A Khmer Rouge Village on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Bombed to Oblivion During the Vietnam War.
Above Photo: A water-filled bomb crater on the outskirts of the obliterated old town of Lumphat, Ratanakiri, Eastern Cambodia.
One a recent trip to Eastern Cambodia doing research for my Vietnam War/Khmer Rouge/backpacker novel BACK, I took a guide to show me some of the old Khmer Rouge sites and sights in the remote eastern jungle in Ratanakiri Province, near the border with Vietnam.
We visited the town of Lumphat, the old provincial capital of Ratanakiri, during the Vietnam War. Ratanakiri is located in the tri-border area of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where much of my novel is also set.
Vietnamese communists had operated in Ratanakiri during the Vietnam War. Their supply line, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ran through it (it was called the Sihanouk Trail in Cambodia, but oddly not any more by modern-day Cambodians).
In fact, so heavily infiltrated was this area that in a June 1969 press conference, Cambodian Prince Sihanouk said that Ratanakiri was “practically North Vietnamese territory.”
Determined to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the sanctuaries in Cambodia where the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), the Viet Cong (VC) and the Khmer Rouge were all working together, the US decided to covertly bomb Eastern Cambodia into the dust.
By then Ratanakiri was effectively under Khmer Rouge control; the Khmer Rouge at that time being just another Communist group fighting to overthrow a US-backed right wing government in the country, and helping the NVA in their fight in Vietnam.
Between March 1969 and May 1970, the US undertook a massive covert bombing campaign in the region. In Lumphat, villagers were forced outside of main town to escape the bombings, foraging for food and living on the run with the Khmer Rouge.
The town of Lumphat had been the old Khmer Rouge Provincial capital in Ratanakiri. When Prince Sihanouk was deposed by US-backed General Lon Nol, he came here and also lived amongst the Khmer Rouge.
On our way to Lumphat, guide had told me although there was very little left of the old town there were plenty of bombs in the area, still lying around undetonated.
As we got to the outskirts of the site of the old town, my guide searched in vain for five old, unexploded Vietnam War bombs that had lain by the side of the road before new roadworks had started. (A Chinese company is building another fast road to the Vietnamese border).
This unexploded ordnance (UXO) disappearance was understandable; why should modern road-builders be put at risk by tourist-attraction UXO?
We drove on and came to a water tower in Lumphat that bore the marks of shrapnel, machine guns and rockets fired (the guide said) from US planes. I thought it unlikely US planes would raze a town and then leave the water tower standing, and wondered if this was built after the war, maybe by the Khmer Rouge. Perhaps it was damaged in the Vietnamese invasion to topple Pol Pot in 1979, which was launched from over the nearby border.
Elsewhere we found many – hundreds – of bomb craters big and small around the village which were certainly from the war.
As ever in Eastern Cambodia, where little was ever written down about the war or the Khmer Rouge reign by people on the ground, there was nobody who could tell us how many people died in the bombing of Lumphat, but it was clearly a prosperous city full of substantial buildings, going by the concrete remains of walls and foundations that covered a very wide area over many kilometers.
Now it lies in ruins.
We met an old man in the village and I asked him about the Khmer Rouge, NVA and VC presence in the Lumphat during the war. He said he’d seen many NVA and VC soldiers in the town often carrying weapons, military supplies and food. They’d break in Lumphat before continuing on their arduous journey south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to resupply the North Vietnamese army in South Vietnam.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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