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Editor’s note: This past April, Dispatches magazine correspondent
Anthony C. LoBaido journeyed to
Cambodia to provide readers a first-hand account of the Killing Fields.
Anthony’s story in the June issue of Dispatches probes into the dark
mind of Pol Pot’s utopian nightmare and its haunting legacy a quarter
century later. LoBaido has worked as a journalist in Korea, Australia,
Southern Africa and Indochina Here’s a preview of what subscribers to
the monthly magazine will find.
Few countries are faced with the daunting task of reconciling a
recent genocide. Yet Cambodia is a nation caught in a time warp, unable
to deal with a dark past which rivals the horrors of Ghengis Khan and
Nazi Germany. As we approach the millennium, Cambodians are still
reeling from a recent history in which they leapfrogged between their
French colonial past, the Japanese occupation of World War II, the
Vietnam War, Khmer Rouge Killing Fields and the New World Order Monopoly
Between 1975 and 1979, the infamous Pol Pot — the former
hypochondriac carpentry student who cast a “hypnotic effect on all who
heard him speak” — unleashed the single most radical restructuring of a
society in human history. Pol Pot’s Maoist utopian nightmare began with
the emptying of Phnom Penh’s entire population in only seven days time.
Pol Pot eliminated money, the Post Office, the exchange of information,
leisure time, fashion, books, libraries, Buddhist Temples, universities
The evacuees of Cambodia’s major cities and towns were renamed “New
People,” of “The Year Zero,” and moved to the rural areas of the
country. They included the cultural, scientific, political, spiritual
and intellectual elite of Cambodian society. Foreigners, people who
spoke foreign languages or wore eyeglasses were deemed “parasites” and
systematically put to death in the most medieval way imaginable at the
S-21 Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. Over 2
million Cambodians perished in the Khmer Rouge Holocaust — almost a
quarter of the country’s population.
In 1979, the Vietnamese communists, who had defeated the French,
American and Chinese invasions of their country, stormed into Phnom Penh
and overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. In response, the Khmer Rouge fled
eastward. In a bizarre and little known fact of recent history, Pol
Pot’s henchmen took over 500,000 Cambodians as prisoners, forcing them
to march to the Thailand border. Those who survived the Killing Fields
and the death march awakened to a new nightmare — they were kept in
Khmer Rouge-run camps until 1991.
Today, the Khmer Rouge’s top leaders have officially defected to the
government of Prime Minister Hun Sen — who was installed to power by
the invading Vietnamese in 1979. Yet these Khmer Rouge defectors remain
in control of their guerrilla forces still deployed in the field.
Cambodia is today, in effect, a virtual Middle Age fiefdom. The country
is broken up into various military provinces where warlord-style Royal
Cambodia Armed Forces generals control what are, in effect, private
armies. These renegades are involved in illegal timber harvesting, gun
running and a plethora of other endeavors ranging from drugs to toxic
waste dumping to illegal immigration.
As such, bringing Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge accomplices to justice will
be no easy task. Only a handful of the Khmer Rouge’s primary architects
of the genocide are in custody. Most of these mass murderers have been
greeted with “hugs and smiles” by Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose own son
recently graduated from West Point.
One of those in custody in Kang Khek Ieu, whose nom de guerre is
“Duch.” Duch is a recent born-again Christian who may hold the key to
establishing the Khmer Rouge’s chain of command.
Duch served as the director of the S-21 torture prison — a former
Phnom Penh high school — where Pol Pot “liquidated” between
14,000-17,000 Cambodians. Most of those killed at S-21 were loyal party
cadres accused of being CIA spies. Duch administered the killing of
women, children, babies and a handful of Westerners with simple
carpenter’s saws, hammers and mallets.
After the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, Duch disappeared into thin air
and remained anonymous until April of this year when he suddenly
re-emerged in Western Cambodia as though dropped off by a UFO. Duch had
been working for several foreign aid agencies after his conversion to
Christianity. In an interview given to the Far East Asian Economic
Review, Duch named the Khmer Rouge’s top killers and offered to testify
about his own part in the Khmer Holocaust. Then in rapid succession he
disappeared again, was found and arrested and is now in custody awaiting
Despite the counter-intelligence training which allowed him to vanish
and remain undetected for 20 years, Duch failed to dispose of his
records, notes and coerced confessions from the S-21 Prison. These
records are the only written evidence of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities.
This is vital when one considers that Cambodia’s primary, high school
and university textbooks have been sanitized via a Politically Correct
deletion of any reference to the Killing Fields or S-21 Prison.
So while the issue of Khmer Rouge genocide trials hangs over Phnom
Penh like a thick London fog, the economic development of Cambodia —
the poorest country in all of Asia — is on hold. The entire Mekong
Delta region is a vast, untapped source of tourism and historic
treasures. One such jewel is Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat. Built between the
Ninth and Thirteenth Centuries, Angkor Wat is said to have rivaled the
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World at the height of its grandeur. It
lay unknown to the Western world until the 1860s when French
archaeologists and Foreign Legion troops uncovered and restored the
Yet today the vast natural resources and tourist dollars a free, safe
and open Cambodia would bring to its people are threatened by a troika
of issues. First are the 4 million landmines — over 40,000 Cambodians
have lost limbs to mines, about one in 250. Second is toxic waste
dumping at the southern port city of Sihanoukville — the gateway to
rich offshore oil and gas deposits. Finally, horrendous deforestation
threatens the eco-tourist potential of the Mekong Delta region at large.
Amid all of this uncertainty, the city of Phnom Penh struggles to
re-emerge Phoenix-like from its ghost town days of a quarter century
ago. A select team of French architects are now busily drawing up plans
to restore the luster of its former colony. In the 1930s, Phnom Penh
was the scene of glittering temples, immaculately manicured lawns,
French colonial buildings and cafes serving fine wine and filet mignon.
This brief but idyllic era was crushed by the Japanese colonization
during World War II and the corresponding Allied bombing of Phnom
Today, Cambodia’s capital is a haven to some of the worst
criminal elements on earth — the KGB, Russian Military Intelligence,
the PLO, the North Korean Army and various transnational drug cartels.
Scores of U.N. power brokers and multinational corporations dot the
landscape — all ready to swoop in and take their piece of the Monopoly
An Old West gunslinger mentality permeates the city. The streets are
unsafe at night and guns are in abundance. Yet in a strange conundrum
as old as Cain and Abel, almost all of the Khmer Rouge atrocities at
S-21 and the Killing Fields were done without the use of firearms.
“This is not a debutante’s ball, there are no rules here,” says one
British U.N. aid worker. “Cambodia is like a blackboard that’s been
erased and is waiting to have a new history written upon it.”
How to get the full report:
Order a subscription to Dispatches magazine today and your first issue
will be the June edition featuring Anthony LoBaido’s report, “Holiday in
Cambodia.” You’ll also receive Joseph Farah’s special report, “Blastoff
to a New World Order,” a $7.95 value for the low price of $36. Or, if
you prefer to sample Dispatches before subscribing for a full year, you
can purchase the June issue for just $3.