The Khmer Students Association was a leftist Cambodian students association that was to have a profound effect on the future of the country. It was established by Khieu Samphan and contained many of the later Khmer Rouge leaders as well as other prominent leftists.
The Paris Student Group
What would later become the leadership of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea was inextricably linked to a group of Cambodians who met and formed their political ideals in Paris.
The main players were Khieu Samphan, Hou Yuon, Ieng Sery, Son Sen, Hu Nim, and Solath Sar. Solath Sar was to marry Khieu Ponnary, the sister in law of Ieng Sery, whilst Ieng Sery was to marry Ieng Thirith. These were the members of the Paris Students group that would become known as the Cercle Marxiste (Marxist circle). They were all also active members of the French Communist Party. At the time the most powerful communist party in Europe, outside of the Eastern Bloc.
The Khmer Students Association
The first organization formed by the group was the leftist Khmer Students Association. It was formed by future head of state Khieu Samphan; Hou Yuon was elected leader of the KSA. The KSA was later banned by French authorities to be replaced by the Khmer Students Union. At this point Solath Sar did not hold any positions of power.
Cercle Marxiste (Marxist circle)
The Marxist circle was formed by Ieng Sery and two others, which would later evolve to include most of the major players of the Khmer Rouge. One notable exception though was Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea, one of the few not to be educated in France.
It is not known who was considered the “leader” of the group, although Khieu Samphan was probably the most prominent member.
The Marxist Circle was the most important movement formed at this time. It was designed to work as a clandestine cell organization. Each cell consisted of 3-6 members, with high degrees of secrecy.
Solath Sar at this point was a member of a cell that produced the groups newspaper, Reaksmei (“The Spark”), named after a former Russian paper. In 1952, Pol Pot, Hou Yuon, and Ieng Sary among others sent an open letter to Sihanouk calling for him the “strangler of infant democracy”. This was to make them marked men when they returned to Cambodia.
Return to Cambodia
All of the group were to return to Cambodia, most of them gaining respectable jobs. Pol Pot became a teacher for example. He was remembered as being mild mannered although with a short temper. Ieng Sary and Hou Yuon also became teachers.
They were to become members of the Kampuchea Peoples Revolutionary Party, from whom the CPP now claim lineage.
Workers Party of Kampuchea
In 1960 the Kampuchea Peoples Revolutionary Party (KPRP) held a meeting that was to lead to the party changing its name and indeed direction. The party became the Workers Party of Kampuchea (WPK), which in essence was a coup by the Paris Students Group/Cercle Marxiste. It was initially led by Tou Samouth, before his execution. Whether he was killed by Sihanouk, or his fellow Khmer Rouge is up for debate. Nuon Chea was initially supposed to take over the WPK. He has since alleged that he made a deal with Solath Sar where they would share power. Nuon Chea has claimed he did this to appeal more to intellectuals.
Standing Committee of the CPK
The importance of the Khmer Students Association
Of the 8 members of the Standing Committee of the CPK during Democratic Kampuchea, 6 of the 8 had been members of the Cercle Marxiste. With the Cercle Marxiste.being a direct offshoot of the Khmer Students Association. Thus almost everything that occurred up until their final demise in 1998 can be traced back to the Khmer Students Association.
The KSA can therefore be seen the first incarnation of the Khmer Rouge. Sadly and much like other elements of Khmer Rouge history there is scant information available about the KSA. Certainly when compared with the atrocities of the Nazis is quite amazing how little scholarly work has been done on the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide
Why is there so little information about the Khmer Rouge?
First world problems? It is quite hard to say why people don’t care that much, or know that much about the Khmer Rouge compared to other parts of 20th century history, but it is probably multifaceted.
When I say western indifference I am not in any way shape of form alluding to “white privilege”. The western world consists of much more than just white people. In some respects we simply don’t care that much that a bunch of Asians decided to kill each other.
The Vietnam War
Unlike the Vietnam War, where western culpability was obvious, Cambodia and to an extent Laos have been considered “Secret Wars”. A great crime considering just how much both countries were bombed. Also US troops being on the ground in Vietnam have made it somewhat “cool”. Everyone has seen Full Metal Jacket, but how many have seen the award winning The Killing Fields? There has since been a tiny resurgence in interest, ;largely via Angelina Jolie, but nothing of any real substance.
The west continued to support the Khmer Rouge
In some respects it can also be looked at as a bit of a hush job. After all we continued supporting, financing and arming the Khmer Rouge until the early 90’s. Much has been written on “if” the USA supported the Khmer Rouge. There is no “if”, they and other western countries did, both overtly and covertly.
And that is the reason why the war crimes tribunals didn’t happen until almost everyone was dead, or almost dead. Dead people can’t speak. If they could speak the crimes of the western world in Cambodia would be as well known as the Killing Fields. Sadly they aren’t and in reality never will be.