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Khmer Rouge: A timeline

An estimated 1.7 million people died under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the seventies.

Human skulls of the Khmer Rouge's victims are on display at Choeung Ek stupa, former Khmer Rouge killing field in the outskirt of Phnom Penh
Human skulls of the Khmer Rouge's victims are on display at Choeung Ek stupa, former Khmer Rouge killing field in the outskirt of Phnom Penh
Image: AP Photo/Heng Sinith

THE FOUR REMAINING members of the leadership of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime have gone on trial in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge reigned in the country from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot.

The regime tried to implement a communist utopia, but ended up killing as many as a quarter of their countrymen through executions, medical neglect, overwork and starvation

Khmer Rouge Timeline

  • 1953: Cambodia wins independence from France under Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicates to go into politics
  • 1960: Sihanouk’s father dies and he becomes head of state
  • 1969: US bombing of Vietnamese communist bases in Cambodia. Sihanouk had allowed the Vietnamese to set up the bases
  • 1970: a coup is staged by US backed Marshal Lon Nol, forcing  Sihanouk out of power. Sihanouk is aligned with the Khmer Rouge, a Maoist guerrilla group.
  • The Cambodian army is now facing the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge
  • 1975: The Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot, captures Phnom Penh and Sihanouk becomes head of state. Cambodia is renamed Kampuchea
  • 1976: Sihanouk resigns and Khieu Samphan becomes head of state while Pol Pot becomes prime minister
  • A reign of terror ensues and urban workers are forced to move to the countryside to work. The death toll from torture, disease and, starvation and overwork is estimated to be at least 1.7 million
  • 1978: Vietnam invades Cambodia
  • 1979: Vietnam takes Phnom Penh. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge forces flee to the Thai border. A genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh finds Pol Pot guilty of genocide. However he doesn’t appear in court or receive a sentence
  • 1981 : a pro-Vietnamese party wins national elections. Yeats of guerrilla warfare ensues in Cambodia
  • 1989: Vietnam withdraws from Cambodia and Buddhism becomes the state religion once again
  • 1991: Sihanouk becomes head of state once again after the signing of a UN-sponsored peace deal
  • 1994: the Cambodian government outlaws the Khmer Rouge and thousand of guerrillas surrender
  • 1997: Pol Pot is put on trial by the Khmer Rouge and he is sentenced to life imprisonment. Deputy leader of the Khmer Rouge had been allowed to form a new party.
  • 1998: The Khmer Rouge’s last stronghold falls to Cambodian forces. In April 1998 Pol Pot dies in a jungle hideout.
  • 1999: Various Khmer Rouge rebels and leaders are arrested, including Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch
  • 2003: The UN and Cambodian leaders agree to setting up a tribunal for former leaders of the Khmer Rouge
  • 2006: the tribunal opens but Ta Mok, one of the top Khmer Rouge rebels known as ‘The Butcher’ dies before going on trial
  • 2007: Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith and Ieng Sary are arrested
  • 2008: Duch goes on trial before the UN tribunal
  • 2010: Duch is found guilty of genocide and is given a 35-year jail sentence
  • June 2011: The trials of Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith open in Phnom Penh

Read more: “Killing fields” trial opens in Cambodia>

- Additional reporting by AP

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About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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