Democratic Kampuchea

Cambodia Table of Contents

In 1987 the United Nations continued to recognize Democratic Kampuchea as the legal representative of Cambodia in the General Assembly, in spite of objections by the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), the Vietnamese-installed regime in Phnom Penh; thus, under international law, Democratic Kampuchea continued to exist as an entity with full sovereignty even though it did not possess all four of the conventional criteria of statehood: people, territory, government, and supreme authority within the borders of a given country. Under the 1982 tripartite agreement, the CGDK had replaced the Khmer Rouge regime as de jure representative of Democratic Kampuchea. Nevertheless, the Khmer Rouge continued to identify itself as Democratic Kampuchea even after the accord was signed. As a result, the terms Democratic Kampuchea and the Khmer Rouge became virtually synonymous and in fact were used interchangeably.

In late 1987 Democratic Kampuchea was being governed under the political program of the PDFGNUK that had been adopted formally in December 1979 as "the provisional fundamental law... at the current stage of our people's war against the Vietnamese aggressors". It guaranteed "democratic freedoms" in political, religious, and economic life; a parliamentary system based on a popularly elected national assembly under UN supervision; a national army; and a national economy respecting "individual or family productive activity." The program reflected the Khmer Rouge's attempt to create a new image attuned to moderation, nationalism, and patriotism.

The KCP, synonymous with the Khmer Rouge, was the largest and strongest component of the CGDK in 1987. In December 1981, however, the party had announced its dissolution, citing the incompatibility of communism with Democratic Kampuchea's anti-Vietnamese united front line. It is difficult to ascertain whether the KCP was indeed disbanded because the Khmer Rouge always were secretive. The change of name to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK) probably was a cosmetic gesture aimed at regaining international respectability following the party's imposition of a brutal regime on Cambodia from 1975 to 1978. The party's essential continuity was probable because the PDK leadership remained identical to that of its predecessor, the KCP, and the most important party leader--Pol Pot--exercised a shadowy, but powerful, influence behind the scenes in 1987 just as he had in the 1970s. Fragmentary accounts that reached the outside world hinted that, despite the name change, the party continued to treat refugees and peasants under its control with a harshness and an arbitrariness that showed little more concern for human rights than that of the former communist government of Cambodia.

In the name of Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge issued a comprehensive conciliatory policy statement on July 6, 1985. It noted that the "Democratic Kampuchea side" expressed readiness to hold peace talks with Vietnam--but only after Vietnam's complete withdrawal from Cambodia--and indicated willingness to welcome "other Cambodians, including Heng Samrin and his group" as long as they no longer served the Vietnamese. Referring to the future of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge side hinted for the first time that it might accept exclusion from a postwar government that might include the Heng Samrin regime. The Khmer Rouge also expressed greater openness to the establishment of a new Cambodia with a parliamentary and liberal capitalist system.

The Khmer Rouge's principal leaders, from July 1985, were Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen, in addition to Pol Pot who operated behnind the scenes. Khieu Samphan was concurrently chairman of the State Presidium, prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea, provisional chairman of the PDFGNUK, and vice president in charge of foreign affairs of the CGDK. Son Sen served as commander in chief of the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK) and, in that capacity, as the Khmer Rouge chairman on the Coordinating Committee for National Defense. Ieng Sary served as Democratic Kampuchea's deputy prime minister in charge of foreign affairs and as its chairman on the Coordinating Committee for Economy and Finance. Other key figures included Ieng Thirith (also known as Khieu Thirith, reportedly related to Khieu Sampan), wife of Ieng Sary and head of Democratic Kampuchea's Red Cross Society; Ta Mok (also known as Chhet Choeun), vice chairman and chief of the general staff of the NADK and reportedly Pol Pot's right-hand man; and Nuon Chea (also known as Long Reth)--a political hardliner loyal to Pol Pot--chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Representative Assembly of Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot, formerly prime minister, the KCP's general secretary, and commander in chief of the NADK, headed the Higher Institute for National Defense from September 1985 onward. Although reportedly in failing health and in Beijing-induced retirement in China in 1987, Pol Pot was still the power behind the scenes, according to some observers.

Ieng Sary's status in 1987 was unclear because he had not been seen in public since August 1985. For years Ieng Sary and Pol Pot were named by their adversaries as the two figures most responsible for mass murders in Cambodia, and Hanoi and the Heng Samrin regime insisted on their exclusion from any future political accommodation with the CGDK.

More about the Government and Politics of Cambodia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress