Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Purges culled the loyal: expert

Purges culled the loyal: expert

Expert witness Stephen Morris gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday during Case 002/02. ECCC
Expert witness Stephen Morris gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday during Case 002/02. ECCC

Purges culled the loyal: expert

Expert witness Stephen Morris offered a nuanced view of the Cambodian-Vietnamese conflict during the Khmer Rouge era yesterday, reiterating his belief that Vietnam intended to control the Cambodian communist movement, but also noting that Cambodian forces antagonised the Vietnamese prior to the 1979 invasion.

Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are on trial for various crimes against humanity, including genocide against the Vietnamese, as well as internal purging of their own officers. Defence teams have long argued that the purges were a reaction to a legitimate attempt by Vietnam to overthrow the Cambodian government.

While Morris once again testified yesterday that the Vietnamese had hoped to control communism in Indochina in the 1970s, he also maintained that the Khmer Rouge purges had largely targeted loyal party members.

“The Vietnamese set up Cambodian communist structures, which they tried to dominate with their own Khmer Viet Minh agents, but Pol Pot and other leaders were aware of this strategy,” Morris said.

By around 1975, the researcher continued, almost all of these Vietnamese agents had already been removed from power.

“The purges and terror campaigns which took place after 1975 branded people who were loyal members of the system,” Morris said, calling Pol Pot “paranoid” and accusing him of conducting a “campaign of terror within party leadership”.

Morris, who was granted unprecedented access to archives of Soviet communications with Hanoi, testified that Vietnamese communists had hoped Nuon Chea would help overthrow the Khmer Rouge, with Vietnamese General Secretary Le Duan going so far as to refer to him as “our man” and a “personal friend”.

However, Morris said, these hopes were “groundless”.

Morris also testified that Vietnam had a far superior military and could have easily crushed the Khmer Rouge much earlier than 1979, but instead tried to negotiate with the regime, even while Khmer Rouge soldiers were slaughtering Vietnamese civilians.

Communications from the same Soviet archives between Le Duan and the Soviet ambassador seem to confirm this desire.

In October 1977 – just two weeks after a Cambodian raid into Vietnamese territory – Le Duan noted that Vietnam had the capability to “rout” Khmer Rouge forces, but that their response was to display patience and attempt to find a peaceful resolution.

Morris also said that one of the primary reasons Vietnam did not invade Cambodia earlier is because it was “impossible politically”.

When they finally did take Phnom Penh in 1979, he added, Vietnam went far beyond what the international community desired.

“Vietnam didn’t simply overthrow the regime; they occupied the country for 10 years and tried to create a regime in their own image in Cambodia.”

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Schools drawn into Manet degree row

    Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped into the Hun Manet-Sam Rainsy war of words over the validity of Manet’s degree from the US Military Academy at West Point, set off by Rainsy’s claims that Manet had received a “second-class degree” or “honorary degree”. Hun

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • NagaWorld protest part of ‘conspiracy’

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Court and police held a joint-press conference on January 4 to clarify details concerning the arrest of nine former employees of the integrated resort NagaWorld and the charges brought against them, saying that the authorities had clear grounds for taking legal action.