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Democratic Kampuchea official name.svg
Democratic Kampuchea

Flag Coat of arms
Dap Prampi Mesa Chokchey
Capital Phnom Penh
Language(s) Khmer language
Government Single-party Communist state
President of the State Presidium
 - 1975–1976 Norodom Sihanouk
(as Prince of Cambodia)
 - 1976–1979 Khieu Samphan
Head of Government
 - 1975–1976 Samdech Penn Nouth
 - 1976 Khieu Samphan
 - 1976–1979 Pol Pot (also party leader from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979)
Legislature Representative Assembly
Historical era Cold War
 - Civil War 1967–1975
 - Established April 17, 1975
 - Fall of Phnom Penh January 7, 1979
 - Vietnamese troops redrawn 1989
Currency None, as money was abolished.

Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer: Democratic Kampuchea official name.svg) was a totalitarian communist state[1] between 1975 and 1979 that is known as present-day Cambodia in Southeast Asia. It was founded when the Khmer Rouge forces defeated the Lon Nol-led Khmer Republic. The governing body was referred to as "Angkar Loeu" (upper organization).[2] The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) leadership referred to themselves as "Angkar Padevat" during this period.[3] Its constitution defined it as a "State of the people, workers, peasants, and all other Kampuchean labourers"[4].

Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge. In 1979 the territory of Cambodia/Kampuchea was invaded by Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and People's Army of Vietnam troops, following which the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was installed. The PRK had a pro-Soviet government, similar to that installed in Laos in December 1975. The defeated Khmer Rouge forces regrouped along the border with Thailand and retained the structure of the DK state in the regions they controlled. Most Western nations continued to recognize DK as the legitimate government of the country.

In June 1982, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea was formed.[5]



In 1970, Premier Lon Nol and the National Assembly deposed Norodom Sihanouk as the head of state. Sihanouk, opposing the new government, entered into an alliance with the Khmer Rouge against them. Taking advantage of Vietnamese occupation of eastern Cambodia, massive U.S. carpet bombing ranging across the country, and Sihanouk's reputation, the Khmer Rouge were able to present themselves as a peace-oriented party in a coalition that represented the majority of the people. With large popular support in the countryside, they were able to take the capital Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975. They continued to use King Norodom Sihanouk as a figurehead for the government.

Immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city. The roads out of the city were clogged with evacuees. Phnom Penh —the population of which, numbering 2.5 million people, included as many as 1.5 million wartime refugees living with relatives or in urban center—was soon nearly empty. Similar evacuations occurred at Battambang, Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, and in other towns.

The Khmer Rouge justified the evacuations in terms of the impossibility of transporting sufficient food to feed an urban population of between 2 and 3 million people. Lack of adequate transportation meant that, instead of bringing food to the people, the people had to be brought to the food. The Khmer Rouge was determined to turn the country into a nation of peasants in which the corruption and "parasitism" of city life would be completely uprooted. They also spread rumours that American airplanes were on the verge of bombing the city.

On the surface, society in Democratic Kampuchea was strictly egalitarian. This was not the case in practice however. Members and candidate members of the CPK, local-level leaders of poor peasant background who collaborated with the Angkar, and members of the armed forces had a higher standard of living than the rest of the population.

Ironic considering the intensity of their revolutionary ideology, the Khmer Rouge leadership practiced nepotism to a level that nearly matched that of the Sihanouk-era elite. Family ties were important, both because of the culture and because of the leadership's intense secretiveness and distrust of outsiders, especially of pro-Vietnamese communists. Greed was also a motive. Different ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, were controlled and exploited by powerful Khmer Rouge families. Administering the diplomatic corps was regarded as an especially profitable fiefdom.

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 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.

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.

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 National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist and non-communist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol Pot regime and a near 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.[6] The new administration was supported by a substantial Vietnamese military force and civilian advisory effort. As events in the 1980 s progressed, the main preoccupations of the new regime were survival, restoring the economy, and combating the Khmer Rouge insurgency by military and political means.

Armed Forces of Democratic Kampuchea

Aircraft roundel of the RAK, 1975 to 1979.

As the Armed Forces of Democratic Kampuchea, the 68,000-member Khmer Rouge-dominated CPNLAF (Cambodian People's National Liberation Armed Forces) force that completed its conquest of Cambodia in April 1975 was renamed the RAK (Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea). This name was dating back to the peasant uprising that broke out in the Samlot district of Batdambang Province in 1967.

Under its long-time commander and then Minister of Defense Son Sen, the RAK had 230 battalions in 35 to 40 regiments and in 12 to 14 brigades. The command structure in units was based on three-person committees in which the political commissar ranked higher than the military commander and his deputy.

Cambodia was divided into zones and special sectors by the RAK, the boundaries of which changed slightly over the years. Within these areas, the RAK's first task upon "liberation," as a calculated policy, was the peremptory execution of former FANK officers and of their families, without trial or fanfare.

The next priority was to consolidate into a national army the separate forces that were operating more or less autonomously in the various zones. The Khmer Rouge units were commanded by zonal secretaries who were simultaneously party and military officers, some of whom were said to have manifested "warlord characteristics." Troops from one zone frequently were sent to another zone to enforce discipline. It was such efforts to discipline zonal secretaries and their dissident or ideologically impure cadres that gave rise to the purges that were to decimate RAK ranks, to undermine the morale of the victorious army, and to generate the seeds of rebellion.[7]

Administrative divisions

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge government did away with all former Cambodian traditional administrative divisions. Instead of provinces, Democratic Kampuchea was divided into seven geographic zones: The Northwest, the North, the Northeast, the East, the Southwest, the West and the Center, plus two "Special Regions": The Kratie Special Region no 505 and (before mid-1977) the Siemreap Special Region no 106.[8]

The regions were subdivided into smaller areas or damban. These were known by numbers, which were assigned without a seemingly coherent pattern.

These zones were derived from divisions established by the Khmer Rouge when they fought against the ill-fated Khmer Republic led by general Lon Nol.[9]

Also during the Khmer Rouge years villages were subdivided into 'groups' (krom) of 15-20 households who were led by a group leader (Meh Krom). This practice continued under the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Presently it is no longer part of the official administrative system and is now unevenly applied.

See also


  1. ^ David Chandler & Ben Kiernan, ed (1983). Revolution and its Aftermath. New Haven.  
  2. ^ "Cambodia Since April 1975". Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved 2007-11-26.  
  3. ^ "A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979)". Retrieved 2007-11-26.  
  4. ^ Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea
  6. ^ A video on Vietnamese invasion
  7. ^ Becker, Elizabeth (1986). When the War Was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671417878.  
  8. ^ Vickery, Michael (1984). Cambodia : 1975-1982. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0896081893.  
  9. ^ Tyner, James A. (2008). The Killing of Cambodia: Geopolitics, Genocide, and the Unmaking of Space. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754670964.  

Further reading

  • Beang, Pivoine, and Wynne Cougill. Vanished Stories from Cambodia's New People Under Democratic Kampuchea. Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2006. ISBN 9995060078
  • Dy, Khamboly. A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979). Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2007. ISBN 9995060043 Foreword
  • Etcheson, Craig. The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea. Westview special studies on South and Southeast Asia. Boulder, Colo: Westview, 1984. ISBN 0865316503

External links

Simple English

Democratic Kampuchea was the official name of Cambodia/Kampuchea from 1976 to January 1979, during the Khmer Rouge Years, though the international community recognized it for ten more years. Its leader was Pol Pot, and its national anthem (song) was Dap Prampi Mesa Chokchey. It was succeeded by the People's Republic of Kampuchea upon the Vietnamese invasion in 1979. While Democratic Kampuchea existed, about 20% of its population died either because of starvation, brutality, or execution.

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