Cambodia: Return to Year Zero

“What will happen when the United Nations leaves? Why has Pol Pot’s organisation grown stronger and more menacing since the arrival of the UN? Indeed, has a Trojan horse been built for the return of Asia’s Hitler?”

John Pilger’s sixth documentary on Cambodia continues where Cambodia – The Betrayal left off. Return to Year Zero features interviews with a former Cambodian guerrilla who was trained by the British and worked undercover with the Khmer Rouge, and the Phnom Penh government’s Defence Minister revealing intelligence information about the British training. The “Deep Throat” former British intelligence officer who anonymously provided much of the information for the previous film about SAS training explains that this continued for 10 years despite claims that it had finished in 1989.

Screened a month before internationally supervised elections in Cambodia, Return to Year Zero shows United Nations troops on the streets there to see through the “peace process”. Pilger clearly spells out the fate that might befall Cambodia after the polls – the possibility of a government including allies of the Khmer Rouge, with Pol Pot waiting in the countryside. A UN spokesman tells him about the transformation of the Khmer Rouge into the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea and how the peace process has allowed them to gain respectability.

The British government’s eventual admission in 1991 that the SAS trained allies of Pol Pot was almost certainly designed to stop further disclosures that it had trained the Khmer Rouge, explains Pilger. 

Meanwhile, Cambodia has a higher percentage of amputees than any other country, largely a result of unexploded mines. American human rights organisation Asia Watch states that China and Britain trained Cambodian guerrillas in the use of mines and explosives. 

Pilger’s visit to amputees in hospital, his return to Tuol Sleng extermination centre and a caution that Pol Pot must not be allowed to recover power in Cambodia chillingly echo the horrors and warnings of his previous documentaries about the country.

Return to Year Zero (Viewpoint ’93, Central Independent Television), ITV, 20 April 1993

Producer-director: David Munro (52 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library