Democratic Kampuchea (កម្ពុជាប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ) (Kampuchéa Démocratique, Vietnamese:Kampuchea Dân chủ) was a Southeast Asian state that was the government of present-day Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. It was founded when the Khmer Rouge forces defeated the Lon Nol-led Khmer Republic. The governing body was referred to as "Angkar Loeu" (upper organization). The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) leadership referred to themselves as "Angkar Padevat" during this period.
Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge. In 1979 the territory of Cambodia/Kampuchea was invaded by People's Army of Vietnam troops and the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was installed. The PRK government was a puppet government of Vietnam, similar to that installed in Laos in December 1975. The Khmer Rouge forces regrouped along the border with Thailand and retained the structure of the DK state in regions they controlled. Most Western nations continued to recognize DK as the legitimate government of the country.
In June 1982, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea was formed.
In 1970, Premier Lon Nol and the National Assembly deposed Norodom Sihanouk as the head of state. Sihanouk, opposing the new government, entered into an alliance with the Khmer Rouge against them. Taking advantage of Vietnamese occupation of eastern Cambodia, massive U.S. carpet bombing ranging across the country, and Sihanouk's reputation, the Khmer Rouge were able to present themselves as a peace-oriented party in a coalition that represented the majority of the people. With large popular support in the countryside, they were able to take the capital Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975. They continued to use King Norodom Sihanouk as a figurehead for the government.
One of the Khmer Rouge's first acts was to move most of the urban population into the countryside. The roads out of the city were clogged with evacuees. Phnom Penh—the population of which, numbering 2.5 million people, included as many as 1.5 million wartime refugees living with relatives or in urban center—was soon nearly empty. Similar evacuations occurred at Battambang, Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, and throughout the country's other towns and cities.
The Khmer Rouge justified the evacuations in terms of the impossibility of transporting sufficient food to feed an urban population of between 2 and 3 million people. Lack of adequate transportation meant that, instead of bringing food to the people, the people had to be brought to the food. The Khmer Rouge was determined to turn the country into a nation of peasants in which the corruption and "parasitism" of city life would be completely uprooted.
On the surface, society in Democratic Kampuchea was strictly egalitarian. However, some people were "more equal" than others. Members and candidate members of the CPK, local-level leaders of poor peasant background who collaborated with the Angkar, and members of the armed forces had a higher standard of living than the rest of the population.
Given the severity of their revolutionary ideology, it is surprising that the highest ranks of the Khmer Rouge leadership exhibited a talent for nepotism that matched that of the Sihanouk-era elite. Family ties were important, both because of the culture and because of the leadership's intense secretiveness and distrust of outsiders, especially of pro-Vietnamese communists. Greed was also a motive. Different ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, were controlled and exploited by powerful Khmer Rouge families. Administering the diplomatic corps was regarded as an especially profitable fiefdom.
Immediately following the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975, there were skirmishes between their troops and Vietnamese forces. A number of incidents occurred in May 1975. The following month, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary visited Hanoi. They proposed a friendship treaty between the two countries, an idea that met with a cool reception from Vietnam's leaders.
Faced with growing Khmer Rouge belligerence, the Vietnamese leadership decided in early 1978 to support internal resistance to the Pol Pot regime, with the result that the Eastern Zone became a focus of insurrection. War hysteria reached bizarre levels within Democratic Kampuchea. In May 1978, on the eve of So Phim's Eastern Zone uprising, Radio Phnom Penh declared that if each Cambodian soldier killed thirty Vietnamese, only 2 million troops would be needed to eliminate the entire Vietnamese population of 50 million. It appears that the leadership in Phnom Penh was seized with immense territorial ambitions, i.e., to recover the Mekong Delta region, which they regarded as Khmer territory.
Massacres of ethnic Vietnamese and of their sympathizers by the Khmer Rouge intensified in the Eastern Zone after the May revolt. In November, Vorn Vet led an unsuccessful coup d'état. There were now tens of thousands of Cambodian and Vietnamese exiles on Vietnamese territory. On December 3, 1978, Radio Hanoi announced the formation of the Kampuchean National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist and noncommunist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol Pot regime and a virtually total dependence on Vietnamese backing and protection. The KNUFNS provided the semblance, if not the reality, of legitimacy for Vietnam's invasion of Democratic Kampuchea and for its subsequent establishment of a satellite regime in Phnom Penh.
In the meantime, as 1978 wore on, Cambodian bellicosity in the border areas surpassed Hanoi's threshold of tolerance. Vietnamese policy makers opted for a military solution and, on December 22, Vietnam launched its offensive with the intent of overthrowing Democratic Kampuchea. An invasion force of 120,000, consisting of combined armor and infantry units with strong artillery support, drove west into the level countryside of Cambodia's southeastern provinces. After a seventeen-day blitzkrieg, Phnom Penh fell to the advancing Vietnamese on January 7, 1979. The new administration was propped up by a substantial Vietnamese military force and civilian advisory effort. As events in the 1980s progressed, the main preoccupations of the new regime were survival, restoring the economy, and combating the Khmer Rouge insurgency by military and by political means.