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Cambodia: 1970

1956: Cambodia

1957: Cambodia
1958: Cambodia
1959: Cambodia
1960: Cambodia
1961: Cambodia
1962: Cambodia
1963: Cambodia
1964: Cambodia
1965: Cambodia
1966: Cambodia
1967: Cambodia
1968: Cambodia
1969: Cambodia
1970: Cambodia
1971: Cambodia
1972: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1973: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1974: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1975: Cambodia
1976: Cambodia
1977: Cambodia
1978: Cambodia
1979: Cambodia
1980: Cambodia
1981: Cambodia
1982: Cambodia
1983: Cambodia
1984: Cambodia
1985: Cambodia
1986: Cambodia
1987: Cambodia
1988: Cambodia
1989: Cambodia
1990: Cambodia
1991: Cambodia
1992: Cambodia
1993: Cambodia
1994: Cambodia
1995: Cambodia
1996: Cambodia
1997: Cambodia
1998: Archaeology: Radar Reveals Hidden Ruins in Cambodia
1998: Cambodia: Hun Sen Declares Election Victory
1998: Pol Pot Dies at 73
1998: Coalition Government

Archives consist of articles that originally appeared in Collier's Year Book (for events of 1997 and earlier) or as monthly updates in Encarta Yearbook (for events of 1998 and later). Because they were published shortly after events occurred, they reflect the information available at that time. Cross references refer to Archive articles of the same year.


1970: Cambodia

Dramatic changes occurred in Cambodia this year: The head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was overthrown by a coup d'etat led by General Lon Nol, the war in Vietnam spread to Cambodia, and the government in Phnom Penh proclaimed Cambodia a republic.

Rising tensions.

Cambodia began the year with difficult choices posed by the Indochina war. On January 7, Prince Sihanouk left Cambodia for France for reasons of health. The newly emergent rightist and conservative leaders were anxious to develop large-scale economic and financial relations with the West, especially the United States and Japan. They had been brought to understand, however, that such a resumption of relations could take place only if Cambodia stuck to a policy of strict neutrality and refrained from aiding the Vietcong and North Vietnamese.

Realizing that the economic situation required political concessions but also hoping that he could restore his personal prestige, Sihanouk decided with the support of General Lon Nol to ask the Soviets and the Communist Chinese to persuade the Vietnamese Communists to stop trespassing on Cambodian territory. Sihanouk met Lon Nol in France on February 17, and there was no sign of disagreement.

A few days after Lon Nol's return to Phnom Penh, the problem of Vietnamese interference came to the fore. The Vietnamese were accused of using Cambodia's eastern provinces as sanctuaries, interfering with the Khmer administration, encouraging hill tribe rebellions, smuggling supplies into South Vietnam, spreading forged banknotes, and bribing officials. The atmosphere grew tense.

Coup d'etat.

On March 11 demonstrations broke out in Phnom Penh against the Vietnamese Communist infiltration. The embassies of North Vietnam and of the leftist Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam were attacked and sacked. Although Hanoi and the PRG had declared their readiness to discuss current problems with Lon Nol, on March 13 they were given three days to withdraw all their forces from Cambodian territory. Despite rising tensions at home, Sihanouk did not come straight back from Paris but chose to return through Moscow and Peking, as scheduled. Unwilling to accept the conditions that General Lon Nol and Sisowath Sirik Matak were now imposing on his return, Sihanouk wanted to make sure of French, Soviet, and Communist Chinese support.

On his departure from Moscow on March 18 on his way to Peking, Sihanouk heard that he had been deposed by a vote of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh and that Cheng Heng, chairman of the assembly, had been elected acting head of state. In the cabinet reshuffle which followed, Yem Sambaur was appointed foreign minister in place of Norodom Phurissara. General Lon Nol and Sisowath Sirik Matak, the main figures in the coup, kept the premiership and the vice-premiership respectively, and Lon Nol also took over the defense ministry. On March 19 the United States announced that the question of recognition did not arise, thus informally acknowledging the new regime as the legal government of Cambodia.

Sihanouk was, nevertheless, greeted as Cambodia's head of state when he arrived in Peking on March 19. Although he claimed that his deposition was illegal, on March 21, Sihanouk said he did not plan to regain the power he had lost. Pham Van Dong, the North Vietnamese prime minister, arrived in Peking on March 21 and talked with Sihanouk. Two days later Sihanouk announced that as head of state he had dissolved the Lon Nol cabinet, the National Assembly, and the Crown Council and that he was planning to form a national union government and organize a national liberation army to free Cambodia. He urged his supporters in Cambodia to go underground and promised them weapons, ammunition, and military training to fight "the usurpers" and "their masters, the American imperialists." Sihanouk also claimed that he would resign office "after the defeat of the imperialists and their lackeys." North Vietnam announced on March 25 its full support of Prince Sihanouk's proclamation, and on April 2 the prince came to Hanoi. However, the People's Republic of China adopted a more cautious attitude toward Sihanouk and refrained from commenting on the Lon Nol take-over.

Phnom Penh threatened.

In Cambodia, war had already flared up. As early as March 20, the Cambodian Army had been given orders to quell with arms actions which the ousted Prince Sihanouk might try to provoke. On March 26 and 27 riots calling for the return of the prince erupted in such cities as Kompong Cham and Takeo. The government military forces had to shoot their own people in order to stem the insurrection, and the situation was deteriorating fast. On March 22, Lon Nol asked for the prompt return of the International Control Commission "to help put a stop in a peaceful way" to the occupation of Cambodian territory by Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops. On March 25, Hanoi and the PRG broke with Phnom Penh. The new government was still insistent that Cambodia would remain neutral and honor its commitments.

On April 1, France suggested that a general conference be held to settle the Indochinese conflicts. The United States welcomed the idea, but Sihanouk rejected it, saying that such a meeting would give de facto legality to the Lon Nol government and that he could not, therefore, accept it. Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow remained quite cool, and France's suggestion fell quietly into oblivion.

The military situation soon worsened greatly. The Phnom Penh government lost control of northeast Cambodia, from the Mekong River to the Vietnamese border, and the Communists were able quickly to send out armed units to take control of most of the countryside. Practically all the cities were besieged and the main highways unsafe or cut. On the southeastern border, in the Parrot's Beak sector, the situation was described as critical, and even Phnom Penh itself was in danger. Sihanouk partisans and the Vietcong had joined forces everywhere.

The Lon Nol government, perhaps somewhat panicky, unleashed an anti-Vietnamese frenzy. Starting on April 9, thousands of Vietnamese were forced into "detention centers"; their goods were plundered, and in several places many Vietnamese were even massacred by Khmer troops or used as shields in battles against Vietcong forces. Indignation rose in South Vietnam, where the government was urged to do something to help save the ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

On April 14, the Lon Nol government appealed to all nations for arms. Four days later, South Vietnamese troops pushed into Cambodia. In response to the growing intervention by the United States and South Vietnam, a top-level Indochinese conference was held in southern China on April 24 and 25. Meeting at Prince Sihanouk's initiative, the participants laid down a common strategy for their battle against the United States and pledged to strengthen their solidarity.

In cooperation with pro-Sihanouk Khmer officials and partisans, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong expanded their actions throughout Cambodia. In the last week of April, anti—Lon Nol forces controlled sections of five of the seven highways linking Phnom Penh with the rest of Cambodia and were expected soon to cut off the capital's most important road connection to the sea. Cambodia was thus falling into Hanoi's zone of influence.

U.S. action in Cambodia.

"Deeply concerned" about events in Cambodia, President Richard M. Nixon announced on April 30 that he had ordered U.S. troops to enter the country in support of the South Vietnamese to mop up Vietcong sanctuaries, find and destroy the Vietcong headquarters, and ruin the Communists' capability of launching from Cambodia a major offensive in South Vietnam. The operation had been undertaken, President Nixon claimed, "not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam"; he argued that the attack was indispensable for the continuing success of his program for withdrawing American troops from Vietnam.

President Nixon's decision caused great uproar and dissent in the United States, where demonstrations broke out on university campuses across the country; many in Congress also took a sharp stand against the move.

In an attempt to soften opposition, President Nixon gave assurances that it was just a limited operation, that U.S. troops would mop up only the border region (within 19 miles of the South Vietnamese border), and that all American forces would be withdrawn from Cambodia by June 30. Nixon made plain, however, that logistic support would be given to South Vietnamese troops operating in Cambodia for an indefinite period of time.

The American intervention in Cambodia met with considerable criticism around the world. The People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union took the toughest stands, but apprehension about the U.S. policy was also expressed by such non-Communist countries as Great Britain, France, and India.

In Peking, Prince Sihanouk announced on May 5 the formation of a royal government of national union with Penn Nouth as premier, Sarin Chhak as foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan as defense minister. This government was proclaimed under the aegis of the "United National Front of Cambodia," just formed primarily by Sihanouk partisans and Khmer Communists. Sihanouk was elected chairman of the front and also remained head of state. China granted immediate recognition to the Sihanouk government-in-exile and said it was withdrawing all diplomatic staff from Phnom Penh. Twenty other countries, many in Africa and the Middle East, also recognized this government. The Soviet Union and most of the Communist Eastern European countries, however, did not recognize Sihanouk's government and maintained their embassies in Phnom Penh.

Calls for support.

Khmer foreign minister Yem Sambaur talked with South Vietnamese leaders in Saigon between May 25 and 28 in an attempt to counter the anti-Cambodian feelings provoked by the massacres and mistreatments of Vietnamese residents and also to initiate cooperation between the two governments against their common enemies, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. The two governments agreed to resume diplomatic relations, which had been broken in 1963. In early June, South Vietnamese vice-president Nguyen Cao Ky visited Phnom Penh to discuss Saigon's future role in a cooperative anti-Communist effort.

The Lon Nol government's efforts concentrated on properly equipping and training 30 battalions and on quickly expanding its own army to face the threat. In May and June, Cambodia received $8.9 million in emergency military aid from the United States. On July 9 it was disclosed that U.S. military aid to Cambodia would run about $50 million during fiscal 1971.

As promised, all American ground forces were withdrawn from Cambodia by June 30. The White House, however, added that the U.S. Air Force would continue to bomb Communist troops and supply lines in Cambodia. On August 19 the United States and Cambodia signed a military assistance pact in Phnom Penh.

The Lon Nol government was also anxious to balance South Vietnamese intrusion with Thai influence and help. On July 2 a cabinet reshuffle replaced the pro-Vietnamese foreign minister, Yem Sambaur, by the more neutral Koun Wick. On July 22, Lon Nol went to Bangkok to ask Thailand to station some of its forces in northern Cambodia as a buffer against Communist reinforcements coming from Laos. Thailand, however, refused to send troops into Cambodia barring a direct threat to Thailand by North Vietnamese Communists or a danger that the Communists might actually overthrow the Lon Nol regime.

The nature of the Lon Nol regime and its leadership remained at stake toward the end of the year. Phnom Penh had taken a hard line against Sihanouk's family and the monarchy. Martial law was imposed on Cambodia on June 1. The trial of Sihanouk, held in absentia, condemned him to death on July 5. Cambodia was proclaimed the Khmer Republic on October 9.

Prince Sihanouk, meanwhile, continued to insist that his government would not compromise with Lon Nol and Sirik Matak and that in the event of their victory the United National Front would bring to power new, young, progressive and leftist forces. On September 20, Sihanouk claimed that his supporters controlled two-thirds of Cambodia, including 3 million people out of a total population of 6.9 million. Sihanouk seemed to rely on China as a friendly country capable of protecting Cambodia not only from Western but also from Vietnamese interference.

Economic repercussions.

The Cambodian economy was badly hit by the war. The country lost most of its export capacity, and 90 percent of the rubber plantations were said to be out of action. Road, rail, and river communications were either cut or made unsafe. American and South Vietnamese bombings destroyed many towns and villages, while others were burned in the heavy fighting. Trade ground almost to a standstill except in the capital. There, the population doubled to 1.5 million because of refugees fleeing the war; the life of the capital was maintained by foreign aid. Elsewhere the economy returned to a primitive level.

Area and population.

Area, 69,800 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1969), 6,900,000. Principal cities: Phnom Penh (cap.), 650,000; Battambang, 45,000; Kompong Cham, 33,000.


Constitutional republic. Head of state, Cheng Heng; prime min. and def. min., General Lon Nol.


Monetary unit, riel; 1 riel = US$0.0185. Budget (est. 1969): revenue, 6.25 billion riels; expenditure, 7.57 billion riels.


Principal exports: rice, rubber, maize, pepper, cattle, fish. Principal imports: metals, machinery, vehicles, textiles, oil.

Agriculture and industry.

Chief products: rice, maize, rubber, cotton, pepper, tobacco, timber. Limited industrial production.

Education (1968).

Enrollment: primary, 1,025,000; secondary, 117,000; higher, 10,800; technical, 7,400.

Armed forces.

Army, 45,000; air force, 2,500; navy, 1,350.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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