Cambodia: 1974 (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.
1974: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
The civil war in Cambodia, which had begun in the early 1970's as an extension of the Vietnam war, continued throughout the year, despite the signing of a Vietnam cease-fire in 1973. The Cambodian fighting pitted the forces of the government of President Lon Nol—which held the capital (Phnom Penh), most of the provincial capitals, and the adjacent territories—against the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communist) insurgents, who controlled the eastern, northern, and western provinces.
In December 1973 the Khmer Rouge insurgents launched an assault on the capital; their drive continued through February. The assault was marked by the dual deployment of insurgent forces northwest and south of Phnom Penh and by their heavy rocketing and shelling of the city, using captured American 105mm howitzers. The bombardment was intended to terrorize the city's civilian population, which was urged by Khmer Rouge Radio to evacuate and to make for the insurgents' "liberated areas." In any event, the bombardment, although causing nearly 400 civilian deaths, did not produce a wave of panic; Communist assault troops pressed to within 3 miles of the Phnom Penh airport, but they failed to capture the city. In February a government counteroffensive finally forced the insurgents to withdraw.
The campaign thus ended in military stalemate, largely because the Khmer Rouge forces were poorly coordinated and the government forces had great firepower at their disposal. Another reason for the stalemate was that the Mekong River, the vital economic lifeline leading to Phnom Penh, was kept open at all times. Moreover, as in past years, the Lon Nol government continued to receive ample U.S. military and economic aid. Most of the supplies passed through the U.S. base complex of Utapao-Sattahip in Thailand. From this base, ammunition was flown into Cambodia on C130 airplanes, and rice and fuel were convoyed up the Mekong.
Having failed to take Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge forces began attacks on provincial centers. On March 18, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Prince Sihanouk (the deposed ruler who later became a leader of the insurgents), they captured the provincial capital (and former royal capital) of Oudong, 24 miles northwest of Phnom Penh. This victory was psychologically important for the insurgent cause. Moreover, from Oudong the insurgents were able to put pressure on a number of outlying government positions, including Kompong Thom, Kampot, and Preh Veng. In April government forces launched a counteroffensive toward Oudong along the Tonle Sap River, but they were defeated by the insurgents at Kompong Luong, 23 miles north of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge forces did not follow up their successes, however, partly because of lack of ammunition. Nevertheless, all highways linking Phnom Penh with the sea and with agricultural areas were effectively severed.
In May government forces continued their attempts to retake Oudong, in part as a base from which to reopen supply lines to the rice-producing areas in the northwest. They finally recaptured the town on July 9, in the face of only limited resistance. That same day, President Lon Nol offered to negotiate with the insurgents "without prior conditions," but this initiative, strongly supported by U.S. Ambassador John Gunther Dean, was rejected out of hand by Prince Sihanouk and other insurgent leaders. Thus, as summer began and the dry season ended, the military stalemate remained unbroken. Phnom Penh remained subject to both internal terrorist attack and recurrent rocket bombardment, while fighting continued sporadically within 15 miles of the city limits.
Politics and government.
The fortunes of war and their economic consequences contributed to recurrent political unrest in Phnom Penh. In December 1973, Prime Minister In Tam resigned from his post and from his seat on the four-man Supreme State Council; he was replaced by Long Boret, then foreign minister. The following month, students in the capital called on President Lon Nol to resign. Their call coincided with an attempt by Son Sann, a former minister seeking to promote a political settlement, to persuade the president to leave the country as a prelude to negotiations. In February the authorities announced the suicides of four students in the cells where they had been confined after they were arrested for allegedly spreading rumors. Student groups claimed, however, that the deaths were not self-inflicted. This episode fueled student militancy, later expressed in support of a strike by schoolteachers. The teachers were protesting the erosion of their salaries by Cambodia's galloping wartime inflation.
A major change in the government was made on March 31, when Lon Nol dissolved the Supreme State Council. (Its four members were Lon Nol, General Sisowath Sirik Matak, Prime Minister Long Boret, and former Head of State Cheng Heng.) This body, which held wide powers, had been set up in 1973 in response to American pressure for collective leadership. The dissolution of this council, justified on the grounds that the National Assembly was functioning once more, provoked the resignation of four cabinet ministers close to Cheng Heng. On April 1, Lon Nol set up a new High Executive Council composed of himself, Long Boret, Sirik Matak and Major-General Sosthene Fernandez, head of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces, who thus replaced Cheng Heng.
Early in May students and teachers began demonstrations in the capital to protest corruption and to demand higher pay. Toward the end of the month the police made many arrests at the Lycée March Eighteenth, a school which was the center of student opposition to the government. On June 1 students began a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Education to demand the release of five of their number still in custody. Two days later students forced Minister of Education Keo Sangkim and a senior adviser, Professor Thach Chea, to accompany them to the school, where they were held as hostages. On June 4 both men were mysteriously shot dead as riot police stormed the school building. The controversy over these unresolved killings led to the resignation of six ministers: two independents and four members of the Republican Party of Sirik Matak. Lon Nol then asked Long Boret to continue as prime minister. Long Boret and the remainder of his cabinet resigned on June 13, and four days later Long Boret formed a new government made up of seven members of Lon Nol's Social-Republican Party, six independents, and two military officers. The result of this reshuffling was the exclusion of Lon Nol's political rivals from positions of influence.
As it had been since its formation, the Lon Nol government continued to be sustained by U.S. military and economic aid. In February, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon assured Lon Nol that the United States would continue to provide the "maximum possible assistance." In the fiscal year ending June 30, American military aid was estimated at $325 million, while economic assistance totaled $145 million. With the accession of President Gerald Ford, U.S. policy did not change, despite pressures by U.S. congressmen to reduce the American commitment. In August, Prime Minister Long Boret began a visit to the capitals of the five member nations of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in order to win international support for his government.
The leaders of the Cambodian insurgents were also most active in soliciting international backing. In mid-March, Prince Sihanouk paid a visit to the insurgent-controlled "liberated zone" in Laos, and in April he went to North Korea. Of greater significance were the foreign visits of Khieu Samphan, the commander in chief of the Cambodian insurgents and the man regarded as the effective leader of the Khmer Rouge forces. At the end of March he made a visit to Hanoi. Then, at the beginning of April, he continued on to China, where he was given a reception reserved normally for heads of state. The attention showered on him by the Chinese indicated the extent to which he had come to overshadow Prince Sihanouk, whose role was now somewhat ceremonial. Khieu Samphan traveled on to North Korea, and from there he visited Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania, Algeria, Mauritania, Cameroon, Ghana, Egypt, and Syria, returning to China in mid-May.
The Cambodian economy, as in years past, was totally dominated by the effects of the war. In 1974 prices in the government-held areas reportedly rose at an annual rate of 300 percent. Although food prices were extraordinarily high, there was reportedly little real starvation. Corruption and black-marketeering in staple goods was widespread.
Area and population.
Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1974), 7.5 million. Phnom Penh (cap.), 2 million.
Constitutional republic ruled through High Executive Council. Pres., Lon Nol; prem., Long Boret.
Monetary unit, riel; 1 riel = US$0.0095. Budget (1973): revenue, 24,658 million riels; expenditures, 34,000 million riels.
Virtually no exports because of the war. Net importer of rice since 1972. Principal imports: petroleum products, foodstuffs, armaments. Main sources of imports: United States, Japan, Singapore.
Concentrated in Phnom Penh, but disrupted because of war.
Armed forces (est. 1974).
Army, 200,000; navy, 11,000; air force, 9,500; paramilitary forces, 150,000.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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