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The Devil's Advocate

The Devil's Advocate

Dear Editor,

The denial of any genocide in Cambodia during one of the most murderous regimes the

world has ever experienced must be conceived as a slap in the face by those who lived

through that time and lost their relatives. Such a claim was made in the article

"Devil's advocate: there should be no KR trial", by Philip Short, (Post,

Nov 10).

Genocide is "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, religious,

political, or ethnic group". The criteria for genocide is - contrary to the

opinion expressed in the article - not only "...the extermination of an entire

race". The systematic destruction of a religious or political group within a

race is by far enough to qualify as genocide.

It is needless to explain that the ubiquitous killings of many of the "new people"

from the city occurred because they were seen as a danger for "Angkar"

(the term used by the KR for Democratic Kampuchea), in other words for mere political


It is also commonly known that people who were educated or who bore signs of education,

such as the ability to speak a foreign language, wearing glasses, etc, were systematically

singled out and killed because they were seen as potential threats against the regime.

To claim that "...one cannot define this as 'genocide'" is more than absurd.

In addition, how are the killings of hundreds of Buddhist monks to qualify, if not

as the systematic extermination of a religious group?

The quotation of Mao Zedong, as saying, "Revolution is not a dinner party. It

is an act of violence whereby one class overthrows the power of another" sounds

like an attempt to downplay the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and his men. Mao

Zedong was himself responsible for the deaths of millions of landowners during the

land reform in China and sounds therefore rather out of place to be quoted here.

Indeed, double standards are abundant in today's politics. But the failure to bring

the perpetrators of one holocaust to justice cannot be used to justify another one.

Whereas it is undeniable that genocide has taken place under the command of the Khmer

Rouge, the usefulness of a Khmer Rouge trial can of course be questioned.

The benefit it might provide the Cambodian people is open to discussion. Nobody denies

that such a trial appears not only for the sake of the Khmer people but that it largely

serves foreign interests as well. And as the author of the above-mentioned article

puts it, the huge amount of money which is likely to be spent on the trial is far

better invested in many other things Cambodia is desperately in need of.

In addition, if there is a trial at all, then the foreign powers which created the

perfect environment for an extremist movement like the Khmer Rouge must equally be

brought to justice. The latter were nothing other than a byproduct of the misery

caused in Cambodia by Cold War policies.

Also the French colonization of Cambodia favored the development towards a nationalist

and communist movement. When it comes to the colonization of countries, the negative

impact of the colonial powers on the nations under their control is often swept under

the carpet.

In Vietnam, the French colonization was largely marked by exploitation of the rural

population and triggered abundant corruption. The occupation of their land on one

hand and the oppression inflicted on them on the other were ideal preconditions for

peasant uprisings and the communist movement of the Vietminh (the former teachers

of the Khmer Rouge).

Also in Cambodia, French colonization bolstered corruption and nationalist movements.

After the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in 1953, the excessive corruption

remained and eventually culminated in the Lon Nol era.

The coup d'etat by General Lon Nol marked the beginning of another period of a foreign

de facto control over Cambodia, this time by the USA in the form of their strong

backing of Lon Nol and their military presence after the spilling over of the Vietnam

war into Cambodia on April 30, 1970. It must not surprise when a country, riddled

with corruption, foreign occupants being always present in one way or another, and

local governments being obedient to them gives rise to an extremist counterbalance.

Obviously, in the tug-of-war between left and right during the Cold War, and inspired

by "Uncle Ho's" Vietminh, who had successfully driven out the colonialists

of Vietnam, and the Vietcong who were fighting the Americans, this counterbalance

must have come from the extreme left and finally took shape in the form of the Khmer


The secret bombing of Cambodia's eastern provinces by the US forces between 1969

and 1973, which caused the death of uncounted thousands of civilians, was hardly

prone to win the sympathy of the rural population.

What else can be expected from these terror-stricken people than aggression and hatred

against the American-backed Lon Nol government? Weren't the countless orphans created

by this insane bombing campaign a welcome source for new recruitment of Khmer Rouge

soldiers? And what else can be expected from these very soldiers, who later watched

over the "new people" during the time of Democratic Kampuchea, than vent

their hatred on everybody who they saw even remotely associated with the Lon Nol

government, which led a cruel anti-Communist campaign against them and killed many

of their fellow soldiers? It is easily conceivable that they were willing tools and

didn't need much persuasion to carry out murderous acts when they were ordered to

march people away in the forests and kill them.

As it was made clear again during Jiang Zemin's recent visit to Cambodia, China refuses

to apologize for its massive support in the form of weapons, cash, and political

support for the Khmer Rouge. Had it not been for this support, the Pol Pot clique

could hardly have achieved what it did.

How about Thailand? Did the neighbor to the west really refrain from any support

ever for the Khmer Rouge, as recently claimed by the Thai Foreign Ministry ("The

Foreign Ministry has no information to substantiate that we supported the Khmer Rouge

during that time")? So, the blame for the disastrous acts committed by the Khmer

Rouge can hardly be laid on the handful of men alone who commanded this radical communist

movement. Doing so would be a mere scapegoat chase and the perpetrators who created

the ideal conditions for this tragic development would get away.

The Americans, who on one hand refuse to have an international court judge their

own soldiers but on the other hand are pushing for a Khmer Rouge trial, push the

picture of double standards further. Being Swiss, I have an idea how it is to live

in a country which was permanently accused by United States politicians of not giving

access to dormant bank accounts to relatives of their Jewish owners who died in Nazi

death camps.

I disapprove of the failures of the Swiss banks myself.

But isn't it time the United States started minding its own business instead of constantly

pointing the finger at others?

- Stefan Brenken, Phnom Penh


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