News / Asia

Historian Describes Vietnam’s Relationship to Khmer Rouge at UN Tribunal

Short, the 68-year-old author of “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” told the court Tuesday that the Vietnamese had an “undeniable” interest in the Khmer Rouge, providing support and training for the communist insurgency in its early days. (Photo courtesy of ECCC)
Short, the 68-year-old author of “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” told the court Tuesday that the Vietnamese had an “undeniable” interest in the Khmer Rouge, providing support and training for the communist insurgency in its early days. (Photo courtesy of ECCC)
— British historian Philip Short took the stand for the second day at the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal Tuesday, as he continued to describe the relationship between Vietnamese communists and their Cambodian counterpart.

Short, the 68-year-old author of “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” told the court Tuesday that the Vietnamese had an “undeniable” interest in the Khmer Rouge, providing support and training for the communist insurgency in its early days.

Short is testifying in the atrocity crimes trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Much of his testimony on Tuesday was centered around the relationship between the regime and Vietnam, which would eventually become its enemy.

“That the Vietnamese were largely responsible, principally responsible, for arming and training the [Khmer liberation] is undeniable,” he said. This, according to Short, created a conundrum for the Khmer Rouge.

“On the one hand, Cambodian communists were very happy to have the Vietnamese there helping them in their struggle to liberate Cambodia,” he said. “On the other hand, and this was crucial, they, the Cambodians, wanted to be in charge of that struggle. So whatever the Vietnamese did which gave the impression or made them think the Vietnamese still wanted to be the boss that was totally unacceptable.”

Ultimately, it was this tension that began to erode the regime. Khmer Rouge researchers have noted that as its leaders became more and more paranoid about Vietnamese involvement and infiltration in the xenophobic regime, purges began that spiraled into mass killings, eventually destroying nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population, around 1.7 million people.

On Monday, Short described those purges as reminiscent of similar circumstances in China in the 1930s. Internal killings took place where there was “tension,” he said.

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