On April 17th the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot marched into Phnom Penh and marks the occasion with the date as 'Year Zero'. The cadres soon began a ruthless program to "purify" Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and all foreign influences. Pol Pot's vision for Cambodia was of an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state. Foreigners are to be expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished. Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices and private property were outlawed. Within days the capital is emptied of its inhabitants as the entire population of over two million people are marched into the countryside at gunpoint.
Pol Pot, born Saloth Sar studied radio technology at the Ecole Francaise de Radioelectricite in Paris. In March 1970, General Lon Nol initiated a coup while Cambodia’s hereditary leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was out of the country. A civil war then broke out in which Sihanouk allied himself with the Khmer Rouge while Lon Nol received the backing of the United States. Finally, on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered the city and ended the fighting. About half a million Cambodians had died during the civil war, yet the worst was still to come.
The killing fields, as they, as they became known, would have a rich harvest in the days ahead.
Homō hominī lupus estLatin Proverb
Captured Khmer Rouge records from the Tuol Sleng interrogation and detention center in Phnom Penh (also known as S-21) show that 14,499 "anti-party elements", including men, women, and children, are tortured and executed from 1975 to the first six months of 1978. Only seven of those detained at the center will leave it alive. At least 20 other similar centers operate throughout the country. Terror and paranoia reign, reaching a climax in 1977 and 1978 when Pol Pot launches a bloody purge against "hidden enemies, burrowing from within". At least 200,000 of their own cadres are executed.
Only an invasion from Vietnam would end Pol Pot's murderous reign when on the 25th of December 1978 the Vietnamese launched a full-scale military invasion of Cambodia. Pol Pot and the defeated Khmer Rouge would retreat to the country's remote western region and continue to fight the invaders for another 20 years. With the Khmer Rouge resistance crumbling and he himself about to be turned over to the government authorities, Pol Pot dies in the evening of April 15th, 1998, his body cremated on a pyre of old car tires beside a village latrine.