Cambodia: Year One

“The film you are about to see will show what your compassion and generosity have achieved. It will also show, in the first report both from here in Cambodia and the camps in Thailand, why this suffering nation is being kept in shadow, isolated by power politics.”

In the wake of an enormous outpouring of emotion and generosity from those who helped to alleviate the suffering shown in John Pilger’s 1979 documentary Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, there were claims by Western governments that the Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh was blocking aid from relief agencies – while their own aid was going to Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge troops on the Thai border.

Almost a year after his first trip, Pilger returned to Cambodia to find out what was really happening, accompanied by Jim Howard, of Oxfam, and two French doctors, who had all been there with him to see the horrors. What they found was an extraordinary example of human resilience – but also the fear of Pol Pot’s return. 

A recap of the previous year’s harrowing story is followed by scenes of hope and reconstruction – a fresh water supply in the capital, more equipment and beds in the hospital there, pharmaceuticals and textiles factories, and new schools. Pilger also finds alive a few of the children who were seen gravely close to death in the previous film.

He and his fellow travellers witness aid arriving at the docks in Phnom Penh and follow it on a train journey to Battambang province, 350 miles away, unimpeded. However, Pilger reports, the train was attacked by Khmer Rouge troops on its journey back to the capital and many people are still living on the edge of famine.

Across the border in Thailand, he visits a camp controlled by the Khmer Rouge and receiving relief from the United States, China, the United Nations and south-east Asian countries. So, although the British government has ended its recognition of Pol Pot at the UN, it still supports him “through the back door”. 

Cambodia: Year One (ATV), ITV, 10 September 1980

Producer-director: David Munro (52 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library