excerpted from the book


by John Pilger

South End Press, 2001 (and 1986), paper

Year Zero

Phnom Penh: August 1979. The aircraft flew low, following the unravelling of the Mekong River west from Vietnam. Once over Cambodia, what we saw silenced all of us on board. There appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the border. Whole towns and villages on the riverbanks were empty, it seemed, the doors of houses open, chairs and beds, pots and mats in the street, a car on its side, a mangled bicycle. Beside fallen power lines was a human shadow, Iying or sitting; it had the shape of a child, though we could not be sure, for it did not move.

Beyond, the familiar landscape of South-East Asia, the patchwork of rice paddles and fields, was barely discernible; nothing seemed to have been planted or be growing, except the forest and mangrove and lines of tall wild grass. On the edge of towns this grass would follow straight lines, as though planned. Fertilised by human compost, by the remains of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, these lines marked common graves in a nation where perhaps as many as 2 million people, or between a third and a quarter of the population were 'missing'.

Our plane made Its approach into what had been the international airport at Phnom Penh, towards a beaconless runway and a deserted control tower. At the edge of the forest there appeared a pyramid of rusting cars, the first of many such sights, like objects in a mirage. The cars were piled one on top of the other; some of the cars had been brand new when their owners were forced to throw away the ignition keys and push them to the pile, which also included ambulances, a fire engine, police cars, refrigerators, washing machines, hairdryers, generators, television sets, telephones and typewriters, as if a huge Luddite broom had swept them there. 'Here lies the consumer society', a headstone might have read, 'Abandoned April 17, Year Zero'.

From that date, anybody who had owned cars and such 'luxuries', anybody who had lived in a city or town, anybody with more than a basic education or who had acquired a modern skill, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, tradespeople and students, anybody who knew or worked for foreigners, such as travel agents, clerks, journalists and artists, was in danger; some were under sentence of death. To give just one example, out of a royal ballet company of 500 dancers, a few dozen survived; of the others, some escaped abroad, some starved to death or succumbed to illness related to extreme deprivation, and some were murdered.

During my twenty-two years as a journalist, most of them spent in transit at places of uncertainty and upheaval, I had not seen anything to compare with what I saw in Cambodia. 'It is my duty', wrote the correspondent of The Times at the liberation of Belsen, 'to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind." That was how I and others felt in the summer of 1979.

My previous trip to Cambodia had been twelve years earlier. I had flown across from wartime Saigon, exchanging venality and neurosis for what Western visitors invariably saw as the innocence of a 'gentle land' whose capital, Phnom Penh, had a beauty only the French could contrive. On Sundays the parade down Monivong Avenue was a joy: the parasols, the beautiful young women on their Hondas, the saffron robes, the platoons of well-fed families, the ice-cream barrows, the weddings, the hustlers. You awoke at the cavernous Hotel Royale, switched on your radio and, in all probability, heard the squeaky voice of Prince Norodom Sihanouk berating you or another foreign journalist for writing about the financial excesses of the royal family. This might be followed by a summons to the royal palace and an instruction to listen to the Prince's collection of jazz recordings, usually Oscar Peterson. Sihanouk, 'God-king' and a relic of the French empire, was his country's most celebrated jazz musician, film director, football coach, and juggler of apparently impossible options in Indo-China's cockpit of war. Such was his kingdom: feudal, unpredictable, preposterous and, in relation to events in the region, at peace.

The Cambodia which foreigners romanticised (myself included) belied a recent history of savagery between warring groups, such as those loyal to Sihanouk and the 'Issaraks', who were anti-French and anti-royalty but sometimes no more than murderous bandits. The atrocities which emerged from some of their skirmishes from the 1940s to the 1960s were of a ritual nature later associated with the Pol Pot period, but were probably common enough in a peasant world which few foreigners saw and understood. Sihanouk himself was a capricious autocrat whose thugs dispensed arbitrary terror when Westerners were not looking, or did not wish to look; and his authoritarianism undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the communist party, or Khmer Rouge. Certainly his 'Popular Socialist Community', which he set up in the 1950s, had little to do with socialism and everything to do with creating suitably benign conditions for the spread and enrichment of a powerful mandarinate in the towns and ethnic Chinese usurers in the rural areas. But it is also true that the extremes of hunger were rare; indeed, so bountiful seemed the Khmers' lush, under-populated land that the Chinese coined a superlative: 'As rich as Cambodia!'

In 1959 a United States Defence Department report described the Khmers as a nation of people who could not be easily panicked, whose horizons were limited to village, pagoda and forest, who knew of no other countries, who respected their government, who feared ghosts and 'cannot be counted upon to act in any positive way for the benefit of US aims and policies'. Cambodia then was regarded as 'neutral'; that is, it was allied to no bloc. However, Sihanouk later allowed Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese to run their supply routes through his territory, and this fact was not unrelated to the Prince being divested of his Kingdom in 1970 by a general called Lon Nol. The CIA denied that they had anything to do with the coup d'etat. That may be so; but in that year Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were conducting their 'secret bombing' of Cambodia, aimed at Vietnamese 'sanctuaries'. Pilots were sworn to secrecy and their operational logs were falsified or destroyed. During 1969-70 the American public and Congress knew nothing about it. During one six-month period in 1973 B-52s dropped more bombs in 3,695 raids on the populated heartland of Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during all of the Second World War: the equivalent, in tons of bombs, of five Hiroshimas.

In 1977 a former member of Kissinger's staff, Roger Morris, described the way in which the President's foreign-policy advisers, known as 'the Wise Men', prepared the ground for the final destruction of Indo-China:

Though they spoke of terrible human suffering reality was sealed off by their trite, lifeless vernacular: 'capabilities', 'objectives', 'our chips', 'giveaway'. It was a matter, too, of culture and style. They spoke with the cool, deliberate detachment of men who believe the banishment of feeling renders them wise and, more important, credible to other men . . . [Of Kissinger and Nixon] They neither understood the foreign policy they were dealing with, nor were deeply moved by the bloodshed and suffering they administered to their stereotypes.

On the eve of an American land invasion of 'neutral' Cambodia in April 1970, according to Morris, Nixon said to Kissinger, 'If this doesn't work, it'll be your ass, Henry.'

It worked, in a fashion. The bombing and invasion provided a small group of fanatical communists, the Khmer Rouge, with a catalyst for a revolution which had no popular base among the Khmer people. What is striking about the rise of Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan and other principals in the Khmer Rouge is their medievalism, which their principally Marxist pretensions barely concealed. Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan were both leftwing students in Paris in the 1950s, when and where other colonial revolutions were reputedly conceived; but neither admitted the existence of a Marxist-Leninist or communist organisation until 1977, by which time they were prime minister and head of state respectively of 'Democratic Kampuchea'. Indeed, in the movement they led all ideology, authority and 'justice' flowed from 'Angkar Loeu', literally the 'Organisation on High', which 'has the eyes of a pineapple; it sees everything'.

Angkor was the capital of a Khmer empire which was at its zenith between the tenth and the thirteenth centuries. It reached from Burma to the South China Sea and was interrupted only by what is now central Vietnam; the equally nationalist Vietnamese having not long freed themselves from a thousand years of Chinese rule. Angkor, the place, was a tribute to the riches, energy and chauvinism of the dynasty, with its series of temples conceived as a symbolic universe according to traditional Indian cosmology, and built by slaves. There was an absolute monarch, a pharaoh-style figure, a bureaucracy organised by Brahmins, and a military leadership; and, like Egypt and Rome, the empire duly collapsed under the weight of its monuments and megalomanias, as well as its changing patterns of trade. The celebrated temples of Angkor Wat are all that remain of its glory.

'If our people can build Angkor Wat', said Pol Pot in 1977, 'they can do anything!' This was the year Pol Pot probably killed more of his people than during all of his reign. Xenophobic in the extreme, he might almost have modelled himself on a despotic king of Angkor, which would perhaps explain his ambition to reclaim that part of the Mekong Delta, now southern Vietnam and known as Kampuchea Krom, over which the Khmer kings had once ruled. He was also an admirer of Mao Tse-tung and the Gang of Four; and it is not improbable that just as Mao had seen himself as the greatest emperor of China, so Pol Pot saw himself as another Mao, directing his own red guards to purify all elites, subversives and revisionists and to create a totally self-reliant state and one sealed off from the 'virus' of the modern world.

Cambodia is 90 per cent villages and the worsening imbalance in the relationship between peasant and town-dweller was one which Pol Pot and his 'men in black' were able to exploit almost with impunity. The French had created Phnom Penh in their own remote image and had brought in Chinese and Vietnamese bureaucrats and traders. Those in power in the capital took from and taxed the peasants as if by divine right; and when three years of American bombing killed or wounded or dislocated hundreds of thousands of Khmer peasants and created many more as refugees, the Khmer Rouge, now operating from enclaves, swept into a power vacuum in the bloodied countryside.

A month earlier, July 1979, most of the senior tier of the US State Department had given evidence before a Senate hearing on IndoChinese refugees. The witnesses explained that because the United States did not recognise the new government in Phnom Penh, led by Heng Samrin, it was prohibited by law from giving direct aid to Cambodia: that is, America was prevented from legally sending a single relief aircraft to a country over which it had illegally sent waves of B-52 bombers. Stories began to appear in the American Press that the International Red Cross had been told by the Phnom Penh authorities that no food was needed.

The opposite was true. The ICRC [International Red Cross]had been asked by the government in Phnom Penh for 100,000 tons of food, 15,000 tons of sugar and 8,000 tons of butter oil, as well as medical supplies. The request, in writing and dated July 3, was handed to Francois Bugnion and Jacques Beaumont in Phnom Penh. Prior to that, in May, the journalist Wilfred Burchett had visited Phnom Penh and described in graphic articles in the Guardian the overwhelming needs in Cambodia. Accompanying Burchett on that trip were Doctors Follezou and Vinot, representing the Comite Francais d'Aide Medicale et Sanitaire, who returned to Paris with a 'shopping list' of emergency relief drawn up with the Phnom Penh government. Follezou and Vinot showed the list to all who might help, principally French government officials and journalists, but the interest expressed was minimal. The European Economic Community had confined its compassion to £425,000 as part of a development grant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which was destined for refugees outside Cambodia.

Wilfred Burchett, who was based in Paris, brought the list to London and read most of it out at a packed all-party meeting at the House of Commons. He described a trauma so profound that 'the very fabric of Khmer society has begun to unravel'. He said that not only food but basic equipment was needed, like hoes and fishing nets. When asked about difficulties in getting relief to Cambodia, he replied that the problems were inside the country, that there was no heavy transport and there were no roads; wharves and communications had been vandalised or had fallen into disrepair and therefore trucks were a priority. He said there was nothing to stop civilian relief aircraft flying into Phnom Penh, and that both the Vietnamese government and the government in Cambodia had assured him relief would be welcomed. 'I want to impress upon you', said Burchett, 'that a great many human beings are starving and need your help.' It was a moving speech. Nothing happened.

That is, nothing happened at the level of government; Margaret Thatcher had come to power only a few weeks earlier and one of her first acts as prime minister was to join the American boycott of Vietnam and suspend all food aid there, including powdered milk for Vietnamese children. To the British government, as to Washington, Cambodia was now in the 'Soviet/Vietnamese camp'.

At the House of Commons meeting was Jim Howard, technical officer of Oxfam. Oxfam had been set up in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief with the aim of arousing public interest in the suffering of civilians in Europe who were denied food because of the Allied blockade. The unfolding events of 1979 were not dissimilar, as Ben Whitaker recounts in his book about Oxfam, A Bridge of People:

It was thought intolerable - a prelude to the cry 'people before politics' heard at the time of the recent Cambodian operation - that even at the height of the war the Allies should say to innocent children in Greece, 'Sorry, you've got to die'.

A majority of the UN credentials committee, including almost all the Western democracies, supported a Chinese motion that Pol Pot's 'Democratic Kampuchea' continue to be recognised as the government of Cambodia. As the American representative, Robert Rosenstock, rose from his seat after voting for Pol Pot, somebody grabbed his hand and congratulated him. 'I looked up and saw it was Ieng Sary [Pol Pot's foreign minister],' he recalled. 'I felt like washing my hands."'

International 'legitimacy' would thus be denied to the government the Vietnamese had brought to power, regardless of the fact that it had freed the Khmers from their charnel house and governed 90 per cent of the territory of Cambodia. By contrast, the Lon Nol government, which the Americans had sustained from 1970 to 1975, controlled only the towns and main roads, yet received full international recognition. The cynicism of this was such that had the Thais, the right people on the right side, liberated their Khmer neighbours under the auspices of the Americans, the sky over Phnom Penh would now be crowded with American relief aircraft and Pol Pot's man would not be taking Cambodia's seat in the world assembly.

The UN vote for Pol Pot meant that stricken Cambodia was denied almost the entire international machinery of recovery and assistance: the United Nations Development Programme, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank could not legally help. At the World Health Assembly in Geneva, the British delegate, Sir Henry Yellowlees, voted for Pol Pot's man to take Cambodia's seat. This meant that the resources of WHO, the World Health Organisation, were now denied to Cambodia. Shortly after the Geneva meeting a WHO official telephoned me. 'That picture with your Cambodia story of the pock-marked man,' he said, 'can you tell us if that was caused by smallpox?' I said I did not know, but if smallpox had reappeared during Pol Pot's time, surely a WHO investigator should go to Cambodia to find out. 'We can't do that,' he said. 'They're not recognised.'

Fortunately, the charter of UNICEF permits it to operate in territories that are not 'recognised'. UNICEF had formed a partnership with the International Red Cross for the purposes of their 'joint mission' in Cambodia. By October 1979 this 'mission' existed in name only. UNICEF and ICRC, between them, had sent to Cambodia 100 tons of relief; or as Alan Moudoux, the head of Red Cross public relations in Geneva preferred it, 'more than 100 tons'. More than three months had passed since the foreign minister of the Phnom Penh government, Hun Sen, had handed Francois Bugnion and Jacques Beaumont a modest list of needs, including 100,000 tons of food. A month went by without even a reply from the two top agencies.

As criticism grew, the Red Cross protested that it could do no more under the terms of its constituted 'neutrality'. This meant that unless the Red Cross continued to supply 'the other side' it would not mount a relief programme in Cambodia itself, where the overwhelming majority of people lived. 'The other side' consisted of camps on either side of the Thai border where the Thai Army had encouraged the Khmer Rouge to take refuge and regroup under cover provided by refugees who had fled the famine and had been driven ahead of the Khmer Rouge virtually as hostages.

On the face of it this 'neutrality' sounded proper, even commendable; it always does. The International Red Cross deserves its reputation for life-saving work, of which there are many celebrated instances, but there have also been times when the impossible goal of 'neutrality', as interpreted in Geneva with the multitude of prejudices that afflict all human enterprise, especially those in which 'geopolitics' is a major ingredient, is little more than benign fraud; the Cambodia emergency was such a time.

The Red Cross and UNICEF 'joint mission' had two rules: one for the way it would conduct its relief operation inside Cambodia and another for its work on the Thai border. Both agencies' headquarters, in Geneva and New York respectively, would not say 'go', as Bugnion had said, until the Phnom Penh government accepted a long caravan of conditions, guarantees and strings. These amounted to, according to one relief official quoted by Brian Eads in the Observer, '. . . absolute licence, a radio station, diplomatic status. They want powers and assurances that would make them more powerful than the government in Phnom Penh." Moreover, according to the Guardian these conditions were designed '. . . to structure aid to Cambodia in such a way as to give minimum legitimacy to Heng Samrin and maximum help to Pol Pot . . . and to pursue the unrealistic aim of using an army of aid officials in Cambodia as a means of "internationalising" that country and opening it up to Sihanouk."

In short, this was gunboat relief: arrogant and, above all, hypocritical. In a secret meeting on September 17, arranged by Ieng Sary, Pol Pot's 'foreign minister', Red Cross officials gave Khmer Rouge leaders guarantees of relief supplies, knowing that all talk of preconditions and monitoring was fruitless. When I asked a senior Red Cross official in Geneva if the Khmer Rouge had agreed to the same conditions imposed on Phnom Penh in the cause of 'neutrality', he said, 'Of course not. We're dropping the stuff over the border and getting out quickly.' As Brian Eads reported in the Observer, monitoring what the Khmer Rouge did with Western charity was 'in the hands of the Thai Army' at a time when the Thais were doing everything in their power to restore the Khmer Rouge as a military force. The international aid organisations knew this. The World Food Programme knew this; nevertheless it shipped huge quantities of food to the Thai Army without preconditions, whereupon the food was promptly handed out to Khmer Rouge troops.

On January 8, 1980, John Gittings reported in the Guardian that the previous November US State Department sources had revealed

. . . their intention of mounting an international propaganda offensive to spread atrocity stories about Vietnamese behaviour in Kampuchea. Within days, presumably on White House instructions, US journalists in Bangkok and Singapore were shown the appropriate refugee stories' and Dr. Brzezinski himself verbally briefed a distinguished foreign correspondent and a Washington columnist over lunch on the contents of 'the latest CIA report'.

The 'distinguished Washington columnist' was James Reston of the New York Times. Under the emotive headline 'IS THERE NO PITY?' he wrote:

The latest US intelligence report to President Carter on the Soviet Union's role in South-east Asia indicates that Moscow is not merely refusing to relieve the suffering of the Cambodian people but is actually blocking the distribution of food and medicine from other countries.

This intelligence report notes that large amounts of desperately needed supplies are reaching Cambodia but they are being diverted from the people who need them most and into the hands of proSoviet Vietnamese and the Heng Samrin military.

Reston went on to say that 'there have been verified reports, according to this report to the president, that chemical warfare is being used against Pol Pot forces and Kampuchean civilians'. He quoted an impassioned plea by President Carter in which he called upon 'Moscow and Hanoi . . . not to feed the flames of war, but use aircraft and airfields to ferry food to feed the people of Kampuchea'. Reston ended his piece by quoting Carter as asking, 'Is there no pity?'

Reston is regarded as something of an elder statesman among journalists in the United States and in that cultivated role he has access to presidents and their advisers. In this case he must have suspended critical judgment; his information was simply untrue.

Moreover, it could be shown to be untrue from US government sources. In 1980 the State Department published an assessment, not an 'intelligence report', of international aid reaching Cambodia. The Russians were listed as the biggest single donor and the 1982 Food and Agricultural Organisation report indicated that Soviet aid to Cambodia between 1979 and the end of 1981 amounted to $300 million.

Since 1979 the United Nations Under-Secretary General in charge of humanitarian operations in Cambodia and Thailand had been Sir Robert Jackson, a distinguished international civil servant and veteran of many disaster emergencies. When asked about the division of aid, he replied:

In terms of the Vietnamese army living in say, Kampuchea, we have never had one complaint from anywhere nor have any of our people. There's been all these allegations; governments come to us and say, 'Our intelligence sources indicate this' - always in very general terms. We've said, 'Look, for heaven's sake, will you give us the time, date and place and we'll follow through.' We've never had one response when we've asked that question.

Reston's was not the only platform for 'the latest CIA report'. Other leading American columnists and editorial writers printed extracts and embroidered them with their own indignation. One Emmett Tyrell Jr wrote in the Washington Post, 'The lesson of Cambodia is the lesson of the Nazi concentration camps and the Gulag. Some people are immune to Western decency.'

To my knowledge, no journalist publicly questioned the 'facts' of this mysterious CIA report, even speculated that it might be in the tradition of the 'disinformation' so prevalent during the Vietnam war and Watergate years. The report was 'Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe' released by the CIA in May 1980 (a draft was leaked in November 1979). Much of it was warmed-over propaganda which replaced an earlier CIA analysis from which only opposite and unpalatable conclusions could be drawn. An author of the original report told a Washington source, 'They [the CIA] misrepresented everything I wrote'.

Shortly after Reston's column appeared, I was asked by a Western foreign minister for my observations on the situation in Cambodia. I began by asking him, 'Have you seen the CIA report?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'The State Department advised us to ignore it, that it was only for the media.'

The 'distinguished foreign correspondent' who, wrote John Gittings, had lunched with Brzezinski and Reston, was Alistair Cooke. In his BBC Letter from America broadcast on December 28, 1979, Cooke spoke of 'a document that has been delivered into the hands of the President of the United States and one that made him furious'. With 'the latest CIA report' as his source, Cooke accused the Vietnamese and the Russians of plotting to block 'great supplies and medicines that could save unaccountable lives in Cambodia'. Cooke had been misled; none of this was true.

Cambodia's suffering spawned a flourishing cottage industry of 'sidelines reporting' and punditry, especially among those to whom the true nature of events inside Cambodia since the liberation presented an often infuriating challenge. To Western ideologues and active cold warriors, the fact that the 'wrong people' had rescued the Khmer nation from a 'communist hell' was embarrassing. It was embarrassing because both conservatives and liberals in the West found themselves supporting those who had sustained arguably the most extreme communist movement in history. Their confusion was at times almost comical as events in Indo-China made a mockery of that venerable demon known as monolithic communism from which American ideology and strategy had drawn inspiration since 1945. Clearly, new demons had to be invented before the facts eroded such an important myth.

In a book published in 1983 by two American relief workers in Cambodia, they wrote:

The US Government, which funded the bulk of the relief operation [on the border], insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed . . . The US was interested in the resistance movements for its own strategic objectives. Like Thailand, the US preferred that the Khmer Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally-known relief operation.

Throughout 1980, their health rapidly improved . . . The Khmer Rouge had a history of unimaginable brutality, and having regained their strength, they had begun actively fighting the Vietnamese.

That there is still only speculation about the possibility of peace in Indo-China after a generation has suffered so much is itself an indictment of those who have arranged and maintained the present impasse. While the Khmer Rouge are given sanctuary in Thailand, together with American dollars, Western supplies and Chinese arms, while the United Nations continues to give them respectability of a kind and the international 'lever' of representation in the General Assembly, while the Western media continue at best to obscure the role of the Khmer Rouge and at worst to rejuvenate them, these fanatics will not wither in exile as they ought to have done long ago. When asked how such a state of affairs could exist, Sir Robert Jackson reflected:

I know of no parallel to the conditions which have been experienced in Kampuchea over the last decade . . . In the case of post war Europe there's the vast tragedy of the concentration camps: Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, but thank God, the world had an immediate reaction to that situation and to this moment there has been a sensitivity as to what happened virtually forty years ago. In the case of Kampuchea, for some extraordinary reason, I'm left with the strong impression now that the world wants to forget the tragedy that happened . . . they want to forget it.

If the Khmers were white-skinned or, like the Thais, 'the right people on the right side', they would not be forgotten. In 1986 they are in their eighteenth year of depredation: of bombing, war, genocide, starvation and now isolation. They deserve better; and they deserve better than occupation by a foreign army.

Neither history nor Hollywood nor pseudo-historians can alter the fact that it was the Vietnamese who saved Cambodia. But without the Khmer Rouge threat and a justification for remaining in Cambodia, the Vietnamese presence in their country would soon be intolerable to the Khmers. At the same time the social cost to the Vietnamese of the border war and the occupation has been immense. It is a mockery of the sufferings of these two nations to pretend that they do not both want the opportunity finally to be at peace.

New evidence from US Government documents recently declassified leaves no doubt, if ever there was doubt, that the illegal and secret bombing of neutral Cambodia caused such widespread death and devastation that not only was Pol Pot able to exploit it, but it may well have been critical in bringing him to power.

Cambodia's punishment is exemplified in its children. In the National Paediatrics Hospital, the most modern hospital in the country; seriously ill children lie on the floor in corridors so narrow there is barely room to step over them. A relative holds a drip above them; if they are lucky they have a straw mat. The wards are overflowing with children suffering from malnutrition and common diarrhoea, which is a life-threatening illness in Cambodia; more children die than recover from it.

I visited six other hospitals across the country and the situation was as critical. Drugs cupboards are depleted or bare; there is no vaccine; sterilisation equipment is broken; X-ray film unobtainable. At Battambang Hospital in the north-west I watched the death of an eleven-month-old baby, while the mother looked on. 'Her name is Ratanak,' she cried. Had there been a respirator and plasma, she would have stood a chance. A German drug, Gelifundel, would have saved her, said the doctor; it was available in the market but the mother could not afford it, and it was now too late. A light was kept shining on the baby to keep her body temperature up. Then the power went down and the baby died.

In hospital after hospital children die like that; and few reach hospital at all. Today Cambodia has one of the highest death-rates of young children in the world - one in five dies from mostly preventable illness, such as diarrhoea. The question asks itself: why are so many children still dying in Cambodia? It can be argued that the young here are no worse off than in other developing countries; and to some extent, that is true. But no other society has experienced anything to compare with the Pol Pot years, when most of the doctors and nurses were murdered, and the system of health care and preventative medicine was destroyed or vandalised. The difference in Cambodia is that children die explicitly for political reasons.

'In a disaster operation', wrote Sir Robert Jackson, who was United Nations Under Secretary-General in 1979, and oversaw the international relief operation in Europe after the Second World War, 'three phases are normally distinguished: relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. In the case of Kampuchea, not even the phase of relief has been advanced to what in other humanitarian operations would be regarded as "just adequate". At best, it can be said that the lives of the people have been preserved after that holocaust - but no more.'

Cambodia is the only country in the world to be denied United Nations development aid. This is long-term aid in the form of tools, materials and expertise, with which poor countries can make a start at developing themselves. It provides such essentials as a clean water supply, decent sanitation, medical books, hospital equipment, vaccine, irrigation pumps, tractors. Cambodia gets virtually none of these things because of a ten-year blockade led by the governments of the United States and China, and supported by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, Britain and most of Europe. A few governments have tried to circumvent the blockade by funding the work of non-government organisations (NGOs) in Cambodia. Australia provides the largest single Western aid to Cambodia through its NGOs, whose projects are co-ordinated in Phnom Penh by an Australian diplomat 'on leave': a ruse that ensures that Washington is not offended, the government of Cambodia is not 'recognised' and Antipodean consciences, presumably, are salved.

NGOs have done remarkable work in Cambodia. They are often the only link with the rest of the world. Oxfam's programme of supplying and installing simple, efficient water pumps in rural areas has improved and saved many lives; but Oxfam and the other NGOs cannot mount the co-ordinated effort needed to rebuild and restore this uniquely suffering country. Water is an example. The children Iying on the floor of the paediatric hospital die from intestinal ailments carried by waterborne parasites. The only pure water in a city of half a million is imported from France, smuggled across the border from Thailand and sells at £2 a litre - more money than most people see in months. All they have is a water supply installed forty years ago and smashed by Pol Pot; it is lethal. As the level of water rises and falls it spills into the streets and draws in drainage and raw sewage. A team from Thames Water has been here, studied the problem and proposed that an entirely new system be installed urgently. There are no resources for this in Cambodia. This ought to be development aid; and it is being denied.

In the north-west most of the children fall prey to epidemics of mosquito-carried diseases - cerebral malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever. 'Our particular tragedy,' said Dr Chuon Nuuthorl, director of Battambang Hospital, 'is that we had malaria beaten here before 1975. In the 1970s the World Health Organisation assisted us with training, medicines and funding. I remember the statistics for April 1975; we had only a handful of malaria cases; it was a triumph.'

In the same month Pol Pot came to power and Battambang Hospital was abandoned, its equipment and research files destroyed and most of its staff murdered. When the Vietnamese drove out the Khmer Rouge, the World Health organisation (WHO) refused to return to Cambodia. Malaria and dengue fever did return, along with new strains which the few surviving Cambodian doctors were unable to identify because they no longer had laboratories. Today two and a half million people, or a quarter of the population, have malaria. The same estimate applies to tuberculosis, which was also beaten in 1975. WHO assistance comes with United Nations development aid.

In June 1989, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sent an 'exploratory mission' to Cambodia. It never arrived. The two governments which effectively control the UNDP - the United States and Japan - vetoed the mission as its members flew to their first stop, Bangkok. In New York, the United States Ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering - until recently ambassador to El Salvador - argued that regardless of its tentative aims and humanitarian purpose, the UNDP mission would amount to recognition of the 'Vietnamese-installed' Phnom Penh government. He was supported by the Japanese ambassador, whose government is one of the UNDP's principal underwriters, by the Chinese ambassador, whose government is Pol Pot's principal underwriter and whose own troops and tanks recently saw off democracy at home, and by the ambassador of 'Democratic Kampuchea', whose defunct regime is led by Pol Pot and was once described by President Carter as 'the world's worst violators of human rights'.

It is not surprising that the Cambodian people cannot comprehend the hideous perversity of all this; why they have been singled out for such cruel and unusual punishment; why the Khmer Rouge, whose crimes are universally acknowledged, are sustained in Thailand by Western 'humanitarian' aid and Chinese arms; why the red and yellow Khmer Rouge flag flies in United Nations Plaza and Pol Pot's man speaks for his victims in the General Assembly. It is as if the Federal Republic of Germany's seat in the UN was occupied by Hitler's Third Reich, defeated but propped up in exile by the Allies, and the Swastika flew over New York.

Few 'geo-political' games have been quite as cynical. In 1979 the Carter administration, which reputedly was concerned about human rights, implemented a policy that would have the effect of denying the most fundamental human rights to a country with which the United States had no quarrel: Cambodia. Designed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's cold warrior National Security Adviser, the policy was known as 'playing the China card' and was meant to cultivate Peking and so further divide China and the Soviet Union. China's oldest enemy is Vietnam, which occupies a geographic and strategic bridge to the rest of southern Asia. To the Peking leadership, Pol Pot and his bloody revolution were the means of 'destabilising' Vietnam. It was of no importance that Cambodia, which Vietnam rescued, was to be punished in the process. Brzezinski endorsed this. 'The friend of your enemy is your friend', the Chinese had told him. In this way Pol Pot became America's friend. 'I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot,' Brzezinski said in 1981. The US, he added, 'winked semi-publicly' as the Chinese sent arms to the Khmer Rouge through Thailand.

Propaganda was a key to the success of this strategy. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge could not be retained as 'good guys'; but the Vietnamese could be promoted as 'bad guys' for having 'invaded' their neighbour, regardless of the positive outcome of the invasion and of the circumstances that led to it. As American intelligence, and the Chinese, knew well - and never made public - Vietnam was brutally and repeatedly attacked by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from September 1977 and tried for more than a year to get China to mediate and the UN to support a demilitarised zone. All these efforts were rebuffed, and it requires a fine comb indeed to find any reference to them in the American press. During 1978 the attacks against Vietnam increased to the point where on May 10 Khmer Rouge Radio called on its forces to exterminate the Vietnamese race. 'In terms of numbers, one of us must [each] kill thirty Vietnamese . . .'s7 Vietnam was now faced with a mad dog government as a neighbour which attacked it and would not negotiate; and so the Vietnamese dealt with Pol Pot's Cambodia as the United States had dealt with Imperial Japan after Pearl Harbor - by overthrowing the regime and constructing a new and less hostile government. In the process, they saved the Khmer people from possible extermination.

Under these circumstances, it is an extraordinary tribute to the anti-Vietnamese feeling in Peking and Washington and the influence of these two superpowers - and to the obedience of the American media, said to be the freest in the world - that the international community continues to call this Vietnamese action 'illegal' when so many analogous cases are called 'self-defence' and promptly recognised. (For example: the Tanzanian overthrow of Idi Amin.)

Throughout the 1980s blind hatred of the small, communist country that 'defeated' and humiliated the United States in its 'noble cause' in Vietnam distinguished President Reagan's policy towards Indo-China. This became known as 'bleeding Vietnam white on the battlefield of Cambodia'. From 1979 to 1982 the United States justified its support for the recognition of 'Democratic Kampuchea' (Khmer Rouge) at the United Nations with oblique references to the 'legal continuity' of the regime. At the same time American funding for UNICEF'S humanitarian programme in Cambodia was cut sharply; and Reagan's first Secretary of State, General Al Haig, openly lobbied support for Pol Pot. But) worldwide revulsion at Pol Pot's crimes was growing; several faithful American allies, notably Australia, abstained in the annual vote in the UN Credentials Committee; only by frantic lobbying did the United States, China and the ASEAN countries ensure a majority for those who almost murdered a nation.

In 1982 the United States and China invented the 'Coalition of the Government of Democratic Kampuchea' (CGDK). In CIA terminology this was a 'master illusion'; for it was neither a coalition nor a government: nor was it democratic, nor was it in Kampuchea. It was a fraud. The three 'equal partners' in the coalition were the Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front (KPNLF), who were a few thousand adventurers and bandits led by Son Sann, a prime minister in the Lon Nol military regime; the Sihanoukists, led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who had even fewer active followers; and the Khmer Rouge, whom Western and Chinese aid was then restoring as one of the strongest armies in Asia and for whom the coalition was a front. Between 1979 and 1985 the United States provided substantial covert, aid to the Khmer Rouge. This could now go openly to the 'non- J communist' and 'democratic' partners in the 'coalition', where it would end up with and rejuvenate the Khmer Rouge as it continued America's war in Indo-China.

The Khmer Rouge dominates the coalition, whose Declaration of Formation makes clear that it is 'under the legitimacy and framework of Democratic Kampuchea' (Khmer Rouge). This is the constitution that gave a legal basis for Pol Pot's terror. As if to dispel any doubt, the Declaration states that 'if for any reason the CGDK [the coalition] is rendered inoperative, the Khmer Rouge will have the right to resume its activities as the sole legal and legitimate state of Kampuchea . . .' At the United Nations little has changed for Pol Pot's ambassador plenipotentiary. Although three diplomats from each faction nominally represent the coalition, the Permanent Representative is Thiounn Prasith, an accessory to mass murder. Like most of the Khmer Rouge leadership, Prasith comes from a wealthy Cambodian family. He is fluent in English and French and was special adviser to Ieng Sary, Pol Pot's foreign minister. When Pol Pot wanted to entice lone Cambodian intellectuals living abroad - whom he regarded as potential enemies - he gave Prasith the job of finding and persuading them and sending them back to their death.

The coalition has been a propaganda success. In 1985 the Reagan administration sought Congressional approval for a major arms shipment to the 'non-communist resistance'. As this gathered momentum, the Washington Post praised the KPNLF, calling it 'reasonably democratic'. In Atlantic Monthly Stephen J. Morris described the Sihanoukists and the KPNLF as the 'authentic representatives of Cambodia' and the 'heroic survivors of the Cambodian holocaust'. This label, as Ben Kiernan has pointed out, apparently applies only to those allies of the perpetrators of that holocaust.

One Congressman has become the voice of the coalition in Washington, and on Cambodia has become as influential as the Secretary of State. He is Stephen Solarz, a liberal Democrat from New York and chairman of the House of Representatives Asia and Pacific Affairs Committee. Solarz is a pugnacious man who enjoys giving media interviews. One of his favourite expressions is: 'So what? That's history.' Solarz has the field to himself: such is the ignorance and misinformation about Cambodia in Washington that Vice-President Danforth Quayle can go to a refugee camp in Thailand and announce that he is pleased 'to be right here in Cambodia'. 'We look to Solarz; he's the expert,' Senator Christopher Dodd told me, 'he's the guy who's been there, and met the folks.' And it is true: out of 535 senators and representatives, only Congressman Solarz has visited Cambodia in the last decade. Eva Mysliwiec, former head of Oxfam in Cambodia, recalled his visit in 1988. 'He flew into Phnom Penh in a private jet,' she said, 'called a meeting of aid workers, then proceeded to lecture us. He met a member of the government who chose the occasion to make a significant statement about Cambodia moving away from Hanoi. But Solarz missed the point entirely, and flew off after dismissing the regime as a puppet. Why did he bother to come?' Solarz is almost singlehandedly responsible for the Bush administration's announcement, in June 1989, that it intended to provide 'covert lethal aid' to the 'noncommunist resistance'- which, according to Solarz, 'embody the hopes for a decent and democratic Cambodia'.

It is difficult to find the source of these hopes. In a Congressional report on the border camps, Stephen Heder, a Khmer-speaking American on contract to the State Department, described camps controlled by the KPNLF as lacking 'even a pretence of democratic political practice. Camp residents are instead ruled by a kind of bureaucratic military dictatorship which they complain is arbitrary, corrupt and beset with nepotism and cronyism'. In 1979 the KPNLF held hostage 6,000 refugees, and denied them international relief; 4,000 died of starvation.

For Solarz and the US administration Prince Sihanouk, above all, embodies 'the hopes for a decent and democratic Cambodia'. The prince is the 'good guy' and US policy is committed to maintaining him in that guise. He is nothing of the kind. The Cambodia that Sihanouk ran was anything but democratic. The prince regarded himself as a 'God king' and the people as his 'children'. Members of the Cambodian parliament were selected by him, or their seats were bought and sold. There was no freedom to challenge him. His secret police were feared and ubiquitous; and when an organised opposition arose, seeking an end to corruption and abject poverty, many of its leading members were forced to flee for their lives into the jungle, from which cauldron emerged Pol Pot and his revolutionaries.

Moreover, there is now evidence that Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge are indivisible. After the CIA arranged his overthrow in 1970, Sihanouk called on his people to join Pol Pot. He has since remained under the influence of the Khmer Rouge and the leadership in Peking, where he lives. Although a number of his relatives were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, he broadcast Pol Pot's propaganda. In 1981 he flew to New York where he knowingly lied to the United Nations about the true nature of the Khmer Rouge: that the evacuation of Phnom Penh and the other cities had been carried out 'without bloodshed' and reports of wholesale executions were 'unfounded'. This inspired many Cambodians to return to a fate of torture and death.

Sihanouk's collaboration continues today. On March 17, 1989, he wrote to supporters in the United States thanking them 'for sending me the list of treasonous Cambodians', whose 'crime' had been to visit their homeland. He signed himself 'President of Democratic Kampuchea', the Khmer Rouge state. According to John Pedlar, a former British diplomat who knows him, Sihanouk remains in awe of Khieu Samphan, his former jailer. 'It is a psychological attachment,' wrote Pedlar. 'They are like the rabbit and the snake . . . One of his actual jailers, Chhorn Hay, a hard core Khmer Rouge who oversaw his imprisonment in the Royal Palace, is often among his entourage today, a constant reminder to him that his life is still in the hands of "Angkar" [Pol Pot's secret organisation]. The West - and indeed, he himself- still has not recognised how much of what he purveys is Khmer Rouge propaganda.'

Since 1988 Sihanouk has done his mercurial best to sabotage regional peace efforts. Of his numerous peace plans, his 'five point programme' is the most revealing; for it demands the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in a future Cambodian government both as a political and military force. In March 1989 Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan held a joint press conference in Peking where Sihanouk said that their organisations were to merge 'in the not very distant future . . . to set up a national army of Kampuchea . What he omitted to say was that his own small army already fought side by side, in secret, with the Khmer Rouge. According to Congressman Solarz, 'the non-communist resistance forces do not train or fight with the Khmer Rouge and are not even in close proximity to them'. There is filmed evidence of Sihanouk's men and the Khmer Rouge on joint operations, using the same weapons to terrorise civilians. When the United States sends arms to the 'non-communist resistance', the route to their final destination is clearly marked.

For the Bush administration, it is supremely irrelevant that the 'resistance' is 'non-communist' or otherwise. What matters is that it is an effective means of furthering American aims in de-stabilising IndoChina. Shortly after he took office in 1980 Secretary of State James Baker spoke with unusual frankness when he described the Khmer Rouge as a 'fact of life'. The American Ambassador to Thailand, Daniel O'Donahue, said he 'could not see a scenario' in which the Khmer Rouge were not part of a future Cambodian government.' Whenever Thailand's new reformist government has made overtures to Phnom Penh, going as far as to invite Hun Sen to Bangkok and indicating it would like to get rid of the Khmer Rouge, Ambassador O'Donehue has expressed American displeasure and reminded the Thais of their commitment to 'democracy' and 'security' in the region - i.e. American strategic interests. This pressure invariably succeeds, and the Thais draw back.

American policy is to support a 'quadripartite solution' in which the three factions of the coalition share power in Phnom Penh with the Hun Sen government. An almost unanimous view of this in Cambodia is that it will allow the Khmer Rouge to return as a Trojan horse. According to John Pedlar, 'There are those giving advice to the US Administration, like the [far right-wing] Heritage Foundation, some of whose members see communist weakness in the USSR, China and Vietnam as an opportunity for exploitation. They believe that the Khmer Rouge - supported by the non-communist world - is now in a position to destabilise Cambodia and eventually Vietnam, too.'

The extreme right's benign view of the Khmer Rouge was expressed by Douglas Pike, director of Indochina Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In August 1989, Pike described fears about the return of Pol Pot as 'mindless sloganeering'. He wrote that 'the Khmer Rouge today are not the Khmer Rouge of the 1970s' and that what was needed was not a government controlled by the Khmer Rouge 'but one acceptable to it'.

The Pike view, although reflecting official policy, is an embarrassment in Washington. When Cambodia again became news in 1989, the State Department briefed journalists that there were 'subtle shifts' in American policy. The headlines said this; the United States would have no truck with the monstrous Pol Pot. On July 30, 1989, Secretary of State Baker said

The United States sincerely believes that the Khmer Rouge should play no role in Cambodia's future . . . the strength of our support for any [future] Cambodian government will directly and inversely depend on the extent of Khmer Rouge participation, if any, in that government.

What did this mean? Was it another 'master illusion'? Two weeks later at the international conference in Paris, Baker supported Prince Sihanouk's call for the Khmer Rouge to be part of a future Cambodian government. He added only that this was 'conditional' on the exclusion of Pol Pot and his close associates. Nothing had changed. Earlier in the year, when Prince Sihanouk told a Peking press conference that the Khmer Rouge had agreed to exclude Pol Pot from any future government, Khieu Samphan, seated beside the prince, burst out laughing.

American policy has long determined a united front on Cambodia among Western governments. The Australian government, which has sought to aid the people of Cambodia while looking over its shoulder at Washington, supported Baker's 'conditional' call for the reintegration into Cambodian society of a political movement that instigated the deaths of a fifth of that society. However, the role of the British government has been the most shameful, and is epitomised by the words of a senior British diplomat. 'Cambodia', he said, 'is a country of about seven million people. It's of no real strategic value. As far as Britain is concerned, it's expendable.'


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