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Khmer Rouge docs shed light on journalists' 1978 visit

Khmer Rouge docs shed light on journalists' 1978 visit

An internal Khmer Rouge report posted to the website of the Khmer Rouge tribunal offers a rare glimpse into the unvarnished thinking of the regime – including a seeming acknowledgement of regime shortcomings, a fondness for communist scholar Malcolm Caldwell and an apparent deep irritation with American journalist Elizabeth Becker.

The document, from December of 1978, less than a month before the regime fell to invading Vietnamese forces, offers an account of the travels of three foreign visitors – Caldwell, Becker and fellow American journalist Richard Dudman – around Democratic Kampuchea under the strict supervision of their Khmer Rouge handlers.

The report notes with annoyance the tendency of the Americans, particularly Becker, to focus on the regime’s failings.

“The American journalists, especially the woman, mostly photographed what was bad, such as children working at the traditional medicine-producing office in Kampong Cham, naked children, children walking in lines from the rice paddy wearing ragged clothes,” the report reads. “They also photographed our good points but not as actively as they photographed our shortcomings.”

Becker and Dudman also sought meetings with persecuted groups such as city evacuees and members of the former regime – “those who used to be with the contemptible [Lon] Nol”, in the report’s words – though handlers rebuffed their requests, insisting that “the Kampuchean people still hate the American imperialists a great deal”.

The report expresses fondness for Caldwell, a professed regime sympathiser who was murdered by Khmer Rouge cadres in the middle of the night.

“The guest, the British professor, was easy and gentle. He did not ask much and did not take many photos either,” the report reads. “Upon his return, he would try to explain [the regime] to his government and British people.”

Becker has said that she suspects Caldwell’s assassination was an attempt to discredit then-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, who had facilitated their visit.

The document also makes the regime’s feelings towards Dudman and Becker quite clear:

“The two American journalists clearly serve the American government and the CIA as we have precisely identified,” it reads. “Specially [sic], the woman, Elizabeth Becker, just keeps collecting information and spotting our weak points.”

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