Yesterday (April 17th) marked the anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge back in 1975. It was also two days after the anniversary of the death of Pol Pot in 1998. And all of this occurring right in the middle of the most important holiday in the nation, Khmer New Year.
To read about Khmer New Year click here .
I won’t go into great detail about either the fall of Phnom Penh, or the death of Pol Pot, these can be read about in the links I will post below. The reason for this article is to talk about the current lockdown in Phnom Penh and the sheer coincidence of seeing deserted streets and government trucks blaring out messages on loud speakers. Fate indeed is not without a sense of irony.
To read about the fall of Phnom Penh click here
To read about the death of Pol Pot click here .
The current “fall of Phnom Penh”
Regular readers, or anyone living in Cambodia will know that previously we lived in a coronavirus bubble, this was a virus that affected other countries, with our lives being relatively normal.
To read about the normality of life in Cambodia click here .
Then there was a February 20th community outbreak, allegedly liked to people skipping quarantine, and sadly the situation has been in free fall since. First schools and the like were closed, then we had a 8am – 5am curfew put in place, before hitting the situation we are in now. And that is a full lockdown. Liquor sales are banned and we are only allowed out to buy necessities, or go to work, if our work is linked to businesses still allowed to open.
To give the government credit they are trying extremely hard to cut the infection rate, sadly viruses do what they want to do though, so for now we wait and see.
Phnom Penh a ghost town
On April 17th 1975 the Khmer Rouge rocked into Phnom Penh and almost immediately emptied the cities so that people would work on rice fields in the countryside. This was part of what they called the Super Great Leap Forward, a theoretical plan to turn Cambodia into a socialist utopia within 4 years. Well that clearly didn’t happen.
To read about the Super Great Leap Forward click here .
The net result of this was that for the almost 4 years of Khmer Rouge control over Cambodia the capital city was emptied, bar foreign embassies (which were few), the infamous S-21 and the Royal Palace where King Sihanouk stayed under house arrest.
To read about the foreign relations of Democratic Kampuchea click here .
To read bout why the Khmer Rouge did not kill Sihanouk click here .
To read about S-21 click here
Shopping in the empty streets of Phnom Penh
I’ve been through various lockdowns in China, Hong Kong and Siem Reap. I therefore fully support what the government are trying to do, but we are allowed out to get food, so that is what I did yesterday night.
As someone with an intense interest in the history of Cambodia it was such a weird experience seeing the streets deserted, tape up forbidding people going into certain areas, military police and government trucks firing out messages on loud speakers.
It honestly felt surreal enough that we could have been on the set of some kind of movie about the fall of Phnom Penh.
Of course as bad as things are, they pale into drastic insignificance when compared to that day 46 years ago. What comes next? Well if anything the chances of the lock-down being extended are better than average.
See you on the other side….