the armed
struggle and pursue their aims through electoral means.
Developing the Communist Party: 1955–1962
The Cambodian Marxist-Leninists established a socialist party,
Pracheachon, to serve as a front organization through which they could
compete in the forthcoming 1955 election while they continued to
operate clandestinely. Although
Pracheachon had strong support in
some areas, most observers expected the Democratic Party to win.
The Marxist-Leninists engaged in entryism to influence Democratic
policy; Vannsak had become deputy party secretary, with Sâr working
as his assistant, perhaps helping to alter the party's platform.
Sihanouk feared a Democratic Party government and in March 1955
abdicated the throne in favour of his father, Norodom Suramarit. This
allowed him to legally establish a political party, the Sangkum Reastr
Niyum, with which to contest the election. The September election
witnessed widespread voter intimidation and electoral fraud, resulting
in Sihanouk's Sangkum winning all 91 seats. Sihanouk's
establishment of a de facto one-party state extinguished hopes that
the Cambodian Left could take power electorally. The North
Vietnamese government nevertheless urged the Cambodian
Marxist-Leninists not to re-start the armed struggle; the former were
focusing on undermining South
Vietnam and had little desire to
destabilise Sihanouk's regime given that it had—conveniently for
them—remained politically un-aligned rather than following the Thai
and South Vietnamese governments in establishing an alliance with the
anti-communist United States.
Using a pseudonym, Sâr rented a house in the Boeng Keng Kang area of
southern Phnom Penh. Although not qualified to teach at a state
school, he gained employment teaching history and French
literature at a private school, the Chamraon Vichea ("Progressive
Knowledge"); his pupils, who included the later novelist Soth
Polin, described him as a good teacher. He courted society belle
Soeung Son Maly, before entering a relationship with fellow
communist revolutionary Khieu Ponnary, who was the sister of Sary's
wife Thirith. They were married in a Buddhist ceremony in July
Sâr remained deeply involved in the Cambodian Left; he oversaw many
of the Marxist-Leninists' underground communications, while all
correspondence between the Democratic Party and the
through him. Sihanaouk had cracked down on the Marxist-Leninist
movement, whose membership had halved since the end of the civil
war. Links with the North Vietnamese Marxist-Leninists declined,
something Sâr later portrayed as a good thing. He and other
members increasingly regarded the Cambodians as being too subordinate
to their Vietnamese counterparts; to deal with this, Sâr, Tou
Nuon Chea drafted a programme and statutes for a new
Marxist-Leninist party that would be allied, although not subordinate,
to the Vietnamese. They established party cells, emphasising the
recruitment of small numbers of dedicated members, and organised
political seminars in safe houses. At a 1959 conference, the
movement's leadership established the Kampuchean Labour Party, based
upon the Marxist-Leninist model of democratic centralism. Sâr, Tou
Nuon Chea were part of a four-man 'General Affair
Committee' leading the party. Its existence was to be kept secret
At the communist party's 1960 conference, held on the premises of a
railway station, Samouth became party secretary and
Nuon Chea his
deputy, while Sâr took the third senior position and
Ieng Sary the
Sihanouk vocally spoke out against the Cambodian
Marxist-Leninists; although he was an ally of China's Marxist-Leninist
government and admitted Marxism-Leninism's capacity to bring swift
economic development and social justice, he also warned of its
totalitarian character and its suppression of personal liberty.
In January 1962, Sihanouk's security services cracked down further on
Cambodia's socialists, incarcerating the leaders of
leaving the party largely moribund. In July, Samouth was
arrested, tortured, and killed.
Nuon Chea had also taken a step
back from his political activities, leaving the way for Sâr to become
party leader. At the party's second conference, held in a central
Phnom Penh apartment, Sâr was elected party secretary and the
organisation was renamed the Kampuchean Workers' Party.
As well as facing leftist opposition, Sihanouk's government also faced
hostility from right-wing opposition centred upon Sihanouk's former
Minister of State, Sam Sary, who was backed by the U.S., Thailand, and
South Vietnam. After the South Vietnamese supported a failed coup
against Sihanouk, relations between the countries deteriorated; in
1956 the U.S. initiated an economic blockade of Cambodia. After
Sihanouk's father died in 1960,
Sihanouk introduced a constitutional
amendment allowing himself to become head of state for life. In
February 1962, anti-government student protests turned into riots, at
Sihanouk dismissed the Sangkum government, called new elections,
and produced a list of 34 left-leaning Cambodians, demanding that they
meet him to establish a new administration. Sâr was on that
list—perhaps because he was known as a leftist teacher rather than
because he was known as a Marxist-Leninist leader—but refused to
meet with Sihanouk. He and
Ieng Sary left
Phnom Penh for a Viet Cong
encampment near Thboung Khmum in the jungle along Cambodia's border
with South Vietnam. According to Chandler, "from this point on he
was a full-time revolutionary".
Plotting Rebellion: 1962–1968
Conditions at the camp were basic and food scarce. As Sihanouk's
government cracked down on the movement in Phnom Penh, growing numbers
of its members fled to join Sar in his jungle base. In early
1964, Sar established his own encampment, Office 100, on the South
Vietnamese side of the border. Although allowing his actions to be
officially separate from the Viet Cong, the latter still wielded
significant control over his camp. At a plenum of the party's
Central Committee, it was agreed that they should re-emphasise their
independence from the Vietnamese Marxist-Leninists and endorse armed
struggle against Sihanouk. The Central Committee met again in
January 1965 to denounce the "peaceful transition" to socialism being
espoused by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, accusing him of being a
revisionist. In contrast to Khrushchev's interpretation of
Marxism-Leninism, Sar and his comrades sought to develop their own,
explicitly Cambodian variant of the ideology. Their
interpretation moved away from the orthodox Marxist focus on the urban
proletariat as the forces of a revolution to build socialism; instead
they gave that role to the rural peasantry, who were a far larger
class in Cambodian society. By 1965, the party regarded
Cambodia's small proletariat as being full of "enemy agents" and
systematically refused them party membership. Its main area of
growth was in the rural provinces, and by 1965 membership was at
The flag of the Communist Party of Kampuchea
In April 1965, Sar travelled—by foot, along the Ho Chi Minh
Hanoi to meet North Vietnamese government figures, among
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan. The North Vietnamese were
preoccupied with the ongoing
Vietnam War and thus did not want Sar's
forces to destabilise Sihanouk's government; the latter's anti-U.S.
stance rendered him a de facto ally. In Hanoi, Sar read through
the archives of the Workers' Party of Vietnam, concluding that the
Vietnamese Marxist-Leninists were committed to pursuing an Indochinese
Federation and that their interests were therefore incompatible with
those of Cambodia. From
Hanoi he flew to Beijing, where his
official host was
Deng Xiaoping although most of his meetings were
with Peng Zhen. Sar gained a sympathetic hearing from many in the
Communist Party of China—especially
Chen Boda and Zhang
Chunqiao—who shared his negative view of Khruschev amid the
After a month in Beijing, Sar flew back to
Hanoi before a four-month
journey along the
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh trail to reach the Cambodian
Marxist-Leninists new base at Loc Ninh. In October 1966 he and
other Cambodian party leaders reached several key decisions. They
decided to rename their organisation the Communist Party of Kampuchea,
a decision initially kept secret. It was agreed that they would
move their headquarters in Ratanakiri Province, away from the Viet
Cong, and that—despite the views of the North Vietnamese—they
would command each of the party's zone committees to prepare for the
re-launch of armed struggle.
North Vietnam refused to assist in
this, rejecting their requests for weaponry. In November 1967 Sar
Tay Ninh to the base 'Office 102' near Kang Lêng.
During the journey he fell ill with malaria and required a respite in
Viet Cong medical base near Mount Ngork. By December, plans for
armed conflict were complete, with the war to begin In the North-West
Zone and then spread to other regions. As communication across
Cambodia was slow, each Zone would have to operate independently much
of the time.
Civil War: 1968–
In January 1968, the war was launched with an attack on the Bay Damran
army post south of Battambang. Further attacks targeted police
and soldiers and seized weaponry. The government responded with
scorched earth policies, aerially bombarding areas where the rebels
were active. Members of the Buddhist hierarchy and other
establishment figures expressed concern about the brutality of
government troops. In some areas, troops were rewarded for each
severed head they procured, resulting in them targeting civilians as
well as rebels; in Phnom Penh, soldiers beheaded two children using
the frons of palm trees because they were accused of being rebel
spies. Such reports of brutality aided the insurgents' cause. As
the uprising spread, over 100,000 villagers joined the rebels. In
Pol Pot relocated his base thirty miles north, to the more
mountainous Naga's Tail, to avoid encroaching government troops.
In this base, called 'K-5', Sar established his growing dominance over
the party; he had his own separate encampment, his own staff and
guards, and no outsider was allowed to meet him without an
escort. He took over from Sary as the Secretary of the North East
Zone. In September, Sihanouk's warm relations with China
deteriorated and he instituted a marked political shift to the right,
improving relations with the U.S.
Pol Pot on a visit to Romanian Marxist-Leninist leader Nicolae
Ceaușescu in 1978
The movement was estimated to consist of no more than 200 regular
members, but the core of the movement was supported by a number of
villages many times that size. While weapons were in short supply, the
insurgency still operated in twelve out of nineteen districts of
Cambodia. In 1969, Sar called a party conference and decided to change
the party's propaganda strategy. Before 1969, opposition to Sihanouk
was the main focus of its propaganda. However, in 1969, the party
decided to shift the focus of its propaganda in order to oppose the
right-wing parties of
Cambodia and their alleged pro-American
attitudes. While the party ceased making anti-
Sihanouk statements in
public, in private the party had not changed its view of him.
The road to power for Sar and the
Khmer Rouge was opened by the events
of January 1970, in Cambodia. While he was out of the country,
Sihanouk ordered the government to stage anti-Vietnamese protests in
the capital. The protests quickly spilled out of control and the
embassies of both North and South
Vietnam were wrecked. Sihanouk, who
had ordered the protests, then denounced them from
Paris and blamed
unnamed individuals in
Cambodia for inciting them. These actions,
along with clandestine operations by Sihanouk's followers in Cambodia,
convinced the government that he should be removed as head of state.
The National Assembly voted to remove
Sihanouk from office and closed
Cambodia's ports to North Vietnamese weapons traffic, demanding that
the North Vietnamese leave Cambodia.
The North Vietnamese reacted to the political changes in
Phạm Văn Đồng
Phạm Văn Đồng to meet
recruit him into an alliance with the Khmer Rouge. Sar was also
contacted by the North Vietnamese, who reversed their position,
offering him whatever resources he wanted for his insurgency against
the Cambodian government. Sar and
Sihanouk were actually in
the same time, but the Vietnamese and Chinese leaders never informed
Sihanouk of the presence of Sar or allowed the two men to meet.
Sihanouk issued an appeal by radio to the people of
Cambodia asking them to rise up against the government and to support
the Khmer Rouge. In May 1970, Sar finally returned to
Cambodia and the
insurgency gained traction.
Earlier, on 29 March 1970, the North Vietnamese had taken matters into
their own hands and launched an offensive against the Cambodian army.
A force of North Vietnamese quickly overran large parts of eastern
Cambodia reaching to within 25 km (15 mi) of Phnom Penh
before being pushed back. In these battles, the
Khmer Rouge and Sar
played a very small role.
In October 1970, Sar issued a resolution in the name of the Central
Committee. The resolution stated the principle of independence-mastery
(aekdreach machaskar), which was a call for
decide its own future independent of the influence of any other
country. The resolution also included statements describing the
betrayal of the Cambodian Socialist movement in the 1950s by the Viet
Minh. This was the first statement of the anti-Vietnamese policy that
would be a major part of the
Pol Pot regime when it took power years
Kaing Guek Eav
Kaing Guek Eav has claimed that US support for the
Lon Nol coup
contributed to the Khmer Rouge's rise to power. However, diplomat
Timothy M. Carney
Timothy M. Carney disagreed, asserting that
Pol Pot won the war due to
support from Sihanouk, massive supplies of military aid from North
Vietnam, government corruption, the cut-off of U.S. air support after
Watergate, and the determination of the Cambodian Socialists.
Throughout 1971, the Vietnamese (North Vietnamese and Viet Cong) did
most of the fighting against the Cambodian government while Sar and
Khmer Rouge functioned almost as auxiliaries to their forces. Sar
took advantage of the situation in order to gather in new recruits and
to train them according to a higher standard than was previously
possible. Sar also put the resources of all
Khmer Rouge organizations
into political education and indoctrination. While accepting anyone
regardless of background into the
Khmer Rouge army at this time, Sar
greatly increased the requirements for membership in the party.
Students and so-called "middle peasants" were now rejected by the
party. Those with clear peasant backgrounds were the preferred
recruits for party membership. These restrictions were ironic in that
most of the senior party leadership including Sar came from student
and middle peasant backgrounds. They also created an intellectual
split between the educated old guard party members and the uneducated
peasant new party members.
In early 1972, Sar toured the insurgent/North Vietnamese controlled
areas in Cambodia. He saw a regular
Khmer Rouge army of 35,000 men
taking shape supported by around 100,000 irregulars.
supplying five million dollars a year in weapons and Sar had organized
an independent revenue source for the party in the form of rubber
plantations in eastern
Cambodia using forced labor.
After a central committee meeting in May 1972, the party under the
direction of Sar began to enforce new levels of discipline and
conformity in areas under their control. Minorities such as the Chams
were forced to conform to Cambodian styles of dress and appearance.
These policies, such as forbidding the Chams from wearing jewelry,
were soon extended to the whole population. A haphazard version of
land reform was undertaken by Sar. Its basis was that all land
holdings should be of uniform size. The party also confiscated all
private means of transportation. The 1972 policies were aimed at
reducing the peoples of the liberated areas to a sort of feudal
peasant equality. These policies were generally favorable at the time
to poor peasants and were extremely unfavorable to refugees from
towns, who had fled to the countryside.
In 1972, the North Vietnamese army's forces began to withdraw from the
fighting against the Cambodian government. Sar issued a new set of
decrees in May 1973 that started the process of reorganizing peasant
villages into cooperatives where property was jointly owned and where
individual possessions were banned.
Control of the countryside
Clothing worn during the Khmer Rouge's period of control
Khmer Rouge advanced during 1973. After they reached the outskirts
of Phnom Penh, Sar issued orders that the city be taken during the
peak of the rainy season. The orders led to futile attacks and wasted
lives within the
Khmer Rouge army. By the middle of 1973, the Khmer
Rouge under Sar controlled almost two-thirds of the country and half
North Vietnam realized that it no longer controlled
the situation and it began to treat Sar as more of an equal leader
than as a junior partner.
In late 1973, Sar made strategic decisions that determined the future
of the war. First, he decided to cut the capital off from contact with
outside sources of supplies, putting the city under siege. Second, he
enforced tight control over people trying to leave the city through
Khmer Rouge lines. He also ordered a series of general purges of
former government officials, and anyone with an education. A set of
new prisons was also constructed in
Khmer Rouge run areas. The Cham
minority attempted an uprising in order to stop the destruction of
their culture. The uprising was quickly crushed: Sar ordered that
harsh physical torture be used against most of those involved in the
revolt. As previously, Sar tested out harsh new policies against the
Cham minority, before extending them to the general population of the
Khmer Rouge also had a policy of evacuating urban areas and
forcibly relocating their residents to the countryside. When the Khmer
Rouge took the town of Kratié in 1971, Sar and other members of the
party were shocked at how fast the "liberated" urban areas shook off
socialism and went back to the old ways. Various ideas were tried in
order to re-create the town in the image of the party, but nothing
worked. In 1973, out of total frustration, Sar decided that the only
solution was to send the entire population of the town to the fields
in the countryside. He wrote at the time "if the result of so many
sacrifices was that the capitalists remain in control, what was the
point of the revolution?". Shortly after, Sar ordered the evacuation
of the 15,000 people of Kompong Cham for the same reasons. The Khmer
Rouge then moved on in 1974 to evacuate the larger city of Oudong.
Internationally, Sar and the
Khmer Rouge gained the recognition of 63
countries as the true government of Cambodia. A move was made at the
UN to give the seat for
Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge; they prevailed by
In September 1974, Sar gathered the central committee of the party
together. As the military campaign was moving toward a conclusion, Sar
decided to move the party toward implementing a socialist
transformation of the country in the form of a series of decisions,
the first being to evacuate the main cities, moving the population to
the countryside. The second dictated that they would cease putting
money into circulation and quickly phase it out. The final decision
was that the party would accept Sar's first major purge. In 1974, Sar
had purged a top party official named Prasith. Prasith was taken out
into a forest and shot without being given any chance to defend
himself. His death was followed by a purge of cadres who, like
Prasith, were ethnically Thai. Sar's explanation was that the class
struggle had become acute, requiring a strong stand against party
Khmer Rouge were positioned for a final offensive against the
government in January 1975. Simultaneously, at a press event in
Sihanouk proudly announced Sar's "death list" of enemies who
were to be killed after victory. The list, which originally contained
seven names, was expanded to 23, and it included the names of all
senior government leaders along with the names of all officials who
were in positions of leadership within the police and military. The
Cambodia also came out into the open.
North Vietnam, as the rival socialist country in Indochina, was
determined to take
Saigon before the
Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh.
In April 1975, the government formed a Supreme National Council with
new leadership, with the aim of negotiating a surrender to the Khmer
Rouge. It was headed by
Sak Sutsakhan who had studied in France with
Sar, and was a cousin of the
Khmer Rouge Deputy Secretary Nuon Chea.
Sar reacted to this by adding the names of everyone involved in the
Supreme National Council onto his post-victory death list. Government
resistance finally collapsed on 17 April 1975.
Leader of Kampuchea
Main articles: Democratic Kampuchea,
Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, and
Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia
The emblem of Democratic Kampuchea
Khmer Rouge victims
Mass grave in Choeung Ek
Khmer Rouge took
Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975. As the leader of the
Communist Party, Saloth Sar became the de-facto leader of the country.
He adopted the title "brother number one" and used the nom de guerre
Philip Short offered an explanation for the origin of Pol
Pot's name, stating that Saloth Sar announced that he was adopting the
name in July 1970. Short suspects that it derives from pol: "the Pols
were royal slaves, an aboriginal people", and that "Pot" was simply a
"euphonic monosyllable" that he liked. This Khmer word pol,
however, is derived from Sanskrit bala ‘army, guard’ and the Khmer
spelling differs from the spelling of Pol Pot's name. The name
has no particular meaning in Khmer.
Cambodia adopted a new constitution on 5 January 1976, officially
changing the country's name to "Democratic Kampuchea". The newly
established Representative Assembly held its first plenary session
from 11 to 13 April, electing a new government with
Pol Pot as prime
minister. His predecessor, Khieu Samphan, became head of state as
President of the State Presidium. Prince
Sihanouk received no role in
the government and was placed in detention. The
Khmer Rouge rėgime
saw agriculture as the key to nation-building and national
defense. Pol Pot's goal for the country was to have 70-80% of the
farm mechanization completed within 5 to 10 years, to build a modern
industrial base on the farm mechanization within 15 to 20 years, and
to become a self-sufficient state. He wanted to take the economy
and make it the primary source of goods for the nation, sever foreign
relationships, and radically reconstruct the society to maximize the
production of agriculture. To avoid foreign domination of
Pol Pot refused to purchase goods from other
Immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh, the
Khmer Rouge began to
implement their concept of Year Zero and ordered the complete
Phnom Penh and all other recently captured major towns
and cities. Those leaving were told that the evacuation was due to the
threat of severe American bombing and that it would last for no more
than a few days. Western media depicted the events as a "death march",
with American sources predicting that the
Khmer Rouge policy of forced
evacuation would result in famine and the mass death of hundreds of
Pol Pot and the
Khmer Rouge had been evacuating captured urban areas
for many years, but the evacuation of
Phnom Penh was unique in its
Pol Pot stated that "...the first step in progress [was]
deliberately designed to exterminate an entire class". The first
operations to evacuate urban areas occurred in 1968, in the Ratanakiri
area and aimed at moving people deeper into
Khmer Rouge territory to
control them more easily. From 1971–1973, the motivation changed.
Pol Pot and the other senior leaders were frustrated that urban
Cambodians retained old capitalist habits of trade and business. When
all other methods had failed, the government adopted the policy of
evacuation to the countryside in order to solve the "problem".
In 1976, Pol Pot's régime reclassified Kampucheans into three
groupings: as full-rights (base) people, as candidates and as
depositees, so called because they included most of the new people who
had been deposited from the cities into the communes. Depositees
were marked for destruction. Their rations were reduced to two bowls
of rice soup or p'baw per day, leading to widespread starvation. "New
people" were allegedly given no place in the elections which took
place on 20 March 1976, despite the fact that the constitution
established universal suffrage for all Cambodians over the age of 18.
Khmer Rouge leadership boasted over the state-controlled radio
that only one or two million people were needed to build the new
agrarian socialist utopia. As for the others, as their proverb put it,
"To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss."
Hundreds of thousands of the new people, and later the depositees,
were taken out in shackles to dig their own mass graves. Then the
Khmer Rouge soldiers buried them alive. A
Khmer Rouge extermination
prison directive ordered "Bullets are not to be wasted." Such mass
graves are often referred to as "the Killing Fields".
Khmer Rouge also classified people based on their religious and
ethnic backgrounds. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge
had a policy of state atheism. All religions were banned, and the
repression of adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism
was extensive. Nearly 25,000 Buddhist monks were massacred by the
regime. The regime dispersed minority groups, forbidding them to
either speak their languages or practise their customs. They
especially targeted Muslims, Christians, Western-educated
intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with
Western countries or Vietnam, disabled people, and ethnic Chinese,
Laotians, and Vietnamese. Some were imprisoned in the S-21 camp for
interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful
to the government. Many others were summarily executed.
According to François Ponchaud's book Cambodia: Year Zero: "Ever
since 1972, the guerrilla fighters had been sending all the
inhabitants of the villages and towns they occupied into the forest to
live and often burning their homes, so that they would have nothing to
come back to." The
Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed food sources
that could not be easily subjected to centralized storage and control,
cut down fruit trees, forbade fishing, outlawed the planting or
harvesting of mountain leap rice, abolished medicine and hospitals,
forced people to march long distances without access to water,
exported food, and refused offers of humanitarian aid. As a result, a
humanitarian catastrophe unfolded: hundreds of thousands died of
starvation and brutal government-inflicted overwork in the
countryside. To the Khmer Rouge, outside aid went against their
principle of national self-reliance. According to Solomon Bashi, the
Khmer Rouge exported 150,000 tons of rice in 1976 alone. In addition:
Coop chiefs often reported better yields to their supervisors than
they had actually achieved. The coop was then taxed on the rice it
reportedly produced. Rice was taken out of the people's mouths and
given to the Center to make up for these inflated numbers ...
'There were piles of rice as big as a house, but they took it away in
trucks. We raised chickens and ducks and vegetables and fruit, but
they took them all. You'd be killed if you tried to take anything for
According to Henri Locard, "the reputation of KR leaders for Spartan
austerity is somewhat overdone. After all, they had the entire
property of all expelled town dwellers at their full disposal, and
they never suffered from malnutrition."
Property was collectivized, and education was dispensed at communal
schools. Children were raised on a communal basis. Even meals were
prepared and eaten communally. Pol Pot's regime was extremely
Political dissent and opposition was not permitted. People
were treated as opponents based on their appearance or background.
Torture was widespread, thousands of politicians and bureaucrats
accused of association with previous governments were executed. The
Phnom Penh into a ghost city, while people in the
countryside died of starvation or illnesses, or were simply killed.
Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge
era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll
at between 740,000 and 3,000,000 - most commonly arriving at figures
between 1.7 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of
those deaths being due to executions, and the rest being attributable
to starvation and disease. Demographic analysis by Patrick
Heuveline suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were
killed. Demographer Marek Sliwinski concluded that at least
1.8 million were killed from 1975 to 1979 on the basis of the
total population decline. Researcher Craig Etcheson of the
Documentation Center of
Cambodia suggests a death toll of between 2
and 2.5 million, with a "most likely" figure of 2.2 million. After
five years of researching some 20,000 grave sites, he concludes that
"these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of
execution". A U.N. investigation reported 2–3 million
dead, while UNICEF estimated that 3 million had been killed. The
Khmer Rouge themselves stated that 2 million had been killed—though
they attributed those deaths to a subsequent Vietnamese invasion.
By late 1979, U.N. and Red Cross officials were warning that another
2.25 million Cambodians could die of starvation due to "the near
destruction of Cambodian society under the regime of ousted Prime
Minister Pol Pot", most of whom were saved by international aid
after the Vietnamese invasion. An additional 300,000 Cambodians
starved to death between 1979 and 1980, largely as a result of the
Khmer Rouge policies.
Pol Pot aligned the country diplomatically with the People's Republic
China and adopted an anti-Soviet line. This alignment was more
political and practical than it was ideological.
Vietnam was aligned
with the Soviet Union, so
Cambodia aligned itself with the Asian rival
Soviet Union and
China had supplied the Khmer Rouge
with weapons for years before they took power).
In December 1976
Pol Pot issued directives to the senior Khmer Rouge
leadership to the effect that
Vietnam was now an enemy. Defenses along
the border were strengthened and unreliable deportees were moved
deeper into Cambodia. Pol Pot's actions came in response to the
Vietnamese Communist Party's fourth Congress (14 to 20 December 1976),
which approved a resolution describing Vietnam's special relationship
Laos and Cambodia. It also talked of how
Vietnam would forever be
associated with the building and defense of the other two countries.
Unlike many communist leaders,
Pol Pot never became the object of a
personality cult. Even when he was in power, the CPK maintained the
secrecy it had kept up during its years in the battlefield. For over
two years after taking power, the party only referred to itself as
"Angkar" ("the Organization"). It was not until a speech on 15 April
Pol Pot revealed the CPK's existence. At that time
international observers confirmed the identification of "Pol Pot" as
Conflict with Vietnam
Main article: Cambodian–Vietnamese War
Pol Pot in the Tuol Sleng
In May 1975, a squad of
Khmer Rouge soldiers raided and took the
island of Phú Quốc. By 1977, relations with
Vietnam began to fall
apart. There were small border clashes in January.
Pol Pot tried to
prevent border disputes by sending a team to Vietnam. The negotiations
failed, which caused even more border disputes. On 30 April, the
Cambodian army, backed by artillery, crossed over into Vietnam. In
attempting to explain Pol Pot's behavior, one region-watcher[specify]
Cambodia was attempting to intimidate Vietnam, by
irrational acts, into respecting or at least fearing
Cambodia to the
point they would leave the country alone. However, these actions only
served to goad the
Vietnamese people and government against the Khmer
In May 1976,
Vietnam sent its air force into
Cambodia in a series of
raids. In July,
Vietnam forced a Treaty of Friendship on
Vietnam almost total control over the country. In Cambodia, Khmer
Rouge commanders in the Eastern Zone began to tell their men that war
Vietnam was inevitable and that once the war started their goal
would be to recover parts of
Vietnam (Khmer Krom) that were once part
of Cambodia, whose people, they alleged, were struggling for
independence from Vietnam. Whether these statements were the official
Pol Pot has never been confirmed.
In September 1977,
Cambodia launched division-scale raids over the
border, which once again left a trail of murder and destruction in
villages. The Vietnamese claimed that around 1,000 people had been
killed or injured. Three days after the raid,
Pol Pot officially
announced the existence of the formerly secret Communist Party of
Kampuchea (CPK) and finally announced to the world that the country
was a Communist state. In December, after having exhausted all other
Vietnam sent 50,000 troops into
Cambodia in what amounted to
a short raid. The raid was meant to be secret. The Vietnamese withdrew
after declaring that they had achieved their goals, and the invasion
was just a warning. Upon being threatened, the Vietnamese army
promised to return with support from the Soviet Union. Pol Pot's
actions made the operation much more visible than the Vietnamese had
intended and they created a situation in which
Vietnam appeared to be
After making one final attempt to negotiate a settlement with
Vietnam decided that it had to prepare for a full-scale war.
Vietnam also tried to pressure
Cambodia through China. However,
China's refusal to pressure
Cambodia and the flow of weapons from
Cambodia were both signs that
China also intended to act
When Cambodian socialists rebelled in the eastern zone in May 1978,
Pol Pot's armies could not crush them quickly. On 10 May, his radio
broadcast a call not only to "exterminate the 50 million
Vietnamese" but also to "purify the masses of the people" of Cambodia.
Of 1.5 million easterners, branded as "Khmer bodies with
Vietnamese minds", at least 100,000 were exterminated in six months.
Later that year, in response to threats to its borders and the
Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer
Vietnam justified on the basis of self-defense.
Nicolae Ceaușescu with
Pol Pot (1978)
The Cambodian army was defeated, the regime was toppled and Pol Pot
fled to the Thai border area. In January 1979,
Vietnam installed a new
Khmer Rouge defector Heng Samrin, composed of Khmer
Rouge who had fled to
Vietnam to avoid the purges.
Pol Pot eventually
regrouped with his core supporters in the Thai border area where he
received shelter and assistance. At different times during this
period, he was located on both sides of the border. The military
Thailand used the
Khmer Rouge as a buffer force to keep
the Vietnamese away from the border. The Thai military also made money
from the shipments of weapons from
China to the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot rebuilt a small military force in the west of the
country with the help of the People's Republic of China. The
Sino-Vietnamese War began around this time.
The People's Republic of
China was the main international supporter of
Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot. The Chinese provided financial
and military support to the party even after its overthrow in
1979. The UN also recognized the Coalition Government of
Democratic Kampuchea, which included the Khmer Rouge, instead of the
People's Republic of Kampuchea.
Pol Pot lived in the
Phnom Malai area, giving interviews in the early
1980s and accusing all of those who opposed him of being traitors and
"puppets" of the Vietnamese until he disappeared from public view. In
1985, his "retirement" was announced, but he retained his influence
over the party. A cadre interviewed during this period described
Pol Pot's views on the death toll under his government:
He said that he knows that many people in the country hate him and
think he's responsible for the killings. He said that he knows many
people died. When he said this he nearly broke down and cried. He said
he must accept responsibility because the line was too far to the
left, and because he didn't keep proper track of what was going on. He
said he was like the master in a house he didn't know what the kids
were up to, and that he trusted people too much. For example, he
allowed [one person] to take care of central committee business for
him, [another person] to take care of intellectuals, and [a third
person] to take care of political education.... These were the people
to whom he felt very close, and he trusted them completely. Then in
the end ... they made a mess of everything ... They would tell
him things that were not true, that everything was fine, that this
person or that was a traitor. In the end they were the real traitors.
The major problem had been cadres formed by the Vietnamese.
In December 1985, the Vietnamese launched a major offensive and
overran most of the
Khmer Rouge and other insurgent positions. The
Khmer Rouge headquarters at
Phnom Malai and its base near
completely destroyed; the Vietnamese attackers suffered substantial
losses during the attack.
Pol Pot fled to
Thailand where he lived for the next six years. His
headquarters was a plantation villa near Trat.
Pol Pot officially resigned from the party in 1985 citing asthma as a
contributing factor, but he continued to be the de facto leader of the
Khmer Rouge and he also remained a dominant force within the
anti-Vietnamese alliance. He handed day-to-day power to Son Sen, his
In 1986, his new wife Mea Son gave birth to a daughter, Sitha, (now
Sar Patchata, wed in 2014), named after the heroine of the Khmer
religious epic, the Reamker. Shortly afterwards,
Pol Pot moved to
China for medical treatment for cancer. He remained there until 1988.
Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. The
Khmer Rouge established a
new stronghold in the west near the Thai border and
Pol Pot relocated
Cambodia from Thailand.
Pol Pot refused to cooperate with
the peace process, and he continued to fight against the new coalition
Khmer Rouge kept the government forces at bay until
1996, when troops started deserting. Several important Khmer Rouge
leaders also defected. The government followed a policy of making
Khmer Rouge individuals and groups, after negotiations with
the organization as a whole failed. In 1995,
Pol Pot experienced a
stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.
Pol Pot ordered the execution of his lifelong right-hand man Son Sen
on 10 June 1997 for attempting to make a settlement with the
government. Eleven members of his family were also killed, although
Pol Pot later denied that he had ordered this. He then fled his
northern stronghold, but was later arrested by
Khmer Rouge military
Ta Mok on 19 June 1997.
Pol Pot had not been seen in public
since 1980, two years after his overthrow at the hands of an invading
Vietnamese army. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Phnom Penh
court soon afterwards. In July, he was subjected to a show trial
for the death of
Son Sen and sentenced to lifelong house arrest.
Pol Pot in the
Anlong Veng District
Anlong Veng District of Oddar Meanchey
On the night of 15 April 1998, two days before the 23rd anniversary of
Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh, the Voice of America, of which
Pol Pot was a devoted listener, announced that the
Khmer Rouge had
agreed to turn him over to an international tribunal. According to his
wife, he died in his bed later that night while waiting to be moved to
Ta Mok claimed that his death was due to heart
Ta Mok later described the way he died: "He was sitting in his chair
waiting for the car to come. But he felt tired. His wife asked him to
take a rest. He laid down on his bed. His wife heard a gasp of air. It
was the sound of dying. When she touched him he had already died. It
was at 10:15 last night."
Despite government requests to inspect the body, it was cremated at
Anlong Veng in the
Khmer Rouge zone a few days later, raising
suspicions that he had committed suicide by taking an overdose of the
medication which he had been prescribed. Journalist Nate
Thayer, who was present, held the view that
Pol Pot killed himself
when he became aware of Ta Mok's plan to hand him over to America.
He concluded that "
Pol Pot died of a lethal dose of a combination of
Valium and chloroquine." Ta Mok's assertion that "no one poisoned
him" encouraged speculation that this was exactly what had happened.
Thus some sources state that he was murdered by his own
Pol Pot was influenced by Marxism and desired an entirely self
sufficient agrarian society free from all foreign influence.
Stalin's work has been described as a "crucial formative influence" on
Pol Pot's thought. Also heavily influential was the work of Mao
Zedong, particularly his On New Democracy. In the mid-1960s, Pol
Pot reformulated his ideas about
Marxism-Leninism to better suit the
In rejecting the revolutionary role of the proletariat, Pol Pot
emphasised the idea of a revolutionary alliance between the peasantry
and the intellectuals, an idea that Short linked to his reading of
Kropotkin while in Paris. He devised the idea that peasants could
still develop a "proletarian consciousness" and that it was this
approach which connected him with orthodox Marxist thought. Short
thought that "the grammar of
Theravada Buddhism permeated" Cambodian
Marxist thought much as
Confucianism had influenced the development of
Maoism in China.
Pol Pot was an extreme nativist and xenophobe who sought to remove all
ethnic and religious minorities from Kampuchea. In
addition, native religions were banned as part of the attempt to
eliminate religion from the country.
Personal life and characteristics
Pol Pot in Sundsvall, Sweden
He had a thirst for power.
Pol Pot was introspective, and
highly reclusive. Short stated that he "delighted in appearing to
be what he was not – a nameless face in the crowd". During
his political career he used a wide array of pseudonyms: Pouk, Hay,
Pol, 87, Grand-Uncle, Elder Brother, First Brother, and in later years
99 and Phem. He told a secretary: "the more often you change your
name the better. It confuses the enemy." In later life he
concealed and falsified many details of his life.
He displayed what Chandler called a "genteel charisma", with many
observers commenting on his distinctive smile. As a child, his
brother characterised him as having been sweet tempered and equable,
while fellow school pupils recalled
Pol Pot as having been mediocre
but pleasant. As a teacher, he was characterised by his pupils as
having been calm, honest, and persuasive, having an "evident good
nature and attractive personality". According to Short, Pol Pot's
varied and eclectic upbringing meant that he was "able to communicate
naturally with people of all sorts and conditions, establishing an
instinctive rapport that invariably made them want to like him".
He had a nationalistic attitude and displayed little interest in
events outside Cambodia.
During his childhood he developed a love of music and romantic French
poetry, with the work of
Paul Verlaine being among his favourites.
Long live the 17th anniversary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea
(speech), New York: Group of Kampuchean Residents in America, 1977
Speech made by comrade Pol Pot, Secretary of the Central Committee of
Communist Party of Kampuchea
Communist Party of Kampuchea "At the banquet given in honour of
the delegation of the Communist party of
China and the government of
the People's Republic of China. Phnom Penh, November 5, 1978." [Phnom
Penh]: Dept. of Press and Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Democratic Kampuchea, 1978
Interview to the representatives of the Hong Kong's newspapers Wen wei
po and Ta kun pao, Phnom Penh, September 21, 1978 [Phnom Penh]: Dept.
of Press and Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Democratic
Interview of Comrade Pol Pot, Secretary of the Central Committee of
the Communist Party of Kampuchea, Prime Minister of the Government of
Democratic Kampuchea to the delegation of Yugoslav journalists in
visit to Democratic Kampuchea, March 17, 1978 [Phnom Penh]: Dept. of
Press and Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Democratic
Talks with the delegation of the Sweden-Kampuchea Friendship
Association [August 1978] [Phnom Penh]: Dept. of Press and
Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Democratic Kampuchea, 1978
Let us continue to firmly hold aloft the banner of the victory of the
Communist Party of Kampuchea
Communist Party of Kampuchea in order to defend Democratic
Kampuchea, carry on socialist revolution and build up socialism:
speech made by Comrade
Pol Pot on the occasion of the 18th anniversary
of the founding of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, Phnom Penh,
September 27, 1978 [Phnom Penh]: Dept. of Press and Information,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Democratic Kampuchea, 1978
Talks with the delegation of the Association Belgium-Kampuchea, Phnom
Penh, August 5, 1978 [Phnom Penh]: Dept. of Press and Information,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Democratic Kampuchea, 1978
Cambodian Civil War
Enemies of the People (film)
Vietnam War – Second
^ a b "BBC – History – Historic Figures:
Pol Pot (1925–1998)".
BBC. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
^ a b Chandler, David (23 August 1999). "Pol Pot". Time Magazine.
Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved 4 February
^ "Pol Pot's daughter weds". The
Phnom Penh Post. 17 March 2014.
Retrieved 29 June 2014.
^ "Red Khmer," from the French rouge "red" (longtime symbol of
socialism) and Khmer, the term for ethnic Cambodians.
^ Heuveline, Patrick (1998), "Between One and Three Million": Towards
the Demographic Reconstruction of a Decade of Cambodian History
(1970-79), Population Studies, Vol. 52, Number 1: 49-65.
^ a b Locard, Henri, State Violence in Democratic Kampuchea
(1975-1979) and Retribution (1979-2004), European Review of History,
Vol. 12, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 121–143.
^ a b Heuveline, Patrick (2001). "The Demographic Analysis of
Mortality in Cambodia." In Forced Migration and Mortality, eds. Holly
E. Reed and Charles B. Keely. Washington, D.C.: National Academy
^ Banister, Judith, and Paige Johnson (1993). "After the Nightmare:
The Population of Cambodia." In
Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia:
The Khmer Rouge, the United Nations and the International Community,
ed. Ben Kiernan. New Haven, Conn.:
Yale University Southeast Asia
^ Chandler 1992, p. 7; Short 2004, p. 15.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 18.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 15.
^ a b c Chandler 1992, p. 7.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 8; Short 2004, p. 15, 18.
^ a b c Chandler 1992, p. 8.
^ Short 2004, p. 16.
^ Short 2004, p. 20.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 14.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 8; Short 2004, pp. 16–17.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 9; Short 2004, p. 20.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 9; Short 2004, p. 21.
^ Short 2004, p. 23.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 17; Short 2004, p. 23.
^ a b c Chandler 1992, p. 17.
^ Short 2004, p. 28.
^ Short 2004, p. 27.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 17; Short 2004, pp. 28–29.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 18; Short 2004, p. 28.
^ a b c Chandler 1992, p. 22.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 19; Short 2004, p. 31.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 20; Short 2004, p. 31.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 19.
^ Short 2004, pp. 32–33.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 21.
^ Short 2004, p. 36.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 21; Short 2004, p. 42.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 21; Short 2004, pp. 42–43.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 42.
^ Short 2004, pp. 42–43.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 31.
^ Short 2004, p. 34.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 21; Short 2004, p. 37.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 23, 24; Short 2004, p. 37.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 23, 24.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 24.
^ Short 2004, pp. 40–42.
^ Short 2004, p. 43.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 25, 27; Short 2004, p. 45.
^ a b c Short 2004, p. 49.
^ a b Chandler 1992, p. 28.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 51.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 30; Short 2004, p. 50.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 30.
^ a b Chandler 1992, p. 34.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 28–29.
^ Short 2004, pp. 52, 59.
^ a b c Short 2004, p. 63.
^ Short 2004, p. 64.
^ Short 2004, p. 68.
^ Short 2004, p. 62.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 22, 28; Short 2004, p. 66.
^ a b c Short 2004, p. 66.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 27.
^ Short 2004, p. 69.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 34; Short 2004, p. 67.
^ Short 2004, p. 65.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 70.
^ Short 2004, p. 72.
^ Short 2004, p. 74.
^ Short 2004, pp. 76–77.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 39; Short 2004, p. 79.
^ Short 2004, p. 80.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 83.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 28; Short 2004, p. 65, 82.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 42; Short 2004, p. 82.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 28, 42.
^ Short 2004, pp. 85–86.
^ Short 2004, pp. 88–89.
^ Short 2004, p. 87.
^ Short 2004, p. 89.
^ Short 2004, pp. 89–90.
^ Short 2004, p. 90.
^ Short 2004, pp. 90, 95.
^ Short 2004, p. 96.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 44; Short 2004, p. 96.
^ Short 2004, p. 100.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 45; Short 2004, p. 100.
^ Short 2004, pp. 92–95.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 44–45; Short 2004, p. 95.
^ Short 2004, p. 101.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 45–46; Short 2004, pp. 103–104.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 46; Short 2004, p. 104.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 46; Short 2004, pp. 104–105.
^ Short 2004, p. 105.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 48.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 46, 48; Short 2004, p. 106.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 47–48; Short 2004, pp. 107–108.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 49; Short 2004, pp. 109–110.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 49, 51; Short 2004, pp. 110–112.
^ Short 2004, pp. 112–113.
^ Short 2004, pp. 113–114.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 47; Short 2004, p. 116.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 54.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 52; Short 2004, p. 120.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 54; Short 2004, pp. 120.
^ Short 2004, pp. 116–117.
^ Short 2004, p. 117.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 52; Short 2004, p. 118.
^ Short 2004, p. 116.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 120.
^ Short 2004, p. 121.
^ Short 2004, pp. 121–122.
^ Short 2004, p. 122.
^ Short 2004, pp. 135–136.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 62.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 61–62; Short 2004, p. 138.
^ Short 2004, pp. 139–140.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 63; Short 2004, p. 140.
^ Chandler 1992, pp. 63–64; Short 2004, p. 141.
^ Short 2004, p. 141.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 66; Short 2004, pp. 141–142.
^ Short 2004, pp. 124–125.
^ Short 2004, p. 127.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 60; Short 2004, pp. 131–32.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 66; Short 2004, pp. 142–143.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 67; Short 2004, p. 144.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 67.
^ Short 2004, p. 145.
^ a b c Short 2004, p. 146.
^ Short 2004, p. 147.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 148.
^ Short 2004, pp. 148–149.
^ Short 2004, p. 149.
^ Short 2004, p. 152.
^ Short 2004, pp. 156–157.
^ Short 2004, p. 157.
^ Short 2004, pp. 158–159.
^ Short 2004, p. 159.
^ Short 2004, pp. 159–160.
^ Short 2004, p. 161.
^ Short 2004, pp. 161–162.
^ Short 2004, p. 162.
^ Short 2004, p. 170.
^ Short 2004, p. 172.
^ Short 2004, p. 173.
^ a b c d Short 2004, p. 174.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 175.
^ a b c Short 2004, p. 176.
^ Short 2004, p. 177.
^ Short 2004, pp. 180–182.
^ Hinton, Alexander Laban (2005). Why Did They Kill:
Cambodia in the
Shadow of Genocide. University of California Press. p. 382.
^ Lahneman, William J. (2004). Military Intervention: Cases in Context
for the Twenty-First Century. Rowman & Littlefield.
^ Whatley, Stuart (6 April 2009). "
Khmer Rouge Defendent [sic]: US
Policies Enabled Cambodian Genocide". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 5
^ Jose, Alice (10 November 1993). "Continuity and change in India's
Cambodia policy" (PDF). Shodhganga. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
^ See Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, p. 212.
^ Ferlus, Michel (2011). "Toward Proto Pearic: problems and historical
implications". Mon-Khmer Studies (
Special Issue No. 2): 38–51.
Retrieved 12 November 2017.
^ Mydans, Seth (17 April 1998). "DEATH OF POL POT; Pol Pot, Brutal
Dictator Who Forced Cambodians to Killing Fields, Dies at 73". The New
York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
^ a b Short 2005, p. 288
^ Short 2005, p. 290
^ Short 2005, p. 289
^ Anderson, Jack; Whitten, Les (1975-06-04). "
Genocide in Cambodia?".
The Washington Post. In CIA jargon, the agency has "no assets" left in
Cambodia. The analysts can only make agonizing guesses about what has
happened to the three million men, women, and children. For many, the
forced evacuation must have been a death march. The aged and the
ailing probably didn't survive the trek. Patients were even cleared
out of the hospitals and herded into the hinterland with the
rest ... There also aren't enough food stocks in the
backwoods ... Analysts believe that hundreds of thousands will
die of starvation. One shocking estimate is that at least a million
people will perish. It appears that the Khmer Rouge, as all Cambodian
communists call themselves, may be guilty of genocide against their
own people ... There also have been reports, including some
intercepted messages, that the communists are executing the entire
families of former military officers and high civilian
^ Anderson, Jack (1975-06-23). "UN Ignores Death March in Cambodia".
The Washington Post. This must go down in history as the greatest
atrocity since the Nazis herded Jews into the gas chambers.
^ Quoted in Short 2005, p. 288
^ Jackson, Karl D. (2014). "The Ideology of Total Revolution". In
Jackson, Karl D. Cambodia, 1975-1978: Rendezvous with Death. Princeton
University Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781400851706. Retrieved
2015-04-17. [...] the population of
Democratic Kampuchea was divided
into three categories, based on their class backgrounds and their
political pasts: individuals with full rights (penh sith), those who
were candidates for full rights (triem), and those who had no rights
whatsoever (bannheu). [...] The lowest category, the bannheu or
depositees, had no rights whatsoever, not even the right to food.
These were former landowners, army officers, bureaucrats, teachers,
merchants, and urban residents [...].
^ Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields, Worms from Our Skin. Teeda
Butt Mam. Memoirs compiled by Dith Pran. 1997, Yale University.
ISBN 978-0-300-07873-2. Excerpts available from Google Books.
^ Wessinger, Catherine (2000). Millennialism, Persecution, and
Violence: Historical Cases. Syracuse University Press. p. 282.
Democratic Kampuchea was officially an
atheist state, and the persecution of religion by the
Khmer Rouge was
matched in severity only by the persecution of religion in the
communist states of Albania and North Korea, so there were not any
direct historical continuities of
Buddhism into the Democratic
^ Juergensmeyer, Mark. The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions. Oxford
University Press. p. 495. access-date= requires url=
^ Quinn-Judge, Westad, Odd Arne, Sophie. The Third
Conflict Between China,
Vietnam and Cambodia, 1972-79. Routledge.
p. 189. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Philip Shenon,
Phnom Penh Journal; Lord Buddha Returns, With Artists
New York Times
New York Times - January 2, 1992
^ Ben Kiernan. "The Cambodian Genocide, 1975-1979,
ethnic groups" (PDF). NIOD, instituut voor oorlogs-, holocaust- en
genocidestudiesy. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
^ "Literacy and Education under the Khmer Rouge". The Cambodian
Genocide Program, Yale University. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
^ Solomon Bashi (2010), "Prosecuting
Starvation at the Extraordinary
Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia," ExpressO.
^ a b Bruce Sharp (2008) Counting Hell, discusses the various
^ Marek Sliwinski, Le Génocide Khmer Rouge: Une Analyse
Démographique (L'Harmattan, 1995), pp. 41–48, 57.
^ Documentation Center of
Cambodia Archived July 28, 2011, at the
^ William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and
Modern Conscience (Touchstone, 1985), pp. 115–116.
^ Khieu Samphan, Interview, Time, 10 March 1980.
^ Hersh, Seymour M. (1979-08-08). "2.25 million Cambodians Facing
Starvation". The New York Times. U.N. and Red Cross officials said
here and in
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh city this week that 2.25 million Cambodians
were facing imminent starvation ... "I have seen quite a few
ravaged countries in my career, but nothing like this," one official
said ... Cambodia's social welfare apparatus has been left in
shambles, the relief officials said, citing the demolition of
hospitals, schools, water supply facilities and sanitary
systems ... Intellectuals were systematically purged ... Of
more than 500 doctors known to have been practising medicine in
Cambodia before the defeat of the
Lon Nol regime by the communist
forces...only 40 have been found ... Every home had been
systematically ransacked ... All signs of modern
civilization—typewriters, radios, television sets, phonographs,
books—were destroyed ... A Roman Catholic cathedral in the
center of Phonm Penh had been razed ... The former regime was
scrupulously methodical in its destruction of hospitals ...
Cambodia's fall harvest [is] expected to yield almost nothing.
^ William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and
Modern Conscience (Touchstone, 1985), discusses at length the
international famine relief effort.
^ Heuveline, Patrick (2001). "The Demographic Analysis of Mortality
Crises: The Case of
Cambodia 1970-1979". Forced Migration and
Mortality. National Academies Press. p. 124.
^ Kiernan, Ben (April 1993). "The Original Cambodian". 242. New
Internationalist. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
^ Carvin, Andy "KR Years: The fall of the Khmer Rouge"
^ "Kelvin Rowley, ''Second Life, Second Death: The
Khmer Rouge After
1978''" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2016.
Retrieved 8 August 2014.
^ Quoted in David P. Chandler, Brother Number One: A Political
Biography of Pol Pot, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 2000.
^ "R. R. Ross, ''Current Indochinese Issues''" (PDF). Retrieved
^ Short 2005, p. 423
^ "Pol Pots
Khmer Rouge denounces him". CNN. 17 June 1997. Archived
from the original on 18 September 2011.
^ Nate Thayer, "Dying Breath The inside story of Pol Pot's last days
and the disintegration of the movement he created," Far Eastern
Economic Review, April 30, 1998 Archived February 19, 2009, at the
^ Nate Thayer. "Dying Breath" Far Eastern Economic Review. 30 April
^ David P. Chandler, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol
Pot, Westview Press, Boulder, CO., 1999, p.186.
^ Footage on
YouTube of the body of Pol Pot.
^ Gittings, John; Tran, Mark (1999-01-21). "
Pol Pot 'killed himself
with drugs'". Guardian. Retrieved 2014-08-08.
^ Chan, Sucheng (2004). Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United
States. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252071799.
^ Teresa Poole, "
Pol Pot `suicide' to avoid US trial", The
Independent, London, 21 January 1999.
^ Craig A. Lockard, Southeast Asia in World History, Oxford University
Press, New York, 2009, p.195.
^ Taylor, Adam (2014-08-07). "Why the world should not forget Khmer
Rouge and the killing fields of Cambodia". Washington Post.
ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
^ Short 2004, p. 67.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 150.
^ Short 2004, pp. 149–150.
^ Vollmann, William T. (2005-02-27). "'Pol Pot': The Killer's Smile".
The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
^ "GENOCIDE - CAMBODIA". www.ppu.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
^ "The Survival of Cambodia's Ethnic Minorities". Retrieved
Pol Pot - Facts & Summary - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com.
Khmer Rouge Ideology Holocaust Memorial Day Trust". hmd.org.uk.
^ Chandler 1992, p. 3.
^ a b Chandler 1992, p. 6.
^ Short 2004, p. 6.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 5.
^ a b c Chandler 1992, p. 5.
^ a b Short 2004, p. 44.
Chandler, David P. (1992). Brother Number One: A Political Biography
of Pol Pot. Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press.
Short, Philip (2004). Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare. London:
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Denise Affonço, To The End Of Hell: One Woman's Struggle to Survive
Cambodia's Khmer Rouge.
David P. Chandler, Ben Kiernan & Chanthou Boua:
Pol Pot plans the
future: Confidential leadership documents from Democratic Kampuchea,
1976–1977. New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1988.
Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan. Clayton, Victoria: Centre of
Southeast Asian Studies, 1991.
Ben Kiernan, "Social Cohesion in Revolutionary Cambodia", Australian
Outlook, December 1976.
Ben Kiernan, "
Vietnam and the Governments and People of Kampuchea",
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Ben Kiernan, The
Pol Pot regime: Race, power and genocide in Cambodia
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Ben Kiernan, How
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communism, 1930–1975. New Haven, Conn.:
Yale University Press, 2004.
Henri Locard, "State Violence in
Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979)
and Retribution (1979–2004)", European Review of History—Revue
européenne d'Histoire, vol. 12, no. 1 (March 2005),
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Piergiorgio Pescali, Indocina. Bologna: Emil, 2010.
Piergiorgio Pescali, S-21 Nella prigione di Pol Pot. Milan: La Ponga
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