On 7 Jan 1979, invading Vietnamese troops seized Phnom Penh and sent the Khmer Rouge fleeing to remote jungles. Thirty years on, the country is still wrestling with its Khmer Rouge legacy while being courted by economic superpowers, such as India and China, for its oil potential and trade possibilities.
The Khmer Rouge forced the population out of cities as it tried to establish an agrarian state, killing an estimated 1.7 million people through starvation, disease or execution. Its leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 without being brought to trial. In 2008 five aging former Khmer Rouge leaders are in prison awaiting trial before an unusual hybrid tribunal, administered jointly by the United Nations and the Cambodian government. The approach of the 30th anniversary could be the needed prompt for the trial to begin.
Cambodia recently granted China the permission to develop offshore oilfields in exchange for a US $600 million credit for bridges near the capital Phnom Penh. For India, Cambodia serves as an important element of its “Look East Policy.”
An International Herald Tribune story notes that two-thirds of Cambodia's 12 million citizens were born after the Pol Pot era, so most young Cambodians know little or nothing about the horrors their parents and grandparents experienced. The IHT said that in a 79-page textbook on Cambodian history published for ninth-graders by the Ministry of Education in 2000, the Khmer Rouge era rates two sentences. It has been excised from a later edition.
The overthrow began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off almost 13 years of civil war. The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. Nonetheless, UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Jun/08
ARTICLE SUPPLIED BY CORRESPONDENT C.BALAJI, WHO IS AVAILABLE FOR FREELANCE ASSIGNMENTS IN INDIA AND THE REGION. email: mohan balaji
Khmer Rouge victims given a voice in Cambodia trials (IHT 16 Jun 2008)
Chronicle of Choice ( PBS Frontline Oct 2002)
1979: Vietnam forces Khmer Rouge retreat (BBC)