Transcript for Cambodian refugees deported back to nation 40 years after Khmer Rouge genocide
Good day I'm Byron Pitts in New York this January marks the fortieth anniversary to the end of the massacre in Cambodia. In this mall's southeast Asian nation. Nearly two million men women and children murdered over three year span. Today we look back at what happened and why and where rear and N. Joining us for the conversation three experts Charles dunce journalist as reporter in the refugee resettlement and is currently in Cambodia. Doctor Susan Cooke former director of the Cambodian genocide program at Yale in general our former correspondent ABC news and NBC news. Who's traveled extensively in the region and reporter from there. Hello everyone thank you for joining us. I. Thank you. Charles let's start with you. Last year a record number of refugees Cambodian refugees were sent back. To Cambodia from the US certainly refugees that's that's big in the news in the United States we think mostly about. What's going on south of the US border but that walk us through why this record number. Last year. Sure there are certain. Push their patients. Restorer looked more urgent. He did Margaret yeah oh. I don't know. Why people anymore and Sharon are on our freshman and a are sanctions on the court and our record and ferries. So I refused to allow property or is there aren't fired they're record as a result of the broader numbers are. Mostly artery oh. Those who answer are are are remotely are older are openers since. May soon make it easy. It's. I want to read a quote for your report in year times where you're right. Many of those being deported have few or no memories of Cambodia. Is there were part of an exodus fleeing Khmer Rouge massacres and her granny refugee status in United States. Some actually have green cards and had been convicted of a felony while the United States don't often from many years ago. I don't engine many of these people had no connection whatsoever with Cambodia are very little what what's the transition been like for been having been away for forty years. How many fingers of the fire and our our our our particular candidate mark. Or her hair. Their there. I'm. Oh. Reported December. You were asked what it is. What clearly all of our country ever arts and the senators are now. All these years. Our local. Arnold Palmer not a candidate we are it is. Are Americans wire. Are already are now you're pretty well wired Steve did a little credit. Auto and other experts. British terror the cultural. And I expert Harley stack. Who does not years in prison for forty years. Or immunity to return to her 41 are. In Philadelphia but her parent of the evils problem. Are you. Voted farmers. Are reverse. Timers aren't aren't apparently our. Car for his home. A lot of companies that are being are. You indigenous. That's what parents or here. School where it's like it here where there are our leaders are Muslims. Many are not. Article in the there's political. Unharmed they remember remember all the members. Remember where the march. Last Israel and while there are likely that there are. We're. Who. Who thank you Charles she would bring into the conversation don't give us some context you reported extensively from the region during the Vietnam War and thereafter. A you were there in 1975 wind when reporters were were were flown out that that day. What was alike then. What are you were caught in those times. The fire and I began. And covering Cambodia back in 1970. Win President Nixon ordered. An American incursion into the eastern parts of Cambodia that really push the Vietnam War into Cambodia and in a way created. The crisis that continues all of these years later 45 plus years later so that was that that was the beginning point. The American war which spread into Cambodia. Then in 1975. The Americans withdrew all of their support from Cambodia. Allowing the Khmer Rouge supported then by the Vietnamese to take power. And I was with the American. Embassy evacuation on the eleventh of April of 1975. And we lift left for aircraft carriers. Off the coast within a few days the Camaro rouge had. Taken over and had brought the country. Into. What they called at the time years zero turning back the clock on virtually everything. And stripping the cities of all of their peoples so people worse told to leave the country leave the city go into the countryside. And it became. Nearly four years of absolute hell. For certainly most Cambodian people. Jim workers take a look now at some of your award winning work from that time this series of reports you did call this shattered land. Let's take a look at and at one of those reports. From 1970 to 1975. There was constant warfare on Cambodian soil. The Americans against the Vietnamese. Cambodians against Cambodians. What emerged from the chaos was a disciplined and determined Communist force. The mayor roof and one of the cruelest movements in history. For 44 months the Khmer Rouge forced Cambodia into their image of an ideal Communist society. The country was turned into a vast labor can. It was year zero the end of the old in the beginning of the new. It was a peasant revolution and cities were bad everyone ordered out families were split up. Monasteries closed. Religion abolished. So were schools books money and modern medicine. Doctors former army officers the educated government workers were systematically hunted down and executed. Last year the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge. And what was left to retreated to the mountains of northwest Cambodia. Janelle no one last time was used saw that but but it and and hearing it again white members of the bring back the but the film was shot between October November of 1979. And January of 1980. I had had a earlier trip to Cambodia which is not in that documentary. Back in April of nineteen said I was one of the first. Journalists to get into Cambodia after the Vietnamese had come in in January of that year. And kicked. The Khmer Rouge out. And the the images still stick with me today all these years later. Of absolute desperate people by this time they were able to move to and fro. Across the countryside many of them trying to get back to put on pen the capital. Back to their homes I I met people who had owned homes who had businesses. Who had somehow survived. Living in. Essentially concentration camps in the countryside for nearly four years desperate. To get back into Phnom Penh again and I was the first. Assertive connection to the outside world. The if you had seen in four years because you must remember. Back in those days there were no cell phones there was no Internet there was no kid it was no mail there was no communication with anybody from inside Cambodia to the out. Side. Citizen this hellish time in world history. For years no one was held accountable but eventually. Tribunal started. Talk to us about those when they start it why it took so long for them to begin and where that stands now. I think it actually was a stunning case certain. Rail politic Humana in the first years because after the Vietnamese Kaman and it's essentially ended the genocide. In January in 1939. I'm of course are our enemy's enemy is our friends so I instead. Instead of supporting. Band. Vietnamese who ended their killing and ended the concentration camps armament started to set up a new government the last order parent. You know towards the Khmer Rouge and away. And we actually made it possible that a marriage you hold Cambodia's seat in the United Nations until 1982. So does those early years where we're very much. A case. A shadow of the Vietnamese war sort of dictating. Our foreign policy towards him put it. Essentially and in the late eighties and early nineties when Whitney UN sponsored. Thumb but first elections in Cambodia. In 93. Things started to open up and and more voices more accountability and justice. We're sort are reaching. The table and that's it took friend who 1997. When Cambodia. At the UN and so that they were interstate and in having a mechanism. The justice. Through June 2000 and senators eight or nine when when the first indictments were handed down so it wasn't very long time it. It was it was hybrid force which is unusual at all it was Cambodian national sports. Armed with UN involvement and international judges Souza fairly complicated set up. Lower in some measure of justice. Susan I wonder your thoughts now that. Today America has the military presence in Afghanistan in Iraq and in Syria where there's talk now about the withdrawal beginning. From cam body. The mistakes that our nation remains in what was it was an arrogance or ignorance. That's a big question but I think everybody is very important cautionary. Chase when it comes you. Responding to insurgencies. Live aerial bombings and and that kind of force that we use against their marriage in Cambodia. As Jim was saying in the later part of 1969 and into the early seventies because it really it really strengthen their marriage really gave them. Grist for their propaganda mill. Australia invented numbers and gave them credibility that they they wouldn't have it was so the extent that the US has. Had that response in other areas other insurgencies. We didn't learn the lessons and the. Jim thank you since jet went to weigh in every you were on the ground there you talked the people you taste of the food you you smell the air. What lessons did we learn and that perhaps we still haven't learned today. First of all this was a wider war an extension of the Vietnam War and Cambodia was very much. A refuge from war in the period up until 1969. It if it was a situation where. If Americans felt they had to protect the last remaining American troops delivery in south Vietnam to do so they went into Cambodia and created a much worse situation I would I would argue and many will don't even think about Cambodia when they think about the history of the of the Vietnam War. You can go back and you look at me and everybody has been date. Debating the Vietnam War for decades now there's been major documentaries made a last 22 years and it's still. They were wrong subject for many Americans. But the less it is that you have to understand the societies in which you moving into you have to have an appreciation of what is on the ground. And I'm not sure that Americans had very much an appreciation of that. In the sixties and Vietnam and in the seven days in in Cambodia. They're just wasn't enough information it seems to me or at least it wasn't being processed properly so we have a situation. All these years later when you go into Cambodia today you still see remnants of the enormous bombing. That was the rule of the day throughout. The seventies and and you still see the the evidence of war throughout the be the region. People don't talk about it very much because much of the population is very young and has no memory of the war but old timers do. And and they it and they still reflect upon it. All these years later. It it's it's it's still a very troubling obviously troubling period. In our history the Vietnamese by the way were originally greeted as liberators because they were getting rid of the of the Khmer Rouge regime. But later on their welcome was very quickly worn out. And they were in Cambodia for ten years and finally the Cambodians. For pretty much had enough for the Vietnamese and they finally withdrew. Ten years after their arrival in January 1979. Jim thank you as we close out our conversation. I like each you do way instances in picking up when Jim sport where Ken bode is now. Susan cook you're closing thoughts about the Cambodians then now where it's headed. My my impression I was living in Cambodia in the early nineties was better it's. People felt forgot that it. They don't abandon us. Egg belts. The gravity of what happened there. Was really not well understood its international aid ends I think that's now that there has been tribunal. Limited its oats though though it was. Where people were held accountable and evidence was present kids bomb I think there's a different sense. Cambodia being recognized and acknowledged as one of the worst humanitarian disasters and that it twentieth century. And news I think Cambodians feel more part of the international community as a result. I don't give a closing thought you first went to Cambodia as a journalist I understand you've return now several times as a tourists your sense of this place now in its place in history. Well my. Cents on Cambodia is one of the enormous. Ironies of the country all of over all of these years it is ruled today. By a man who I met when he was the 28 year old foreign minister a man named when San. Who essentially is the dictator of Cambodia today a man who was. In stalled by the Vietnamese. Essentially. And then today he supported largely by the Chinese. Chinese investment Chinese construction buildings as Charles can testify to in prom then. Built by the Chinese. Dollar in the port of C in Oakville Chinese. And these are the Chinese the Chinese Government. Who its support of the Khmer Rouge so. They're certainly fired he's in this in this story Cambodia today remains painfully poor particularly in the rural areas but the cities are being built up again. In the way other Asian cities are on a lot of it through. Other investment from other countries like the Chinese like the Taiwanese like the Japanese and others so. There's a lot of fire knee in the Cambodia that we see today looking back over these 4045. Years of history. Jim thank you for your time today your reporting then our thinks to doctor Susan cook. Charles Dunst and Jim Laurie for your time today talking about the fortieth anniversary. From Cambodia. And Biron and it's in New York good to.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.