The Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, spreading like a virus from the jungles until they controlled the entire country, only to systematically dismantle and destroy it in the name of a Communist agrarian ideal. Today, more than 30 years after Vietnamese soldiers removed the Khmer Rouge from power, the first genocide trials will start — a bittersweet note of progress in an impoverished nation still struggling to rehabilitate its crippled economic and human resources.
The Khmer Rouge took root in Cambodia's northeastern jungles as early as the 1960s, a guerrilla group driven by communist ideals that nipped the periphery of government-controlled areas. The flash point came when Cambodia's leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was deposed in a military coup in 1970 and leaned on the Khmer Rouge for support. The prince's imprimatur lent the movement legitimacy, although while he would nominally serve as head of state, he spent much of the Khmer Rouge's rule under house arrest. As the country descended into civil war, the Khmer Rouge presented themselves as a party for peace and succeeded in mobilizing support in the countryside.