Who were the Khmer Rumbo?

Who were the Khmer Rumbo

The Khmer Rumbo were left-wing revolutionaries who were fighting against what they saw as the American puppet regime of Lon Nol and the Khmer Republic.

They were differentiated from the Khmer Rouge in that while they were leftists they saw Sihanouk as a figure of national unity and they enjoyed close ties with the Viet Minh, with many being either Khmer Krom, or former members of the Khmer Issarak, the original communist revolutionaries of Cambodia.

This was in stark contrast the Khmer Rouge who were highly Xenophobic against the Vietnamese and saw Sihanouk as a feudal figure. These lines of dispute almost exactly parallel the schism that saw the Kampuchean Peoples Revolutionary Party morph into the Workers Party of Kampuchea which in turn would become the Communist Party of Kampuchea.

The Khmer Rouge also looked down upon the Khmer Rumbo as many had joined as part of the GRUNK coalition with Sihanouk, rather than having been part of the insurgency since the start.

The Khmer Rumbo in occupied Cambodia

The Khmer Rumbo would control large swaths of Eastern Cambodia, particularly places near the Vietnam border, partly due to their support from the Vietnamese.

Eye witness reports from these areas show that they were distinguished from the Khmer Rouge in that they wore normal fatigues, as well as more personal end economic freedom.

These differences led the Khmer Rouge to call themselves Khmer Rouge in the areas they controlled, rather than as part of the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, During this period there were known to be clashes between the rival Khmer Rumbo and Khmer Rouge forces. Initially they were a stronger fighting forces than the Khmer Rouge, although the KR used their links to Sihanouk in order to bolster their forces as they “liberated”.

Things would allegedly get so bad between the allies that in Region 37 in the Western Zone, 742 Khmer Rumdo surrendered en masse to the Lon Nol regime in March 1974, claiming they were part of a force of ten thousand who would follow if Nol gave them operational autonomy to carry on their fight against their Communist Party rivals.

Lon Nol ever fearful of anything even vaguely leftist refused and of course the rest is history.

The Khmer Rumbo in Government

With the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea officially being a coalition the victorious allies were supposed to share power, something that would initially happen.

Sihanouk was made head of state, while Hu Min would be given a government ministry. Sihanouk would step down by early 1976, while Hu Min would find himself killed at S-21. Therefore by the time of the declaration of the constitution almost all Khmer Rumbo members had been purged, alongside Royalists and other moderates.

The Khmer Rumbo were also largely purged in the Eastern Zone of Cambodia during 1976 and 1977 for fear of Vietnamese infiltration. Ironically this would almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy as many CPK members fled from the eastern zone into Vietnam.

These cadres, which included Hun Sen and Heng Samrin, who would not only be influential in the formation of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea, but also in the contemporary government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Currently the country is led by Hun Manet, the son of Hun Sen.

Again ironically the Royalist forces who did flee, or survive would again join forces with the Khmer Rouge, alongside Sihanouk as part of the internationally recognized Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.

A limited degree of peace would finally be achieved in 1993 following United Nations bricked elections, elections that were boycotted by the Khmer Rouge.