[Editor's note: Head of state and spokesman for the Khmer Rouge when it rose to power, Khieu Samphan is widely believed under investigation by the special tribunal courts for trial on atrocity crimes. On Oct. 11, he gave VOA Khmer his longest interview since the indictments of two of his comrades, chief ideologue Nuon Chea and torture center director Duch. This is part four of a five-part series.]
When the Khmer Rouge defeated the forces of Lon Nol and marched into the capital, Khieu Samphan was against "evacuating" the cities. But it had to be done for the good of the city dwellers, the aging Khmer Rouge leader said.
"I think the evacuation was wrong, isolating the [Khmer Rouge] from national and international interests," he said. "I talked personally with Pol Pot. The principles of the Khmer Communist Party and Democratic Kampuchea were that if there were some issues to be addressed in the organization, and you talked, they did not punish you. But you should not criticize them from the outside, [which was] called 'attacking the path.'"
"Whatever the party decided was 'the path,'" he said. "Before they decided [it], they thought hard and were responsible. I talked with Pol Pot, and said it was wrong to [evacuate]. We would not have been able to solve things, and we would have been isolated from the nation, the people."
But the people were starving, he said, leaving them no choice. The corruption of the US-backed government of Lon Nol had led to their starvation.
"This is hateful," Khieu Samphan said. "So, in order to rescue the city dwellers, there was evacuation."
There was not enough food in the countryside, either, he said, so people ate bananas mixed with rice, or manioc. A little aid came, but it was not enough.
"China gave some aid but it did not have enough to feed its people either," he said.
"The Khmer Rouge were ignorant," he continued. "They did not know anything about medicine. They ate rat poison and they died. Are we, as Cambodians, happy to hear this? The French brought us civilization for 100 years, and some Cambodians were still this way? Did we know there were such Cambodians like those before? No we did not. Only Pol Pot knew."