Cambodia: 1973 (Khmer Republic)
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.
1973: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
In a year in which cease-fire agreements were reached for Vietnam and Laos, the war in Cambodia continued its bloody progress without either an equivalent accord or serious negotiations between the opposing sides. The military conflict was dominated by the recurrent siege of the capital, Phnom Penh, and its environs by forces opposed to the government of President Lon Nol and by the countervailing United States aerial interdiction prior to August 15, when the bombing was stopped by a congressional resolution which President Nixon reluctantly accepted.
At the outset of the year, the Communist forces estimated at 40,000 (including Vietnamese Communist support) had virtually surrounded the capital and had cut all supply routes leading to it. After the signing in Paris of a cease-fire for South Vietnam, the Lon Nol government ordered unilateral suspension of all offensive operations in the hope that this gesture would lead to a Cambodian cease-fire and negotiations, but there was no reciprocal response. Fighting resumed in February with the United States again authorizing air strikes by B-52 bombers to counter the unrelenting offensive. By March the Communist forces had begun to operate as multi-battalion units for the first time and to tighten their stranglehold on the capital, which was subjected to economic blockade. The situation was dramatized by the battles fought along the Mekong River; ships from South Vietnam carrying such vital supplies as fuel oil came under heavy fire in successful but costly attempts to breach the blockade. The South Vietnamese Army launched clearing operations in April in the border area to ease the military pressure on the Mekong supply route, while the U.S. Air Force airlifted fuel oil from Thailand to Phnom Penh to maintain the capital's supply of electricity.
In June and July military pressure on the capital was intensified still further. In response, the U.S. Air Force flew well over 150,000 missions. These not only took a heavy toll of the Communist forces but also produced considerable devastation and an increasing flow of refugees. This stage of the battle was somewhat incongruous, for while the government forces were constantly on the defensive and under very heavy pressure, supply convoys were able to get through.
As the American bombing ended, there were some signs of insurgent infiltration of Phnom Penh, including arms caches and the distribution of leaflets instructing residents what to do in the event of the capital's fall. The insurgents further consolidated their military position by entrenching themselves at all the approaches to the capital.
After the bombing halt, major battles were fought along Route 4, the supply road linking the capital and Kompong Som (Cambodia's only seaport), and at the provincial capital of Kompong Cham, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war occurred in September. Communist forces occupied Kompong Cham early in the month, but by September 13, after a nine day battle which produced an estimated 8,000 casualties, government forces were in complete control of the city.
Politics and government.
In the wake of the Vietnam peace settlement, the United States encouraged Phnom Penh to broaden the base of government. The establishment of a council of national reconciliation among the ruling and opposition parties was viewed as a means to initiate negotiations with the insurgent Khmers Rouges.
Meanwhile, popular unrest at the shortages caused by the war and at allegedly authoritarian and corrupt practices continued to grow. One egregious scandal was disclosed by the government: an estimated 100,000 nonexistent troops were currently on the military payroll. These "phantoms" provided an estimated $1 million extra income for field commanders and paymasters. Since every phantom was one less fighting man, the padding was blamed for some battlefield losses.
On March 17, President Lon Nol declared a state of emergency. The ostensible reason for this declaration was a bombing assault on the presidential palace by an aircraft piloted by Captain So Potra (a son-in-law of Prince Sihanouk) in which 47 people were killed. Following this attack, known political opponents of Lon Nol were arrested together with members of the former royal family. At the same time, all newspapers and magazines not controlled by the government were closed down for three months.
Although President Nixon sent Lon Nol firm assurances of continued American support after the attack on the palace, the United States continued to press for a more popular base to his administration. On April 10, General Alexander Haig visited Phnom Penh on a mission for Henry A. Kissinger, then President Nixon's top national security adviser. A week later, a cabinet reshuffle was announced, aimed at opening the way to peace talks. Lon Nol dissolved the cabinet of Hang Thun Hak and invited the leaders of all parties to form a broad council of advisers to overcome the country's critical situation. In the Supreme State Council established on April 23, Lon Nol was to share power with three major political opponents: In Tam, Sisowath Sirik Matak, and Cheng Heng. The National Assembly was then suspended for six months, during which time the council was supposed to exercise full executive and legislative powers. In addition, General Lon Non, the younger brother of Lon Nol, resigned from the government under pressure from the council and the United States. Then, on May 11, after much squabbling, in Tam was chosen premier.
Despite the changes in the Phnom Penh government, Prince Sihanouk's position remained consistent throughout the year. He stated categorically that he would not negotiate with the Lon Nol government. At the end of May, there were reports that Lon Nol was prepared to negotiate directly with the government in exile, but all attempts were rebuffed by Sihanouk, who was then in Morocco as part of a tour of Africa and Eastern Europe. In July the government in Phnom Penh sought to initiate negotiations once more and expressed a willingness to talk to any representative put forward by the other side, but, again, to no avail. Indeed, the diplomatic stalemate was such that Kissinger was obliged to postpone a visit to Peking, where he had expected to begin talks with Prince Sihanouk. Sihanouk refused to meet with Kissinger while the United States continued to bomb Cambodia and to provide military assistance to the Lon Nol government.
In April Prince Sihanouk reported he had spent over a month visiting the "liberated areas" within Cambodia and claimed to have held a rally near Angkor. During his visit he received a reaffirmation of support from the insurgent Khmers Rouges, who recognized him as the sole legal head of state and the leader of the national resistance. Later, however, that support appeared to waver.
In the United States, the campaign by members of both houses of Congress to stop American bombing in Cambodia revived in earnest in May. Congress voted to cut off funds for continued bombing of Cambodia at the end of June, but President Nixon vetoed this legislation. A compromise was worked out, however, whereby all bombing was to cease on August 15, with explicit congressional authorization required for any further bombing. However, the United States continued to provide military and other assistance to the Cambodian government. In July the United States agreed to furnish economic assistance worth $24.6 million for the coming year, thus bringing the total authorized U.S. economic aid to Cambodia since 1971 to $220 million.
Past bombing of alleged Vietnamese sanctuaries inside Cambodia became a major U.S. domestic issue. Announcing the ground intervention by allied troops on April 30, 1970, President Nixon declared: "For five years, neither the United States nor South Vietnam moved against those enemy sanctuaries because we did not wish to violate the territory of a neutral nation." But in July 1973, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger acknowledged that for 14 months prior to the invasion, U.S. B-52 bombers had engaged in over 3,000 raids against those sanctuaries without informing most congressmen or the public. The reason for the secrecy, President Nixon and Kissinger explained, was to protect the political position of Prince Sihanouk; had the bombing been made public, Sihanouk would have been compelled to protest and the bombing would have stopped, thereby endangering American lives. But Sihanouk, they claimed, had acquiesced to the secret raids. In September a Defense Department "white paper" disclosed that raids had also been mounted in support of Cambodian troops in 1970 and 1971, at a time when U.S. air support was supposedly confined to South Vietnamese operations. The white paper went on to describe the dual reporting system under which the secret Cambodia missions were recorded as having occurred over Vietnam.
The economy was totally dominated by the war, leading to mounting budgetary expenditure and deficits. A shortage of consumer goods and inflation led to a sharp increase in the cost of living.
Area and population.
Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1973), 7.8 million. Phnom Penh (cap.; est. 1972), 1.3 million.
Constitutional republic now ruled by Supreme State Council. Pres., Lon Nol; prem., In Tam.
Monetary unit, riel; 1 riel = US$0.005.
Virtually no exports because of the war. Principal imports: petroleum products, foodstuffs, and armaments. Main source of supply: United States.
Totally disrupted because of war.
Armed forces (est. 1972).
Army, 200,000; navy, 1,400; air force, 3,800.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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