Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Dan Burstein, editor of The Call

Malcolm Caldwell killed in Phnom Penh

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 8, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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New York A group of eight Americans, of which I am one, leaves here Jan. 1 on a friendship delegation headed for Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia).

The trip is taking place against a very significant political backdrop. On Dec. 23, the British scholar Malcolm Caldwell, who was visiting Kampuchea, was assassinated in the Phnom Penh house where he was staying by terrorist enemies of the Kampuchean government. Two American journalists traveling in Caldwell’s group, Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Dispatch, were also threatened in the attack.

The assassination of Caldwell took place on the final night of that group’s visit to Kampuchea. Becker and Dudman were the only Americans besides The Call delegation, which visited Kampuchea last April, to be inside the country since the 1975 liberation. Caldwell had interviewed Kampuchean Prime Minister and Communist Party leader Pol Pot the day before the reporter was killed.

The incident appears to have its origins in Hanoi, where the Vietnamese leadership has been directing a full-scale invasion designed to topple the Kampuchean government, and where only last month a puppet Kampuchean “liberation organization” was hatched as a front for Vietnamese aggression.

lmmediately after Caldwell’s murder, Hanoi’s propaganda machine begun spreading the view that the assassination, showed that the Kampuchean government was “unstable” and “unable to protect visitors,” The Vietnamese leaders are clearly trying to use the incident to intimidate others from visiting Kampuchea. This, is especially significant in light of the fact that UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim plans to visit Kampuchea later this month, as do a number of Asian diplomats who are growing increasingly opposed to Soviet-Vietnamese expansionism.

If the intent of Caldwell’s assassins was to intimidate others from visiting Kampuchea, they have seriously failed, however. Although deeply saddened by the death of CaldweIl, our delegation, which includes Southeast Asian scholars and prominent activists from the anti-war movement, is proceeding with its trip. We feel more committed than ever to building U.S. Kampuchean friendship.

According to United Nations sources, the incident has not intimidated: Mr. Waldheim either, and preparations are continuing for his trip. Also undeterred by the terrorist attack on Caldwell, a group of 40 American and Thai journalists and tour operators visited Kampuchea’s ancient temples at Angkor Wat Dec. 27, in a pilot program to reopen regular tourism there.

Having failed in the initial effort to utilize CaldweIl’s death to frighten others from visiting Kampuchea, the Vietnamese leadership is taking a new tack. Using Wilfred Burchett, the Australian journalist published by the Guardian newspaper in this country and deployed by Moscow to justify its aggression in Angola, Ethiopia and elsewhere, the Vietnamese spread the story last week that Caldwell was killed by Kampuchean government authorities. According to this most reactionary and insidious of all slanders, Hanoi reported that Caldwell had grown critical of Kampuchea and had thus been killed.

After this story appeared in the London Observer and other European papers last week, I talked with Richard Dudman, who had spent the last two weeks, and in fact the last hours of Caldwell’s life with him. Dudman told me:

“Burchett claims he knew Caldwell and knew that he was growing opposed to the Kampuchean government. But I knew Caldwell better because I spent those last two weeks with him.

“Burchett is dead wrong. There was no fundamental change in Caldwell’s thinking. He was essentially sympathetic to the revolution. He knew that it had been a very bloody revolution, he knew that mistakes were made and he didn’t agree necessarily with all the policies. But he also believed that these are all characteristics of revolutions and understood this of what he saw in Kampuchea and was sympathetic to it. ”

“He was a great man,” Dudman continued. “I am absolutely confident that there was no reason for the authorities to be involved with his death. The idea is ridiculous.”

I knew Malcolm Caldwell also, primarily through an exchange of correspondence following my return from Kampuchea last May. I knew him to be a true friend of Kampuchea and of other third world, struggles against imperialism and the two superpowers. He was a true internationalist who devoted his life and in fact sacrificed his life to the cause of building support for the third world struggle among the people of the advanced capitalist countries.

Our U.S. friendship delegation now has the task of undertaking the work started by Caldwell and many others around the world, and carrying it through. In this way the American people will come to understand the revolution of Kampuchea and support the efforts of the Kampuchean people to defend their country from the aggression to which it is now being subjected.