The Killing Fields
Many groups were targeted in the Khmer Rouge’s killings. As with other communist regimes, the Khmer Rouge sought to eradicate religious affiliations within the state. Cambodia was predominantly a Buddhist country. Kiernan claims that there are eyewitness testimonies of massacres of Buddhist monks and the destruction of temples and monasteries.Non-Cambodian minorities were also targeted. Vietnamese, Chinese, and Muslim Cham people living with Cambodia were among these minorities. All languages other than Khmer were banned. Ethnic Cambodians were not safe from the regime either. According to Kiernan, “15% of the rural population perished in 1975-1979, and 25% of the urban population.”
Ethnic minorities as well as those deemed as enemies of the state, or “class enemies,” were to be killed. Kiernan provides the testimony of a man, Bunhaeng Ung, who witnessed a mass execution:
Loudspeakers blared revolutionary songs and music at full volume. A young girl was seized and raped. Others were led to the pits where they were slaughtered like animals by striking the backs of their skulls with hoes or lengths of bamboo. Young children and babies were held by the legs, their heads smashed against palm trees and their broken bodies ﬂung beside their dying mothers in the death pits. Some children were thrown in the air and bayoneted while music drowned their screams. . . . At the place of execution nothing was hidden. The bodies lay in open pits, rotting under the sun and monsoon rains.
These places of execution became known as “the killing fields.”
Those who were not killed immediately were forced to perform labor. They would work in the fields from sun up to sun down. They were not able to keep what they had worked for as any harvest was given to the Khmer Rouge. Little food was given to those who worked in the fields and there was little to no medical treatment. They were subject being overworked, malnutrition, and malaria as well as other sicknesses.