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Cambodia: 1976

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1998: Archaeology: Radar Reveals Hidden Ruins in Cambodia
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1998: Pol Pot Dies at 73
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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.


1976: Cambodia

Some accounts of life in Cambodia, which had completely isolated itself after the Khmer Rouge (Communist) victory in April 1975, reached the outside world this year. There were reports of thoroughgoing collectivization of the economy, abandonment of the use of money, efforts to achieve political and economic self-sufficiency (particularly in food production), and wholesale executions of Cambodians connected with the previous regime. A new constitution was adopted and a new government installed this year, and diplomatic relations were established with a few countries (although the French government was not permitted to open a mission in Phnom Penh).

Politics and government.

A national congress of 1,115 workers, peasants, and soldiers, meeting in Phnom Penh in mid-December 1975, ratified a new draft constitution for Cambodia. On January 3 the government, presided over by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, formally approved the new fundamental law. The first article of the constitution declared the postrevolutionary state, officially named Democratic Cambodia, to be "independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, nonaligned, sovereign and democratic ... a state of the people, workers, [and] peasants...." The constitution proclaimed the state as the sole owner of the means of production, but it asserted that personal property would remain in private hands. It guaranteed the rights to work and to an improved living standard, as well as full sexual equality. It also guaranteed the right to worship freely—except for certain "reactionary religions."

In April, Sihanouk resigned as head of state. Since his return to Cambodia from exile in China at the end of 1975, he had played only a nominal role in public life. With the promulgation of the new constitution, it became apparent that, though honored for his support of the revolution, he was a political anachronism.

After general elections in March, the interim administration of Premier Penn Nouth also resigned in April. The newly elected National Assembly then named a government to be headed by Khieu Samphan, previously deputy premier and commander in chief of the Khmer Rouge army. Pol Pot, virtually unknown outside Cambodia, became premier. Ieng Sary and Son Sen, who had been in the interim administration, remained as deputy premiers, in charge of foreign affairs and defense, respectively. Vorn Veth was named deputy premier for economic affairs. In September it was announced that Pol Pot was taking a leave of absence for health reasons and was being replaced on an acting basis by Non Chea.

Social and economic developments.

A visit to Cambodia in February and March by the Swedish ambassador to China, Kaj Bjork, provided one of the first independent reports on conditions prevailing in the country. Bjork confirmed stories of massive shifts of people to the countryside to participate in food production, and he acknowledged that there still was considerable suffering. But he said that he had seen no signs of starvation. He encountered a barter economy, with no money in circulation.

In July the Swedish radio correspondent in Hanoi reported that many thousands of Cambodian refugees had entered Vietnam, carrying with them tales of atrocities, including the working to death of children in labor camps. Other accounts from refugees indicated that many members of the middle class had been executed earlier in the year but that wholesale executions no longer were being carried out by the new regime.

Also in July, Pol Pot told the Vietnam News Agency that Cambodia's reorganized agricultural system had managed by the end of 1975 to feed the entire population, if only barely. The main emphasis of the country's economic development, he said, was on agriculture, especially the expansion and irrigation of rice fields. He claimed also that all industrial establishments had been restored, that most—including rubber-processing factories—had entered production, and that Cambodia hoped to be able, in the near future, to export rubber and rice in exchange for machinery. Pol Pot admitted, however, that over 80 percent of the work force had been afflicted with malaria, thus hampering the reaping of the harvest. In addition, the country was experiencing a major shortage of medical supplies. "In short," he commented, "we have not made any noteworthy achievements except the revolutionary movement of the masses." Most of Pol Pot's assertions have been supported by accounts from the few foreigners who have gained admittance to Cambodia.

Foreign affairs.

Some modification occurred in Cambodia's initial monastic attitude toward international contacts. Formal diplomatic ties were established with a number of countries that had supported the Khmer Rouge. Very few countries were permitted to open embassies in Phnom Penh, however.

Late in February a party of foreign diplomats stationed in Peking was taken to the Cambodian town of Siem Reap, on the border with Thailand, to see the damage caused by what the Cambodian government insisted were bombs dropped from American planes. The planes were alleged to have been based in Thailand, which had been involved in a number of border clashes with Cambodia. Thai and American spokesmen maintained that all United States warplanes had long since been withdrawn from Thailand.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia eased markedly this June, when Thailand's foreign minister persuaded the Cambodian government to accept the return, without prejudice, of 20,000 Cambodian refugees crowded into camps in Thailand.

In July, France closed the Cambodian mission in Paris, in part because of the refusal of the Cambodian government to grant reciprocal facilities in Phnom Penh.

Khieu Samphan headed the Cambodian delegation to the conference of nonaligned nations, held in Sri Lanka in August. Cambodia declined to associate itself with the efforts of neighboring (and ideologically compatible) Laos and Vietnam to get the conference to assert that the Kuala Lumpur Declaration of November 1971 had been manipulated by "U.S. imperialists." At Kuala Lumpur the states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had called for the creation in Southeast Asia of a "zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality." Also at the Sri Lanka conference, Cambodia reaffirmed its commitment to a policy of economic self-reliance and dissociated itself from a Cuban proposal for reparations and aid for the war-stricken countries of Indochina.

In the United States, a report released this fall by the General Accounting Office concluded that the Ford administration did not exhaust all diplomatic channels before launching an attack in May 1975 to secure release of the merchant ship Mayagüez, which had been fired on and seized by Cambodian gunboats in the Gulf of Siam.

Area and population.

Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1976), 8.3 million. Phnom Penh (cap.), between 40,000 and 100,000.


Socialist state. Head of state, Khieu Samphan; acting prem., Non Chea.


Former monetary unit, riel; no local currency used and no international exchange value quoted.


Principal trading partners: China, Thailand.

Armed forces (est. 1976):


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

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