On 18 April 1978, Khmer Rouge forces crossed the Cambodian/Vietnam border. They travelled easily overland as much of the forest and undergrowth had been cleared by years of defoliation and Agent Orange. Regardless, it wasn’t that far. Less than four miles from the established border lay Ba Chuc, a village of 3,159 Vietnamese and Khmer Krom, or ethnic Khmers living in Vietnamese territory.
For years the southern borders had been disputed. From the time of the great Angkor empire that stretched from modern day Laos to Thailand to the East Sea, Khmers and Viets fought over the land. Eventually the Vietnamese came out on top, their tenacity and innovation allowed them to conquer using captured Chinese weapons and superior tactics. They took over the Mekong Delta and kicked the Angkor government back into the modern day boundaries. Even today, Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy remain at political loggerheads over the delineation of the border. . .
But the massacre came under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. It wasn’t the only one either. Several incursions into the Vietnamese hinterland mounted to form a reasonable rational for invasion of the Cambodian frontier by Vietnamese forces. It is something that is little considered by modern historians who seem enamoured of the theory that Hanoi was only interested in spreading their control over the Southeast Asian peninsula and returning Cambodia to its territory as under French colonial control.
Ba Chuc, though, was probably the worst.
In what proved to be a slaughter, Khmer Rouge soldiers killed 3,157 inhabitants of the village, leaving only two women alive, and that by sheer luck. One woman was struck on the back of the head and her skull slit by a machete. She died some time later. The other survivor was shot in the neck and bled profusely before Vietnamese forces arrived to assess the damage and assist the survivors.
It’s also something that I discovered in my research for “War Crimes”. I haven’t been to Ba Chuc, nor have I been to the Killing Fields, but I have been privy to tales of political intrigue and practical repercussions from the Second and Third Indochinese War. I’ve also read a lot, and this is the first time that I’ve heard of any reason given for the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia other than sheer Communistic endeavour.
That said, Ba Chuc is a primary component of “War Crimes”, which debuted online on Amazon yesterday and is open for purchase at $2.99.
Photo courtesy of Bui Thuy Dao Nguyen.