I was already in-country for a couple of months in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the early 90s, heading a newly start up bank. It was a totally strange and alien environment as compared to the peaceful countries I have travelled and stayed. And among my staff members, I heard many of the sufferings of their families first hand during the Khmer Rouge years.
The people of Cambodia are called Khmers and it was a country that had seen war for many decades. During the Nam War, the western part of the country bordering Vietnam had being bombed the living daylight by American USAF in military swoops to root out the North Vietnamese Army, as the VietCongs were using Cambodia as a base to launch their guerilla warfare against the US Forces based in South Vietnam. It was said that more bombs and military ordnance landed in Cambodia than Hilter’s Blitz on London during WWII.
Then the genocide rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 saw Pol Pot and his army murdered more than an estimated 2 million of her people and displacing more than another 2 million people where families were broken up, properties destroyed, farm lands laid wasted, transportation and communications came to a halt and even the Central Bank of Cambodia was burnt down as Khmer Rouge deemed that money was the root of all evils of imperialism and capitalism. War refugees were scrambling madly out of the country and in most times trampled on the skeletons of others in order to get out.
The Khmer Rouge era was one of the most lethal regime of the 20th century and one of the most atrocious. An extreme form of agrarian communism was imposed on the Cambodian society where the whole population had to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. City dwellers were all deported to the country side and overnight cities and towns became ghost towns totally devoid of people. Intellectuals, teachers, those who wore spectacles, writers, journalists and those who could speak a foreign language were systematically tortured and murdered. Property owners, business men and women and those who were deemed to be involved in free market activities were not spared. Children and women were also the main targets of these communist Khmer Rouge sub-humans.
(The British film in 1984, The Killing Fields, is perhaps one of the best films that told the story of the Khmer Rouge regime.)
After 4 years of genocide rule by the Khmer Rouge, a number of senior military soldiers within its rank deflected to Vietnam. This included the present Prime Minister Hun Sen who was a Khmer Rouge divisional commander at one time. One must understand that throughout history, Vietnam and Cambodia both are like quarreling Siamese twins, joined at the hip but with different ideologies and ideas and both are perennially at each other’s throat over border disputes and the movement of its people. But the intervention of Vietnam seemed a better alternative to the continual genocide of Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian military exiles together with the Vietnamese Army finally drove the Khmer Rouge in December 1978 to the western part of Cambodia in Battambang, Pailin and their last strong hold at Anlong Veng District.
The country was renamed State of Cambodia.
The Paris Peace Accord signed in October 1991 saw the formation of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia and the UNTAC Peace Keeping Force moved into Cambodia in late 1992. After years of war and deprivation, the Khmers hope for a better and peaceful future would be realized, where UNTAC would supervise an orderly democratic election for the people of Cambodia to decide who should govern Cambodia.
A budget of no less than $1.5 billion was allocated and the movement of more than 20,000 military and civilian personnel from UNTAC was envisaged. Thus an artificial economic boom was created for the country and this would kick-start its reconstruction and the reconciliation of a nation, whose great Buddhist temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon and other temples of more than a thousand years in Siem Reap, Northern Cambodia made it one of the Ancient Wonders of the World.