The 20th century saw a rare humanitarian and just event that Vietnamese people and army helped Cambodians overthrow the Pol Pot genocidal regime and free the country. The People’s Army Newspaper (PAN) introduces a series of articles by Colonel Le Lien, former PAN journalist cum former Vietnamese volunteer soldier participating in this historical event.

* Part 1: Betrayers

In February 1963, in the second congress of the Workers Party of Kampuchea (previously the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party), Pol Pot was elected General Secretary, succeeding Tu Samut who had been murdered earlier.

One month later, Pol Pot and most of the high-ranking officials of the party left Phnom Penh to establish a base in Ratanakiri province in orthern Cambodia.

After that, Pol Pot and his associates gradually took power in the party by eliminating its senior members and those who actively and proactively advocated the revolutionary cause in the Indochinese peninsula.

In September 1966, they secretly renamed the party as the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). Many members of the party were not aware of this, even several years later.

In the jungle, they harboured and carried out extreme nationalist plots.

The reactionary group in Cambodia included five ringleaders Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok.

Pol Pot was born in 1928 in Kampong Thom province. In 1953, he participated in the Vietnamese-influenced "United Khmer Issarak (Freedom) Front" of Cambodian communists. After Cambodia finished the war against the Americans (April 17, 1975), Pol Pot established the Democratic Kampuchea. On May 20 1975, Pol Pot mapped out the three eccentric policies of “purifying” the Khmer race; defining Vietnam as the arch-enemy; and building up a state-run model of no personal ownership, market, currency, school or religion.

On February 1, 1978, he said that if Cambodia did not defeat Vietnam at the beginning, they would have not gained victory, and they targeted to sacrifice 2 million Cambodians to decimate 60 million Vietnamese people, adding that they should wage a war on Vietnam.

Nuon Chea, a Chinese Cambodian, was born in 1926 in Battambang province. After the establishment of the Democratic Kampuchea, Nuon Chea was known as the right-hand man of Pol Pot and the director of “the killing fields” in Cambodia. Since 1960, he was in charge of party work and internal security, which meant extirpating the opposition. When Pol Pot came to power, Nuon Chea was appointed Chairman of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and even acting Prime Minister when Pol Pot took a month off. Nuon Chea also directly ordered his men to torture and kill Cambodian revolutionary cadres suspected of opposing the Pol Pot regime.

Ieng Sary was born in 1925 in Tra Vinh province, Vietnam. In 1957, he joined the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party and undertook key positions in the Phnom Penh Party Committee and also the party. In 1963, he was promoted to the politburo of the Workers Party of Kampuchea. Between 1970 and 1975, he was a special consultant of King Norodom Sihanouk in Beijing, China. Since April 17, 1975, Ieng Sary was the Deputy Prime Minister under the Pol Pot regime. Together with Pol Pot, Ieng Sary was accused of directing the mass killing of Cambodian people.

Khieu Samphan, the son of a Cambodian father and a Chinese mother, was born in 1931 into a farming family. After the coup in 1970 overthrew the government of Sihanouk, Samphan followed the Khmer United National Front led by Sihanouk, and served as deputy prime minister, minister of defence and commander-in-chief of the military of the Government of United Kingdom of Kampuchea (GRUNK). In 1976, he was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Democratic Kampuchea. Khieu Samphan was regarded as an “architect” of the Democratic Kampuchea.

Ta Mok was born in 1926 in Takeo province, Cambodia. His birth name was Chhit Choeun. After joining the CPK, he was elected member of the Standing and Military Committees of the Central Committee. In July 1975, Pol Pot divided Cambodia into 7 zones and Ta Mok was in charge of the southwest. He became Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1977, charged with orchestrating a series of massacres.

For Vietnam, the Pol Pot regime showed its betrayal since the two nations were carrying out the anti-American resistance war.

From the end of 1971, there were some clashes between the Pol Pot’s troops and Vietnamese volunteer soldiers. Pol Pot's soldiers stole some of Vietnam’s arsenal and murdered Vietnamese cadres while they were carrying out missions alone or in small groups in Cambodia.

At the end of 1972, they asked Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia. By 1973, all Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts performing international obligation in Cambodia returned home.

After the liberation of Vietnam in 1975, Pol Pot sent troops to attack southwest Vietnam’s islands and border areas. On May 3, 1975, Vietnam defeated Pol Pot's troops when they landed on Phu Quoc Island. However, on May 10, 1975, Pol Pot's troops seized Tho Chu Island and killed about 500 locals. Later, they continued invading localities along the southwest border of Vietnam and Cambodia.

* Part 2: Everything has its own limit

Since 1975, there appeared in Cambodia the opposition against the Pol Pot genocidal regime’s oppression, starting from its own officials then rapidly spread out to people throughout the country.

Between 1975 and 1978, many unprompted campaigns emerged across the country like “Seizing power at commune and district levels” and “peace has been restored and no more war” in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces; “Getting married by ourselves” and “Improving our living standards” in Southwestern Cambodia; “Do not murder the Cham people” in Kampong Cham; and “Freedom of traveling”, “Strengthening national unity”, “Saving King Norodom Sihanouk” and “Asking for help from international community” in Phnom Penh.

The more the Cambodian people opposed, the more they were barbarously repressed or killed by the Pol Pot troops. As a result, tens of thousands of people had to take refuge in jungles.

Among millions of Cambodians opposing the Pol Pot regime, there were many its own party leaders and high-ranking officers who were former Khmer Rouge cadres. They had played an important role in rekindling the revolutionary flame in Cambodia. They even mapped out ways to save Cambodian people and led locals to revive the country and build a new society.

In June 1977, Hun Sen led 16 others into Vietnam to avoid Khmer Rouge purges in the Eastern Military Zone, where he was himself a Khmer Rouge regimental commander. In late 1978, another 107 army leaders fled to Vietnam.

Thank to wholehearted help from Vietnam, the Cambodian refugees started building up their forces and working out policies to liberate the country.

From November 26 to 29, 1978, the Congress of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation, including 108 delegates, voted its Central Committee with Heng Samrin, Chea Sim and Roh Samay as the committee’s Chairman, Vice Chairman and General Secretary respectively.

On December 2, 1978, a solemn ceremony to announce the coming into being of the front was held in Kratie province, Cambodia, with the participation of people from all walks of life. All the participants felt excited as they could now have leaders of the revolutionary cause and believed that Cambodia would certainly overthrow the Pol Pot genocidal regime.

Core cadres leading the Cambodian revolutionary cause in Vietnam are true members of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party.

On January 4 and 5, 1979, former members of the party gathered in Ho Chi Minh City for a congress to restore the Party’s operation and elect a new Central Committee. Besides, the delegates voted the State President and the Cabinet to represent the Cambodian people right after the national liberation from the Pol Pot genocidal regime.

The Party Central Committee included General Secretary Pen Sovan, Permanent Members Heng Samrin and Chea Sim, and Central Members Hun Sen, Bu Thoong, Van Son and Chan Sy.

Since then, the Cambodian revolutionary cause would be under the leadership of a political party whose members had been tempered through the fierce wars against foreign invaders and who were loyal to the nation and people’s interest, and stood close to Vietnamese people.

The party had assembled all the Cambodians who had opposed the Pol Pot regime to make an uprising, with the wholehearted support from Vietnam, to topple the genocidal regime.

On November 3, 1978, the Cambodian revolutionary forces occupied the Seneca base of Pol Pot in Kampong Cham and captured a large number of weapons and military equipment. From then on, the uprising against the Pol Pot regime had been spreading nationwide not only in the scale but also the struggling method with the effective coordination between forces in cities and rural areas, between armed struggles and political negotiations, and between the public and the Pol Pot troops who mutinied and crossed the rank to the people.

From November 1978, the Cambodian revolutionary armed forces and local residents in western and northwestern zones simultaneously rose up against the Pol Pot regime and spread leaflets to call on Cambodians across the country to overthrow the genocidal regime.

By early December 1978, the movement considerably developed and gained many victories, seizing power in several communes and reducing the enemy’s strength. Even in some military zones, there were military coups against the Pol Pot.

* Part 3: Side by side in the hard times

As Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts started withdrawing from Cambodia, Cambodian people in many provinces like Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham and Prey Veng asked for asylum in Vietnam.

Lines of Cambodians and wagons carrying their children and necessities followed Vietnamese troops. At that time, more than 40,000 Cambodians fled to Vietnam.

They said that the Pol Pot regime conducted wild policies, such as forcing people in Phnom Penh and other cities to rural areas to do farming, and building up a state-run model of no personal ownership, market, currency, school and religion, or organising makeshift collective marriage ceremonies. The opposition would be murdered in bloodshed.

The Pol Pot clique persecuted Buddhists during their reign, even killing those wearing frock. They intended to abolish the religion in Cambodia.

Cambodian refugees to Vietnam were provided with shelters and did farming in Tay Ninh province. Besides, they were called on to denounce the Pol Pot regime’s atrocity.

As a result, the Cambodian revolutionary cause seemed to start from the scratch. Vietnam’s Party, State, army and people had to help Cambodians topple the genocidal regime with the noble international solidarity spirit, as they had done in the wars against French and American invaders previously.

In March 1978, the Communist Party of Vietnam assigned the Vietnam People’s Army to help Cambodia when true members of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party stated their expectation to build armed forces in Vietnam to free their country.

On April 21, 1978, the Central Military Commission issued a decision to set up Mission Board Z (Cambodia), alias Board 10, headed by Tran Van Quang, Deputy Minister of National Defence.

The board then established an agency called Unit 478 to send its staff to Vietnam’s localities where there were Cambodian refugees, to keep in touch with current events and recruit cadres for the Cambodian revolutionary cause.

After that, at a meeting between Senior Lieutenant General Tran Van Tra, Commander of Military Zone 7 at that time, and Hun Sen, they reached an agreement on supporting Cambodia to build up armed forces for the country’s liberation.

Accordingly, Vietnam provided military training courses, weapons and equipment, and logistics for Cambodia, while the Cambodian cadres were in charge of political work.

With Vietnam’s support, on May 12, 1978, the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation was established, whereas Steering Committee 578 was subsequently set up and led by Hun Sen, paving the way for the establishment of Unit 125, the first army unit of the Cambodian revolutionary armed forces.

Over the last months of 1978, the Cambodian revolution had a twist. After over three years under the Pol Pot's rule, Cambodian people felt hatred for the genocidal regime and hoped that the just revolutionary armed forces would free the country. In addition, Cambodian cadres fleeing to Vietnam since the 1954 Geneva Accords were ready to return home to overthrow the Pol Pot regime. Meanwhile, by November 1978, Vietnam helped Cambodia set up 21 battalions and 100 armed working teams.

After the establishment of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party, Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and Cambodian revolutionary armed forces, Cambodia asked Vietnam to help dislodge the Pol Pot clique and crush their savage war along Vietnam's southwest border.

* Part 4: The decisive campaign

During the war along Vietnam's southwest border waged by the Pol Pot clique from May 1975 to December 23, 1978, more than 5,000 Vietnamese people were murdered, nearly 5,000 injured and over 20,000 others taken for annihilation.

Besides, the invaders destroyed thousands of hectares of paddy fields and hundreds of schools, hospitals and pagodas, and plundered thousands of cattle along the borderline with Cambodia. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and rubber plantations in southwest Vietnam were left fallow and half a million local residents had to flee to the eastern part of the country.

Facing this critical situation, Vietnam’s Party and State still proposed political negotiations with the Pol Pot regime. Though Vietnam’s goodwill was rejected, the country continued pursuing its persistent policy.

Responding to the call by the Cambodian people, Vietnam decided to support the true Cambodian revolutionary fighters to topple the Pol Pot genocidal regime.

In mid-December 1978, the Pol Pot regime mobilised 10 out of its 21 divisions to start a large-scale war on Vietnam's Southwest border with Tay Ninh town (Tay Ninh province) as its target, and the Vietnam People’s Army started a strategic counter-attack on the invaders from December 23, 1978. The Vietnamese troops, in coordination with armed forces of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation, fought in five main directions.

On January 7, 1979, the capital city of Phnom Penh was liberated and 10 days later, all other localities in Cambodia were freed. As a result, Cambodia finally escaped from the genocidal regime.

Apart from the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers’ bravery and military talent, the Cambodian people and armed forces played an important role in the rapid final victory.

In every newly-liberated locality in Cambodia, local people were overwhelmed with joy while welcoming Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts. For them, the Vietnamese are their saviours and close relatives.

Many Cambodians who had been suffering from the Pol Pot genocidal regime could not hold their tears seeing Vietnamese volunteer troops and whole-heartedly supported them in toppling the Pol Pot clique.

It was easy to understand why the Cambodians were so happy to have got rid of the genocidal regime and why they have been taking the Vietnamese as their relatives.-VNA