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Cambodia: 1975

1956: Cambodia

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1960: Cambodia
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1962: Cambodia
1963: Cambodia
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1967: Cambodia
1968: Cambodia
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1972: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
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1974: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1975: Cambodia
1976: Cambodia
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1983: Cambodia
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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.


1975: Cambodia

Khmer Rouge victory.

On April 17, Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communist) forces overran Phnom Penh, ending more than five years of conflict with the regime of Lon Nol, who had overthrown Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970. A change in tactics by the Khmer Rouge, to emphasize the severing of all means of land and water communication and supply to Phnom Penh, particularly up the Mekong River, was decisive in a final offensive that began on January 1 and progressively reduced the defense perimeter around the capital. In the final weeks of the battle, food, fuel, and ammunition had to be supplied by air by the United States, until eventually Pochentong Airport was made unusable by rocket attacks and shellfire. The last stage of the conflict was marked by the dismissal of the Lon Nol government's commander in chief of the armed forces, General Sosthene Fernandez, on March 11, by the departure of President Lon Nol for the United States on April 1, and by the evacuation of all American embassy staff members by helicopter on April 12. A last-minute attempt by Prime Minister Long Boret to obtain a cease-fire agreement and a negotiated surrender failed, and the final battle ended in something of an anticlimax, with a show of white flags by the surviving government troops.

Social and political changes.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Phnom Penh, the new rulers of Cambodia provided dramatic evidence of their determination to achieve radical change, by forcibly evacuating all the residents of the capital and other urban centers into rural areas. This drastic policy, involving more than 3 million people, was an apparent attempt to force the urban dwellers to share the rural experience of those who had been involved in the insurgency and to begin the economic reconstruction of Cambodia on the basis of agricultural self-sufficiency. Even the old and the sick were forced to march into the countryside, and many did not survive.

In a radio interview in August the Khmer Rouge's apparent leader, Khieu Samphan, said that it would be one or two years before Cambodia could return to its prewar role as a food-exporting nation and admitted that, at present, there was not sufficient food for all its inhabitants. It was reported in September that rice and petroleum were being smuggled from Thailand into Cambodia in exchange for dollars, and also that administration within Cambodia was functioning largely on a decentralized provincial basis.

The position of Prince Sihanouk in the new government remained uncertain, since he had persecuted the Khmer Rouge himself before forming an alliance with them after the 1970 Lon Nol coup. A special national congress, which met at the end of April under the chairmanship of Khieu Samphan, confirmed Sihanouk's position as head of state; however, he did not return to Phnom Penh until September 9, when he received a triumphal welcome. After three weeks, he went back to Peking, where he had lived during the war. In October, he visited the United Nations and attacked the United States in a speech to the General Assembly.

Members of Sihanouk's entourage reported that Khmer Rouge officials had told them in Phnom Penh that officials and generals of the former regime, including Premier Long Boret, had been shot by firing squads shortly after the fall of the capital. They were also told that Lon Nol's younger brother, General Lon Non, had been killed by an "enraged crowd." Reportedly, the new government has forced most Cambodians to adopt new names chosen for them by the authorities, a step designed to make it hard for members of the old regime to establish contact with one another. Phnom Penh itself was described as a "dead city," with about 50,000 soldiers its only inhabitants.

Limited foreign contacts.

After the Khmer Rouge takeover, Cambodia was deliberately sealed off from conventional international contacts. All diplomatic missions were closed, and all foreigners were expelled by early May.

A minor international crisis interrupted this initial isolation on May 12, when Cambodian gunboats seized the American merchant vessel Mayagüez in the Gulf of Siam. The Khmer Rouge charged that the ship had been spying in Cambodian waters. After the failure of U.S. attempts to recover the ship through diplomatic channels in Peking, President Gerald Ford ordered a combined force of American warships, aircraft, and helicopter-borne marines to launch an operation to recover the vessel and crew. The empty ship was captured by the marines at an offshore island. Ironically, shortly before the attack on the island began, the Khmer Rouge broadcast a message saying it would release the crew members, who had been taken to the Cambodian mainland. Soon after a Cambodian ship flying a white flag returned the crew to the Mayagüez, U.S. planes bombed Cambodian airfields and fuel installations on the mainland.

Relations between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese Communists indicated that common military success in the spring had not overcome traditional ethnic hostility. Only two months after the Communist takeovers of South Vietnam and Cambodia, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces clashed in June along the land border between the two countries and on a disputed islet in the Gulf of Siam. Observers noted that an incipient rivalry seemed to be developing between North Vietnam and China for influence with the new Cambodian regime. Although Le Duan, first secretary of the North Vietnamese Communist Party, visited Phnom Penh at the beginning of August to reconcile territorial differences, the first official visit outside Cambodia made by Khieu Samphan was to Peking in mid-August. The subsequent joint communiqué indicated the significance the Cambodian leadership attached to relations with China, which offered to provide both economic and technical assistance to Cambodia.

The new Cambodian leadership announced a commitment to a foreign policy of nonalignment, and Foreign Minister Ieng Sary attended the conference of foreign ministers of nonaligned countries, held in Peru in August. Relations with Thailand were restored in October after an eight-day visit to Bangkok by a delegation headed by Ieng Sary.

Area and population.

Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1975), 8.1 million. Phnom Penh (cap.), no official estimate since evacuation of population following Khmer Rouge victory.


Socialist state. Nominal head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk; prem., Penn Nouth; deputy prem., Khieu Samphan.


Monetary unit, riel; no international exchange value quoted since Khmer Rouge takeover.


No formal international links.

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

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