As time went on Pol Pot grew increasingly out of touch. As skirmishes between Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge increased Pol Pot declared that if every Khmer Rouge soldier killed 30 Vietnamese they could prevail. In the meantime, Beijing had lost patients with Pol Pot and refused his request for troops to fight the Vietnamese

On September 27, 1976, Pol Pot resigned as premier "for reasons of health." Nuon Chea, the pro-Vietnamese deputy premier, became acting premier. Little is known of the intense factional maneuvering that was occurring at this time, but by late October 1976, Pol Pot had regained his post. On October 22, his comeback was confirmed with his issuance of a statement in his capacity as prime minister condemning China's "counterrevolutionary Gang of Four," who had been arrested in Beijing on October 6. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The influence of China on Democratic Kampuchea's internal politics apparently was a crucial, though little understood, factor in Pol Pot's defeat of his pro-Vietnamese rivals. Etcheson and Kiernan have suggested, in separate articles, that radicals in the Chinese Communist Party may have backed pro-Vietnamese Internationalist elements in the KCP in 1976 because they were interested in preserving good relations with Hanoi. The fall of the radicals in October 1976, a month after Mao Zedong's death, brought in the moderates, led by Deng Xiaoping. As the subsequent break between Beijing and Hanoi shows, Deng was inclined to regard Vietnam as an agent of Soviet "hegemonism." Chinese support of the Pol Pot faction may have been a crucial element in its ability to triumph over the pro-Vietnamese communists in the fall of 1976. From an ideological standpoint, the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping and the ultra-radical Pol Pot were polar opposites, but from the geopolitical perspective, the post-Mao Zedong leadership recognized the value of having a well-armed Cambodian thorn in the side of Vietnam. Immediately after making his September 27, 1977, speech revealing the KCP's existence, Pol Pot, accompanied by Ieng Sary and Vorn Vet, visited Beijing, where he acknowledged the importance of Maoist thought to the Cambodian revolution. In early 1978, the Chinese sent substantial military aid, which included armor, artillery, and antitank guns. *

Major Purge in the Khmer Rouge

In 1975 Pol Pot concluded an alliance with the party head of the Southwestern Zone, Ta Mok, who was a Khmer Issarak veteran and, like Pol Pot, was strongly anti-Vietnamese. During 1977 and 1978, Ta Mok provided the backing that enabled Pol Pot to liquidate the opposition within the KCP and to initiate new terrorism against the local population. In February 1977, Southwestern cadres went into the Eastern, Northern, and Western zones to purge local Khmer Rouge. Four months later, the same process was begun in the Northwestern Zone. The purges intensified following an abortive coup d'état in August. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

After the fall of the capital, Ta Mok's lieutenant, a former high school teacher who assumed the name Mit (Comrade) Deuch, became head of the secret police, and established the Tuol Sleng interrogation and detention center on the site of a former Phnom Penh high school. In the 1975 to 1976 period, Tuol Sleng's meticulous records show that 2,404 "antiparty elements" were tortured and executed. The terror escalated in 1977, when the number of victims rose to 6,330. In the first six months of 1978, records show that 5,765 people were killed; records for the latter half of that year have not been discovered. The victims who passed through Tuol Sleng from mid-1975 to January 1979 numbered about 20,000. Among those who met death in the infamous prison were Paris alumni Hu Nim and (presumably) Hou Yuon. Similar centers were set up throughout the country (Tuol Sleng's code designation, S-21, suggests that at least twenty other similar sites had been established). Molyda Szymusiak writes that a new wave of terror began in the Batdambang region after cadres arrived from the south. The Sala Som Niat, a school for political education was converted into an extermination center where local communists were tortured and executed. The pattern in these centers was much the same: victims were tortured, forced to write often absurd confessions, and then killed. A young British teacher, captured in a yacht off the Cambodian coast, confessed at Tuol Sleng that he had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States when he was twelve years old; he was subsequently murdered. Hu Nim was forced to confess that he had become a CIA agent in 1957. *

The Eastern Zone apparently remained largely unaffected by the purge until May 1978, when So Phim led a revolt that provoked massive retaliation by Pol Pot and his Southwestern henchmen. In the bloodiest purge of the entire 1975 to 1978 period, as many as 100,000 people in the Eastern Zone — labeled people with "Khmer bodies but Vietnamese minds" — were liquidated or were deported to face certain death in other parts of the country. Most of the victims were political cadres, "new people," and Vietnamese or part-Vietnamese residents. So Phim reportedly committed suicide as he faced capture. Some of his subordinates, including Heng Samrin, the leader of the PRK after 1979, fled to Vietnam. *

Fear in the Final Khmer Rouge Years

Reporting on the situation in January 1978, Mardi Seng wrote: “The Khmer Rouge soldiers had receded and camped in my village. The villagers had to move to a different village away from the battlefields. My grandfather had permission to stay in the village to tend to his tobacco crop. One afternoon, the soldiers who used our house as their camp offered my grandfather a bowl of soup. The bowl was so full that my grand father had to drain some of the broth out. My grandfather was arrested for draining the broth and was tied upside down, hanging off a tree on his own property. [Source: Mardi Seng,, Holocaust Memorial Day ==]

“The next day, the villagers came back to the village because the Vietnamese had pulled back. My siblings and I went to the fields to tend our buffaloes. In the late afternoon, my two brothers and I came back from the fields. There was a gathering of people in our house. My mother and my father's three sisters were wailing. My father's mother wa s caring for my crying sister and four - year - old brother. My 84 - year - old great - grandmother was lost in thought. My mother walked up to us and said, ‘ They will take us tonight. ’ In that moment, my strength left me; my brother Lundi jumped off his buffalo and screamed ‘ No, I don't want to die! ’ and ran away. My aunts held us and we cried. My mother encouraged us to eat so that we had strength to walk for that night. The sun was setting and Lundi was still in hiding. My brother Sina and I went to look for Lundi. We found him crying himself to sleep in an old storage hut. We took him home. ==

“It was dark. There were about 40 family members who came to say goodbye. We awaited death with fear and trembling. The men came for us. With them was my grandfath er. His arms were tied behind his back. ‘ I don't want to go; I want to live, ’ Lundi begged and ran to my great - grandmother and cried. Her eyes, filled with sorrow, stared straight ahead into the darkness of the night, and she softly ran her fingers thro ugh his hair. Her heart was broken and she passed away later that night. Two men tied my mother's arms above the elbows behind her back. I carried my four - year - old brother Dar; Sina held my sister's hand while Lundi carried our extra clothes. My grandf ather, mother and my siblings and I were led into the darkness by four armed men. It was known to every Cambodian during that time that if one was taken away during the night it meant death for that person. We knew we were going to die that night. ==

“We walked for two hours and stopped at this compound. To our relief, we could not see any open graves. We were not familiar with the area because it was too dark. The compound was a prison. Our legs were chained together in one of the three buildings. We w ere physically and emotionally exhausted from the ordeal and slept very soundly. The next morning was an incredibly beautiful morning. We were alive. The morning sun was brilliant; the birds were singing; we were still breathing. How can I explain how I felt? Life! Life is so beautiful. As my two brothers and I surveyed the ground, we noticed there were covered graves everywhere. Some were old; the covered ground sank a bit. Some were new; the ground heaved up and blood oozed out due to the intense heat of the tropical sun. And to our dismay, some graves were not covered at all. ==

“We lived in the prison camp for five months. During those months we witnessed and experienced inhumane events. A few hundred prisoners came and never left. A few tried to escape but were gunned down and left to rot in an open field. Even in the midst of these trials, we still hoped; hoped for supernatural events to take place. The supernatural events did happen, but relief occasionally took place in natural ways. ==

“One early evening in late June 1978, a monsoon rain had passed by and left a tremendous amount of water in the fields. A group of prison guards walked lazily toward our building. ‘ Mardi. Sina. Lundi. Come with me, ’ our guard called. ‘ We're going to the next village to find stranded buffaloes. ’ My two brothers and I knew that was not true because when we counted them two hours earlier; all 112 of them were accounted for. My mother knew what was going on; she tried to put my sister Theary and youngest brother Dar to sleep. A guard unchained Sina, Lundi and myself and walked us away from the camp. ==

“The clear quiet night was incredibly beautiful; the heavens declared the glory of God. Against the pitch dark canvas of infinite space, thousands of stars radiate d like diamonds. The waning moon reflected its golden rays off the water - covered fields. The scene was one of peace, tranquility and contentment. In the midst of the splendor, I forgot about my situation until Sina whispered to me, ‘ Did you see, there w ere a lot of guards with ropes, guns and shovels outside the prison compound? ’ ‘ No, ’ I answered. He looked at me and his face was saddened. I understood his thoughts. Tears rolled down our eyes but we did not cry. Thoughts raced through my mind. Angui sh burdened my soul but I was relieved that at least three of us would survive this insane act of genocide by Angkar . ==

“We stayed at a nearby village for the night. There we told Lundi what was happening back at the prison. We tried to comfort him. In ou r silence, we prayed that Theary and Dar did not wake up while they took our mother away. We felt (and still feel) guilty that our mother died and we lived. But it was her wish that she should die so that we might live. The next morning we hurried back to the camp with the hope to see at least Theary and Dar. The prison was unusually empty. With relief, we found my sister and brother. They were crying as they searched hopelessly for their mother. Sina and I picked them up and told them that everythin g would be all right. A prisoner told me that they had been crying on - and - off since the middle of the night because they could not find their mother when they awoke. That same morning, a guard told us to go back to our village. ==

Enter the Vietnamese

According to Lonely Planet: “Relations between Cambodia and Vietnam have historically been tense, as the Vietnamese have slowly but steadily expanded southwards, encroaching on Cambodian territory. Despite the fact the two communist parties had fought together as brothers-in-arms, old tensions soon came to the fore. [Source: Lonely Planet]

“From 1976 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge instigated a series of border clashes with Vietnam, and claimed the Mekong Delta, once part of the Khmer empire. Incursions into Vietnamese border provinces left hundreds of Vietnamese civilians dead.

Escaping in the Final Days of the Khmer Rouge

Survivor Sin Sinet wrote: “One day, my grandparents, uncle and aunt, as well as some other people, were sent for re- education at Chamka Doung, Phnom Penh, and they never returned. I was told by my aunt's friend, Pheap, that they had been accused of being CIA or KGB agents, and were taken away in a white truck. She stated further, "You should not reveal the relationship between you and your grandparents. If you miss them, do not cry out. If you do cry, you have to lie that you are crying because of a toothache, otherwise you will also be in danger." After their arrest, I discovered that my grandparents tried to hide our relationship from Angkar so that I would survive. With the care of Auntie Pheap, I did work hard in order to survive. I was 12 years old when my grandparents, my aunt, and my unc le were arrested. At that age, I hardly understood anything and could do nothing but follow Auntie Pheap's advice. In my mind, I was waiting for my grandparents, my aunt, and my uncle to return. [Source: Sin Sinet, Documentation Center of Cambodia, )( ]

“In mid-1978, I was assigned to help build a di ke near Phsar Deum Kor and Beong Salang. In order to complete the project, we were forced to work day and night, with little rest. At the same time, it was evident that people were disappearing one by one, and we all worked as hard as we could to avoid being called for re-education. )(

“In January 1979, when the Vietnamese soldiers came to Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge cadres started to evacuate people from the city. Th e situation was chaotic and I saw Khmer Rouge cadres brutally shoot those who refused to leave. I crossed Aural Mountain, headed for Bor Vil District, along with Khmer Rouge cadres and other evacuees. Along the way, there was a big stream called Chaol Chab Stream, and very few people were able to swim across. The women and small children who were unable to cross the stream decided to move to other villages in Battambang Province. When we arrived at our destination, I was walking aimlessly, without direction, and stopped to ask the villagers for some rice. I followed other women back to Kampong Thom Province and worked for a family there in exchange for food to satisfy my hunger. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to go to school, so I decided to leave that village and I wandered, terribly lost, without any relatives. Later, the chief of military medical staff helped me to arrange my marriage. )(

Mayaguez Incident

The Mayaguez incident took place between the Khmer Rouge and the United States from May 12–15, 1975, was the last official battle of the Vietnam War. The names of the Americans killed, as well as those of three U.S. Marines who were left behind on the island of Koh Tang after the battle and who were subsequently executed by the Khmer Rouge, are the last names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The merchant ship's crew, whose seizure at sea had prompted the U.S. attack, had been released in good health, unknown to the U.S. Marines or the U.S. command of the operation, before the Marines attacked. It was the only known engagement between U.S. ground forces and the Khmer Rouge. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The massive daisy cutter bomb was used during the Mayaguez rescue. The crisis began on the afternoon of May 12, 1975, as the American container ship SS Mayaguez passed near Poulo Wai island en route to Sattahip, Thailand in recognized international sea lanes claimed as territorial waters by Cambodia. At 14:18, a Khmer Rouge naval forces "Swift Boat" was sighted approaching the Mayaguez. The Khmer Rouge fired across the bow of the Mayaguez and when Captain Charles T. Miller ordered the engine room to slow down to maneuvering speed to avoid the machine-gun fire, the Khmer Rouge then fired a rocket-propelled grenade across the bow of the ship. Captain Miller ordered the transmission of an SOS and then stopped the ship. Seven Khmer Rouge soldiers boarded the Mayaguez and their leader, Battalion Commander Sa Mean, pointed at a map indicating that the ship should proceed to the east of Poulo Wai. One of the crew members broadcast a Mayday which was picked up by an Australian vessel. The Mayaguez arrived off Poulo Wai at approximately 16:00 and a further 20 Khmer Rouge boarded the vessel. Sa Mean indicated that the Mayaguez should proceed to Ream on the Cambodian mainland, but Captain Miller showed that the ship's radar was not working and pantomimed the ship hitting rocks and sinking. Sa Mean radioed his superiors and was apparently instructed to stay at Poulo Wai, dropping anchor at 16:55. +

U.S. President Gerald Ford was informed of the seizure of the Mayaguez at his morning briefing with his deputy assistant for national security affairs, Brent Scowcroft. At 12:05 EDT (21:05 Cambodia), a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was convened to discuss the situation. The container ship SS Mayaguez Following the NSC meeting the White House issued a press release stating that President Ford considered the seizure an act of "piracy". Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger ordered the military to locate the Mayaguez and prevent its movement to the Cambodian mainland, employing munitions (including tear gas and sea mines) if necessary. Following Secretary Schlesinger's instructions, P-3 Orion aircraft stationed at Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines and at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield in Thailand took off to locate the Mayaguez. The aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, then en route to Australia, was ordered into the area.

On the afternoon of 14 May, General Burns received the order to proceed with a simultaneous assault on Koh Tang and the Mayaguez timed to begin just before sunrise (05:42) on 15 May. D Company 1/4 Marines would retake the Mayaguez while BLT 1/9 Marines would rescue the crew on Koh Tang. Unknown to the Americans then converging on Koh Tang, none of the Mayaguez crew was on the island and it was heavily defended by over 100 Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge defenses on Koh Tang were intended to counter the Vietnamese,

On their arrival at Rong Sam Lem Captain Miller was taken to the senior Khmer Rouge commander where he was subject to a cursory interrogation before being asked if he could talk to the American planes from the Mayaguez. The Khmer Rouge explained that they had already lost three boats and numerous men and were obviously anxious to call off the American bombers. Captain Miller explained that if they returned to the ship and restarted its engines they could then generate electricity to call their office in Bangkok which could then contact the U.S. military. The Khmer Rouge radioed instructions to their higher command and then gave approval for Captain Miller and nine men to return to the Mayaguez. As darkness was falling it was decided that they would return to the Mayaguez the following morning, 15 May.

Rescue Operation: Retaking the Mayaguez

At 06:13 on May 15, the first phase of the operation began with the transfer by three HH-53s of D/1/4 Marines to the Holt. As the Holt slowly came alongside, USAF A-7D aircraft saturated the Mayaguez with tear gas munitions. Equipped with gas masks, the Marines at 07:25 hours then conducted one of the few hostile ship-to-ship boardings by the U.S. Navy since the American Civil War, securing the vessel after an hour-long search, finding it empty.

At 06:12, the eight helicopters (five CH-53 Knifes and three HH-53 Jolly Greens) of the Koh Tang assault force approached the two Landing zones (LZs) on Koh Tang. At the West Beach, the first section of two CH-53 helicopters came in at 06:20 hours. The first helicopter; Knife 21, landed safely, but while offloading its Marines came under heavy automatic weapons fire, destroying an engine. It managed to take off, protected by suppressive fire from the second CH-53, Knife 22, and ditched 1.6 kilometers offshore. Knife 22 was damaged so severely that it turned back with its Marines (including the Golf Company commander) still aboard escorted by Jolly Green 11 and Jolly Green 12, and crash-landed in Trat Province on the Thai coast, where its passengers were picked up by Jolly Green 12 and returned to U Tapao.

At 06:30, the CH-53s approaching the East Beach encountered intense automatic weapons and RPG fire from entrenched Khmer Rouge. Knife 31 was hit by two RPGs, which ignited its left fuel tank and ripped away the nose of the helicopter, it crashed in a fireball fifty meters offshore. A pilot, five Marines, and two Navy corpsmen were killed in the crash, another Marine drowned swimming from the wreck, and three Marines were killed by gunfire trying to reach the beach. A tenth Marine died of his wounds while clinging to the burning wreckage. The surviving ten Marines and three Air Force crewmen were forced to swim for two hours before being picked up by the gig of the arriving Henry B. Wilson. Among the Marine survivors was the battalion's Forward Air Controller, who used an Air Force survival radio while swimming to direct A-7 air strikes against the island until the battery failed. The second CH-53, Knife 23 was hit by an RPG which blew off the tail section and crash-landed on the East Beach, but it successfully offloaded its 20 Marines and crew of five. They set up a defensive perimeter and the Knife 23 copilot used his survival radio to call in airstrikes, but they would remain cut off from both reinforcements and rescue for twelve hours. Due to the intense direct and indirect fire during the operation, the bodies of Marines and airmen who were killed in action were left where they fell including Lance Corporal Ashton Loney, whose body was left behind in the darkness during the evacuation of the West Beach.

At 06:07 the Khmer Rouge information and propaganda minister, Hu Nim, made a radio broadcast announcing that the Mayaguez and its crew would be released. The transmission was intercepted by the CIA station in Bangkok, translated and delivered to the White House by 07:15 (20:15 EDT).[69] The White House was skeptical of the Khmer Rouge message and released a press statement at 08:15 (21:15 EDT) saying that U.S. military operations would continue until the crew of the Mayaguez was released. Secretary Kissinger had of his own accord ordered a delay to an airstrike by planes from the Coral Sea on the Kompong Som oil storage complex and Ream airfield.. At 06:30 on Rong Sang Lem the crew of the Mayaguez were informed that they would be allowed to return to their ship, after having first agreed to a statement that they had not been mistreated. At 07:15 the Mayaguez crew was loaded aboard the Thai fishing boat, the Sinvari (which had itself been captured by the Khmer Rouge five months earlier) escorted by a second boat with Sa Mean and other Khmer Rouge, once away from Rong Sang Lem the second boat picked up the Khmer Rouge guards from the Sinvari and instructed the crew to return to the Mayaguez and call off the American planes. At 09:35 an orbiting P-3 Orion spotted the Sinvari and the Wilson was ordered to intercept her, originally thinking it was a Khmer Rouge gunboat, the P-3 then identified that Caucasians were aboard and at 09:49 the Mayaguez crew was brought aboard the Wilson. Confirmation of the release of the crew was sent to the White House and at 11:27 (00:27 EDT) President Ford went on U.S. national television announcing the recovery of the Mayaguez and the rescue of its crew, but obscuring the fact that the crew had in fact been released by the Khmer Rouge.

President Ford, at Secretary Kissinger's urging, declined to cancel the scheduled airstrikes on the Cambodian mainland until the Marines on Koh Tang had been withdrawn.At 09:05 A-6A and A-7E aircraft from VA-22, VA-94 and VA-95 escorted by F-4N fighters of VF-51 and VF-111 aboard the Coral Sea had begun the delayed airstrikes, bombing landing barges and oil storage facilities at Kompong Som and cargo planes and T-28 attack aircraft at Ream airfield and boats at Ream naval base.


Pol Pot made the fatal mistake engaging Vietnam in a border war. He launched raids. When he tried to size tried to seize Vietnamese territory, Hanoi decided enough was enough. On Christmas day, 1978 Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia an within a short time 200,000 Vietnamese soldiers were in Cambodia.

According to Lonely Planet: “Relations between Cambodia and Vietnam have historically been tense, as the Vietnamese have slowly but steadily expanded southwards, encroaching on Cambodian territory. Despite the fact the two communist parties had fought together as brothers-in-arms, old tensions soon came to the fore.[Source: Lonely Planet **]

“From 1976 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge instigated a series of border clashes with Vietnam, and claimed the Mekong Delta, once part of the Khmer empire. Incursions into Vietnamese border provinces left hundreds of Vietnamese civilians dead.

On December 25, 1978 Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia, toppling the Pol Pot government two weeks later. As Vietnamese tanks neared Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge fled westward with as many civilians as it could seize, taking refuge in the jungles and mountains along the Thai border. **

“A traumatised population took to the road in search of surviving family members. Millions had been uprooted and had to walk hundreds of kilometers across the country. Rice stocks were destroyed, the harvest left to wither and little rice planted, sowing the seeds for a widespread famine in 1979 and 1980. **

Events Before the Vietnamese Invasion of Cambodia

The communist conquest of Phnom Penh and of Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City) in April 1975 seemed to presage realization of Ho Chi Minh's long-cherished political dream — stated in a 1935 resolution of the ICP — an Indochinese federation comprising Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Many observers believed — because of Vietnam's efforts to nurture a Cambodian communist party that was tied closely to Hanoi — that the Indochinese federation that emerged would be controlled by Hanoi. The Khmer Rouge victory of 1975, however, won by Pol Pot's chauvinistic and hardline party faction with its abiding distrust of Vietnam, doomed this prospect for the time being. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

“In mid-1975, a series of border clashes erupted between Cambodian and Vietnamese forces. Each side blamed the other for initiating the conflicts, which occurred even as Hanoi defended the Pol Pot regime against international criticism of atrocities inside Cambodia. Border fighting increased in 1977, according to some reports. In June of that year, Vietnam proposed negotiations to settle the border dispute, but the Khmer Rouge said negotiations would be premature. In December, Cambodia accused Vietnam of aggression, demanded withdrawal of its troops from the country, and severed diplomatic ties. In February 1978, Hanoi called for an immediate end to all hostile military activities in the border region and for the conclusion of a peace treaty. At the same time, Hanoi denied the allegations that it had been trying to incorporate Cambodia into an Indochinese federation, adding that Vietnam had not entertained the idea of federation since the ICP was dissolved in 1951. The Pol Pot regime continued to claim, however, that Vietnam had never abandoned the idea of a federation, and the regime called on Hanoi to cease activities aimed at overthrowing the Government of Democratic Kampuchea. *

Early Fighting Between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam

Immediately following the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975, there were skirmishes between their troops and Vietnamese forces. A number of incidents occurred in May 1975. The Cambodians launched attacks on the Vietnamese islands of Phu Quoc and Tho Chu and intruded into Vietnamese border provinces. In late May, at about the same time that the United States launched an air strike against the oil refinery at Kampong Saom, following the Mayaguez incident, Vietnamese forces seized the Cambodian island of Poulo Wai. The following month, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary visited Hanoi. They proposed a friendship treaty between the two countries, an idea that met with a cool reception from Vietnam's leaders. Although the Vietnamese evacuated Poulo Wai in August, incidents continued along Cambodian's northeastern border. At the instigation of the Phnom Penh regime, thousands of Vietnamese also were driven out of Cambodia. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]

“Relations between Cambodia and Vietnam improved in 1976, in part because of Pol Pot's preoccupation with intraparty challenges. In May Cambodian and Vietnamese representatives met in Phnom Penh in order to establish a commission to resolve border disagreements. The Vietnamese, however, refused to recognize the Brévié Line — the colonial-era demarcation of maritime borders between the two countries — and the negotiations broke down. In late September, however, a few days before Pol Pot was forced to resign as prime minister, air links were established between Phnom Penh and Hanoi. *

“With Pol Pot back in the forefront of the regime in 1977, the situation rapidly deteriorated. Incidents escalated along all of Cambodia's borders. Khmer Rouge forces attacked villages in the border areas of Thailand near Aranyaprathet. Brutal murders of Thai villagers, including women and children, were the first widely reported concrete evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities. There were also incidents along the Laotian border. At approximately the same time, villages in Vietnam's border areas underwent renewed attacks. In turn, Vietnam launched air strikes against Cambodia.

On April 30, 1977 Democratic Kampuchea attacked several Vietnamese villages in An Giang province, most notably in the Ba Chuc Massacre. The Vietnamese leadership was shocked by this unprovoked attack and counterattacked. Vietnam still sought improved relations and when Pol Pot, on September , 27 1977, announced the existence of the KCP, Vietnam sent a congratulatory note. In a conversation with the Soviet ambassador on 6 October, Le Duan had no explanation for Kampuchea's actions. He described the leadership as "strongly nationalistic and under strong influence of Peking [China]." Le Duan called Pol Pot a Trotskyist while claiming that Ieng Sary was "a fierce nationalist and pro-Chinese." He, however, erroneously believed that Nuon Chea and Son Sen harbored pro-Vietnamese views. [Source: Wikipedia +]

An editorial featured in Nhân Dân, the party newspaper and the largest paper in Vietnam read: "The Pol Pot – Ieng Sary clique have proved themselves to be the most disgusting murderers in the later half of this century. Who are behind these hangmen whose hands are smeared with the blood of the Kampuchean people, including the Cham, who have been almost wiped out as an ethnic group, the Viet and the Hoa? This is no mystery to the world. The Pol Pot – Ieng Sary clique are only a cheap instrument of the bitterest enemy of peace and mankind. Their actions are leading to national suicide. This is genocide of a special type. Let us stop this self-genocide! Let us stop genocide at the hands of the Pol Pot – Ieng Sary clique! "

In September 1977 , border fighting resulted in as many as 1,000 Vietnamese civilian casualties. The following month, the Vietnamese counterattacked in a campaign involving a force of 20,000 personnel. Vietnamese defense minister General Vo Nguyen Giap underestimated the tenacity of the Khmer Rouge, however, and was obliged to commit an additional 58,000 reinforcements in December.

On December 31, 1977 Kampuchea broke relations with Vietnam, stating that the "aggressor forces" from Vietnam sent had to be withdrawn. This was needed to "restore the friendly atmosphere between the two countries." While they accused Vietnam of aggression, the real problem all along was the Vietnamese leadership' plan, or ideal, of establishing a Vietnamese-dominated Indochinese Federation. Vietnamese troops withdrew from the country in January, taking thousands of prisoners and civilian refugees. While the point of the Vietnamese attack had been to dampen the Kampuchean leadership's aggressive stance, it had the opposite effect – the Kampuchean leadership treated it as a major victory over Vietnam, matching their victory over the Americans. Kampuchea did not respond to diplomatic overtures and began another attack. In response Vietnam began to promote an uprising against Pol Pot's rule and invaded.

On January 6, 1978, Giap's forces began an orderly withdrawal from Cambodian territory. The Vietnamese apparently believed they had "taught a lesson" to the Cambodians, but Pol Pot proclaimed this a "victory" even greater than that of April 17, 1975. **

On June 15, 1978 the VCP Politburo sent a request to the Soviet Union to allow a delegation headed by Le Duan to meet with Leonid Brezhnev and the Soviet leadership in general. In a meeting with the Soviet ambassador in September, Le Duan said that Vietnam intended "to solve fully this question [of Kampuchea] by the beginning of 1979." Le Duan did not believe that China would retaliate because it would have to send its forces by sea. However, China did attack in 1979, but chose Vietnam as its target.

Fighting Between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese Before the Fall of the Khmer Rouge

Faced with growing Khmer Rouge belligerence, the Vietnamese leadership decided in early 1978 to support internal resistance to the Pol Pot regime, with the result that the Eastern Zone became a focus of insurrection. War hysteria reached bizarre levels within Democratic Kampuchea. In May 1978, on the eve of So Phim's Eastern Zone uprising, Radio Phnom Penh declared that if each Cambodian soldier killed thirty Vietnamese, only 2 million troops would be needed to eliminate the entire Vietnamese population of 50 million. It appears that the leadership in Phnom Penh was seized with immense territorial ambitions, i.e., to recover the Mekong Delta region, which they regarded as Khmer territory. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

“Massacres of ethnic Vietnamese and of their sympathizers by the Khmer Rouge intensified in the Eastern Zone after the May revolt. In November, Vorn Vet led an unsuccessful coup d'état. There were now tens of thousands of Cambodian and Vietnamese exiles on Vietnamese territory. On December 3, 1978, Radio Hanoi announced the formation of the Kampuchean (or Khmer) National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist and noncommunist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol Pot regime and a virtually total dependence on Vietnamese backing and protection. The KNUFNS provided the semblance, if not the reality, of legitimacy for Vietnam's invasion of Democratic Kampuchea and for its subsequent establishment of a satellite regime in Phnom Penh. *

“In the meantime, as 1978 wore on, Cambodian bellicosity in the border areas surpassed Hanoi's threshold of tolerance. Vietnamese policy makers opted for a military solution and, on December 22, Vietnam launched its offensive with the intent of overthrowing Democratic Kampuchea. An invasion force of 120,000, consisting of combined armor and infantry units with strong artillery support, drove west into the level countryside of Cambodia's southeastern provinces. After a seventeen-day blitzkrieg, Phnom Penh fell to the advancing Vietnamese on January 7, 1979. From new redoubts in the mountain and jungle fastness of Cambodia's periphery, Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders regrouped their units, issued a new call to arms, and reignited a stubborn insurgency against the regime in power as they had done in the late 1960s. For the moment, however, the Vietnamese invasion had accomplished its purpose of deposing an unlamented and particularly loathsome dictatorship. A new administration under the mentorship of Hanoi was quickly established, and it set about competing, both domestically and internationally, with the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Peace still eluded the war-ravaged nation, however, and although the insurgency set in motion by the Khmer Rouge proved unable to topple the new Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh, it did nonetheless keep the country in a permanent state of insecurity. The fledgling Khmer administration, weak and lacking in manpower and in resources, was propped up by a substantial Vietnamese military force and civilian advisory effort. As events in the 1980s progressed, the main preoccupations of the new regime were survival, restoring the economy, and combating the Khmer Rouge insurgency by military and by political means. The fostering of activity to meet these imperatives and the building of institutions are described in subsequent chapters. *

Vietnamese Attack on Cambodia

Survivor Mardi Seng wrote: In “December 1977, a Cambodian rebel group aided by the Vietnamese government invaded Cambodia. My village was 15 miles from the Vietnamese border and only seven miles away from the battlefront. We could hear the sound of the battles. Sometimes we had to sleep in trenches because of the artillery bombardment. Vietnamese planes usually made bombing raids on th e Khmer Rouge camps during the day. My siblings and I, while tending to our buffaloes in the fields, witnessed spectacular air shows. At 2pm every day for a month or two, four planes dive - bombed the Khmer Rouge camps as anti - aircraft guns on the ground fired at them. [Source: Mardi Seng,, Holocaust Memorial Day ]

“One afternoon in late December 1977, half a mile from a Khmer Rouge camp, grassy open fields were filled with children and their water buffaloes. Children gathered near the field under trees for protection from tropical heat and played games in small groups, while the buffaloes walked lazily and enjoyed the luscious grass. My water buffaloes were on the far side of this open field and led other buffaloes away from the herd. My two brothers walked toward the buffaloes to stop them from stray ing. A few minutes later, I followed. We were about a quarter of a mile away from the wooded area, entering the open field. My brothers, about 50 meters in front of me, pointed toward the eastern sky. In the midst of the deep blue cloudless sky, four World War Two T - 28 planes were on a dive, not at the nearby camp but at me and my brothers in the open field.

“We were stunned and stood there motionlessly watching the dive. We were helpless; there was no cover. I think the pilots thought the black buffaloes were the Khmer Rouge soldiers because the soldiers dress in black uniforms. While the planes were diving toward us, we heard and saw the explosions of the anti - aircraft shells in the air. At the bottom of the bomb dive, we could see the pilots in th eir planes and the writing on the bombs. We fell to the ground and placed our hands over our ears because of the loud noise of the airplane engines and the explosion of the anti - aircraft shells. I was terrified. I thought that was it for me. I still can picture those bombs under those wings. But thank God, the anti - aircraft shells were fired so rapidly that the planes had to fly away.

Vietnam Invades Cambodia and Ousts the Khmer Rouge

On December 25, 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia. Vietnam sent 13 divisions into Cambodia with an estimated 150,000 soldiers supported by heavy artillery and air power. Kampuchea attempted a conventional defense, but this tactic led to the loss of half of its army within two weeks. The defeats prompted much of the Kampuchean leadership to evacuate towards the western region of the country. Phnom Penh fell, after minimal resistance. The Khmer Rouge was toppled in two weeks.

On January 7, 1979, the Vietnamese Army entered Phnom Penh along with the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation. On the following day, a pro-Vietnamese state, known as the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), was established, with Heng Samrin as head of state and Pen Sovan as General Secretary of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party. The struggle between the Khmer Rouge and the PRK ended only with Vietnam's withdrawal in 1989.

Pol Pot fed to Thailand by helicopter. A Vietnamese force entered a nearly deserted Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979. The Vietnamese established a puppet regime made mostly of former Khmer Rouge fighter who had defected to Vietnam. After Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam and China fought a bloody border war in 1979. The remnants of the Khmer Rouge scattered and later regrouped in the jungles in different parts of Cambodia. They continued fighting until 1998. The first battled Vietnamese troops and then Cambodian government troops. Washington immediately called for the Vietnamese to withdraw. It and Beijing sided with the Khmer Rouge against their enemy in Moscow which sided with the Vietnamese.

Samnom Sarot reported: “On January 1979, the liberating army arrived. We saw the Khmer Rouge run for their lives in terror. Our liberators had come… We were extremely pleased, but we still had to seek shelter to avoid being injured from the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Army of United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) in cooperation with Vietnamese Army. In a month or so, my family arrived at Chbar Ampeou… More than ninety percent of our villagers did not return. Three months later, we received horrible information from one of my father's soldier that having his eyes had killed my father gouged out to feed to crocodiles. [Source: Sarot Marilin, Documentation Center of Cambodia, ]

Describing one survivor at the time the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia Sophal Ly wrote: “At that time a midwife named Ung Vuth fled with several high ranking officers to Koh Kong, and eventually returned home by travelling through the Pich Nil mountain pass. She stressed that her efforts to help the organization were useless. What she received instead was the deaths of all ten of ten siblings and her parents, and her own imprisonment.Ung Vuth will never forget these experiences. “It’s all enough. I don’t want to participate in any political movement anymore, no matter how hard they try to convince me. Even if the former Khmer Rouge at Anlong Veng need me, I’ll never join them again,” Ung Vuth insisted. The thing that truly causes her grief is the death of her family. She said she had never been afraid that people hated her during the Khmer Rouge period because she had done good things for them. All people loved her. Wherever she goes, she is always warmly greeted. People often say that jack-fruit and mango trees are “the legacy of nurse Vuth!!” because she planted them. [Source: Sophal Ly, Documentation Center of Cambodia]

Cambodia After the Vietnamese Invasion

On January 8, 1979, a pro-Vietnamese, anti-Khmer Rouge faction announced the formation of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Council (KPRC), with Heng Samrin as president of the new ruling body. On January 10, the KPRC proclaimed that the new official name of Cambodia was the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). Within a week, the PRK notified the United Nations Security Council that it was the sole legitimate government of the Cambodian people. Vietnam was the first country to recognize the new regime, and Phnom Penh lost no time in restoring diplomatic relations with Hanoi. From February 16 to February 19, the PRK and Vietnam held their first summit meeting in Phnom Penh and cemented their relationship by signing a twenty- five-year Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty declared that the "peace and security of the two countries are closely interrelated and that the two Parties are duty-bound to help each other...." Article 2 of the treaty dealt specifically with mutual security assistance to help each defend against "all schemes and acts of sabotage by the imperialist and international reactionary forces." The two governments also signed agreements for cooperation on economic, cultural, educational, public health, and scientific and technological issues. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) had "its ultimate origin," according to Cambodia expert Michael Vickery, "in the same revolutionary victory of 17 April 1975 as does the rival Pol Pot [Democratic Kampuchea] group." The PRK's patron since 1979 has been Vietnam, and in late 1987, many observers believed that the survival of the Phnom Penh regime depended on Vietnam's continued occupation of the country. *

The PRK was established in January 1979 in line with the broad revolutionary program set forth by the Kampuchean (or Khmer) National United Front for National Salvation, which was formed on December 2, 1978, in a zone liberated from the Khmer Rouge. Of the front's fourteen central committee members, the top two leaders — Heng Samrin, president, and Chea Sim, vice president — were identified as "former" KCP officials. Ros Samay, secretary general of the KNUFNS, was a former KCP "staff assistant" in a military unit. The government of Democratic Kampuchea denounced the KNUFNS, as "a Vietnamese political organization with a Khmer name," because several of its key members had been affiliated with the KCP. *

The initial objectives of the KNUFNS were to rally the people under its banner, to topple the Pol Pot regime, to adopt a new constitution for a "democratic state advancing toward socialism," to build mass organizations, and to develop a revolutionary army. Its foreign policy objectives included pursuing nonalignment, settling disputes with neighbors through negotiations, putting an end to "the border war with Vietnam" provoked by the Pol Pot regime, and opposing foreign military bases on Cambodian soil. On December 26, 1978, the day after the Vietnamese invasion, the KNUFNS reiterated its opposition to foreign military bases. *

On January 1, 1979, the front's central committee proclaimed a set of "immediate policies" to be applied in the "liberated areas." One of these policies was to establish "people's self-management committees" in all localities. These committees would form the basic administrative structure for the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Council (KPRC), decreed on January 8, 1979, as the central administrative body for the PRK. The KPRC served as the ruling body of the Heng Samrin regime until June 27, 1981, when a new Constitution required that it be replaced by a newly elected Council of Ministers. Pen Sovan became the new prime minister. He was assisted by three deputy prime ministers — Hun Sen, Chan Si, and Chea Soth. *

Erika Kinetz wrote in the Washington Post: “Heng Samrin said it was unfair to implicate him and other top officials of the ruling Cambodian People's Party in the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. In an interview with a Cambodian journalist, he maintained that the term "Khmer Rouge" refers only to people who joined the National United Front of Kampuchea, which in the first half of the 1970s fought the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government but later betrayed the revolution and killed innocent people. He and his colleagues only fought to liberate Cambodia from Lon Nol and his imperialist henchmen, he said. "We were not involved in the Khmer Rouge regime," he said, adding that he had been only a "simple soldier." [Source: Erika Kinetz, Washington Post, May 8, 2007 /]

China and the United States Support Pol Pot After the Khmer Rouge is Ousted

China’s disastrous invasion of Vietnam in 1979 was staged in part to force Vietnam out of Cambodia and restore Pol Pot to power. Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books, “ Politically, as an attempt to force Vietnam out of Cambodia and restore Pol Pot to power, it was a complete failure. Deng, who regretted not having persisted with his onslaught on Vietnam, despite the thrashing his troops had endured, tried to save face by funnelling arms to Pol Pot through successive Thai military dictators. Joining him in helping the remnants of the world’s most genocidal regime continue to maul border regions of Cambodia adjoining Thailand, and to keep its seat in the UN, was the United States. Vogel, who mentions Pol Pot only to explain that despite his negative ‘reputation’, Deng saw him as the only man to resist the Vietnamese, banishes this delicate subject from his pages altogether. [Source: Perry Anderson, the London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

Kissinger has little trouble with it. No ‘sop to conscience’ could ‘change the reality that Washington provided material and diplomatic support to the “Cambodian resistance” in a manner that the administration must have known would benefit the Khmer Rouge’. Rightly so, for ‘American ideals had encountered the imperatives of geopolitical reality. It was not cynicism, even less hypocrisy, that forged this attitude: the Carter administration had to choose between strategic necessities and moral conviction. They decided that for their moral convictions to be implemented ultimately they needed first to prevail in the geopolitical struggle.’

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia,, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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