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.
War with Vietnam.
The concealed conflict between the Communist government in Phnom Penh and its counterpart in Hanoi was openly revealed on December 31, 1977, when Cambodian Radio announced a temporary suspension of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. The Cambodian government charged Vietnam with conducting an undeclared and premeditated war since September 1977, deploying several divisions of infantry and hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces with air support. Hanoi's war aims were alleged to be the acquisition of rice as a solution to a food shortage and, more fundamentally, the incorporation of Cambodia within a Vietnamese-dominated Indochinese federation as a preliminary to annexation.
Fighting between the two forces extended along the entire length of the disputed border but was concentrated along a front from north of Cambodia's Svay Rieng Province to Kampot Province in the south. The initial Vietnamese assault, which penetrated up to 20 miles into Cambodian territory, appeared to be a major punitive measure rather than a direct attempt at displacing the Phnom Penh government. Cambodian resistance was unexpectedly strong, and the intensity of the military confrontation decreased by mid-January. Subsequently, Cambodian units engaged in armed incursions attacking agricultural settlements and shelling border towns.
By February, the bulk of the Vietnamese forces had withdrawn from their forward positions. Nonetheless, intermittent, often major, clashes occurred during the year. Antigovernment Cambodian insurgents trained in Vietnam were also involved. Although hard pressed in the face of superior opposition, the Cambodian troops, with aid provided by China, appeared to be holding their ground through much of the year. However, by late August, the London Times reported that Western intelligence sources believed the Cambodian Army was disintegrating. Refugees said that wounded soldiers in Cambodia were dying from a lack of medical supplies, and that youths who had never been in the army were being rounded up for service on the Vietnamese front. In late September, Radio Cambodia appeared to confirm diplomatic reports that Vietnamese troops had successfully penetrated well inside the border. Meanwhile, Western intelligence sources believed that Cambodian insurgents, aided by air support from Vietnam, controlled the so-called parrot's beak region of Cambodia, as well as an area in the northeast near the Laos border.
The open conflict with Vietnam prompted an even closer association between Cambodia and China, which provided major military and diplomatic assistance for the government in Phnom Penh as the year progressed. Cambodia, for its part, offered strong support for Chinese diplomatic positions. The Cambodian government also received a measure of diplomatic support from North Korea.
In response to the conflict with Vietnam, the Phnom Penh government attempted to improve relations with Thailand, which had deteriorated as a result of cross-border incursions from both sides. Cambodian concern was expressed at activities of the so-called Free Cambodian forces, opposed to the Communist Pol Pot regime, and Cambodian forces made several savage incursions into Thai territory in an attempt to destroy the insurgents. Early in the year, during a visit to Cambodia by the Thai foreign minister, the two countries, which had established diplomatic ties in October 1977, agreed to try to "normalize relations." Later this year, in mid-July, Cambodian Foreign Minister Ieng Sary visited Bangkok, where a new accord was signed. The two nations agreed in principle to try to end incidents along their border, but no details were supplied on how this would be done.
An indication of a growing attempt to extend Cambodia's limited international contacts were agreements in May to resume trade ties with Singapore and in August to establish diplomatic relations with Indonesia and Switzerland. Meanwhile, various countries expressed condemnation of the Cambodian government for mass killings of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people and other atrocities, as reported by refugees. In early April the Canadian Parliament adopted a resolution denouncing killing and suffering in Cambodia; later the same month, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, citing reported atrocities, called Cambodia "the worst violator of human rights in the world today."
Evidence of increased regimentation and repression was indicated in the testimony of refugees able to make the hazardous journey into Thailand. Prompted not only by sustained conditions of forced labor but also by an intensification of bloody purges within the country—apparently an outcome of the conflict with Vietnam — approximately 700 refugees a month were arriving in Thailand this summer. An increasing number were peasants who had worked on the land before the Communist takeover, as opposed to residents of urban areas expelled from the cities after April 1975.
While the liquidation of persons alleged to be in some way associated with the former regime of Lon Nol continued this year, efforts were also made to weed out alleged collaborators with the Vietnamese. In June, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary charged Vietnam with complicity in a recent plot to overthrow the Cambodian government. Confirmation of a growing, if externally aided, internal opposition was provided in July by Radio Hanoi, which referred to rebels as having already established a base to fight against the Pol Pot regime.
Economic and social developments.
The Cambodians claimed to have 200,000 tons of rice available for export, although reports would suggest that such an amount was attained only at the cost of considerable internal deprivation. The few diplomatic visitors to Cambodia confirmed that the population of the urban centers remained sparse. The capital, Phnom Penh, was reported to be a "ghost city." Its population, officially put at 20,000, appeared to the visitors to be much less, and the inhabitants seemed to be newcomers, all the former residents having been driven out. There was no public transport or mail or telegraph services, according to the diplomats, and there was only one shop, selling items in hard currency to a handful of foreigners.
Area and population.
Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1978), 8.2 million. Phnom Penh (cap.; according to government figures), 20,000.
Socialist state. Head of state, Khieu Samphan; prem. and Communist Party secy., Pol Pot.
Former official monetary unit, riel. No local currency used; trade conversions quoted at 1 riel = US$0.25.
Principal trading partners: China, Hong Kong, Japan. Principal exports: rice, rubber.
Armed forces (est. 1978),
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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