HomeBiographyRésuméAlbum Family





Cambodia: 1979

1956: Cambodia

1957: Cambodia
1958: Cambodia
1959: Cambodia
1960: Cambodia
1961: Cambodia
1962: Cambodia
1963: Cambodia
1964: Cambodia
1965: Cambodia
1966: Cambodia
1967: Cambodia
1968: Cambodia
1969: Cambodia
1970: Cambodia
1971: Cambodia
1972: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1973: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1974: Cambodia (Khmer Republic)
1975: Cambodia
1976: Cambodia
1977: Cambodia
1978: Cambodia
1979: Cambodia
1980: Cambodia
1981: Cambodia
1982: Cambodia
1983: Cambodia
1984: Cambodia
1985: Cambodia
1986: Cambodia
1987: Cambodia
1988: Cambodia
1989: Cambodia
1990: Cambodia
1991: Cambodia
1992: Cambodia
1993: Cambodia
1994: Cambodia
1995: Cambodia
1996: Cambodia
1997: Cambodia
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.


1979: Cambodia

Invasion by Vietnam.

After a long period of border clashes, Vietnamese forces launched a major invasion of Cambodia (Kampuchea) on December 25, 1978. The action was ostensibly in support of a group of Cambodian insurgents known as the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation, which had been established earlier in the month. Phnom Penh was captured on January 7. Within days, the People's Republic of Kampuchea was proclaimed. It was presided over by a newly installed People's Revolutionary Council headed by Heng Samrin, a defector from the Pol Pot regime. Diplomatic recognition was accorded immediately by Vietnam and the Soviet Union and almost all its allies. On February 18, the Heng Samrin government entered into a treaty of peace and friendship with Vietnam, which was subsequently used to justify the continued presence of Vietnamese forces in the country. In March a joint statement signed by Heng Samrin and the president of Laos, Souphanouvong, sanctioned the deployment of Laotian troops in Cambodia. Despite the new government's early claims of total victory, the adherents of the former premier, Pol Pot, kept up a guerrilla resistance. By the end of the dry season (in May and June), the main units of Pol Pot loyalists had been broken up and driven into rural enclaves along the border with Thailand, enfeebled by casualties, sickness, and hunger—but still militarily strong enough to keep a much larger Vietnamese force tied down. In September, Vietnam launched a new offensive.

Government and politics.

On assuming power, the Heng Samrin government reversed major policies of its predecessor. It authorized the repopulating of towns, the reopening of schools, and the reinstatement of Buddhist temples. It pledged itself to restore family and religious life, to reintroduce the use of money, and to establish the eight-hour workday. It also gave considerable publicity to the extensive evidence of atrocities by the Pol Pot regime. Indeed, in August, a special tribunal tried Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, his foreign minister and deputy premier, in absentia and condemned them to death for the crime of genocide.

From the outset, the Heng Samrin government encountered major problems of administration, arising primarily from an acute shortage of personnel—caused by the virtual liquidation of the educated class by the Pol Pot regime. Severe administrative difficulties continued throughout the year, and the government relied heavily on Vietnamese and Soviet aid. The economy of the country had completely broken down, with an absence of jobs and markets, and many government ministries apparently existed only on paper.

Social distress.

The upheaval following the overthrow of the Pol Pot government and the continuing conditions of insecurity hindered rice planting. This loss was felt particularly in the western part of the country; cultivation already had long been restricted in the eastern border regions, where many paddy fields had been mined. The result of the current turmoil was an acute shortage of food and the prospect of starvation for perhaps 2.25 million people. After delicate negotiations with the Heng Samrin regime, which insisted on restricting the routes through which emergency aid could enter the country (to keep it from areas controlled by Pol Pot guerrillas), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Red Cross, along with Oxfam, a British-based volunteer group, began sending in food and medical supplies in the fall. At a special UN conference convened by Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in New York in early November, 51 nations pledged more than $200 million for the emergency relief program. (The United States pledged $69 million, the largest single contribution.) At that point, at least 250,000 Cambodian refugees were crowded into camps on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border, and scores of people were dying each day of starvation or disease. Some estimates placed the total population of Cambodia at the time as low as 4 million—down from nearly twice that number in 1970.

Even earlier, Thailand had a refugee population of over 250,000, the largest in Southeast Asia, as Cambodians fled first the oppressive conditions of the Pol Pot regime and then the disruptions of the Vietnamese invasion and the guerrilla war. The Thai government was deeply concerned over both the economic burden of its refugee population and the prospect that the presence among the refugees of Pol Pot troops would lead to strikes across the border by the Vietnamese. In June, Thailand forcibly repatriated more than 40,000 Cambodians, partly to focus increased world attention on its refugee problem. (See also THAILAND.)

Foreign affairs.

Just prior to the taking of Phnom Penh, the former head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who had lived there under virtual house arrest, was permitted to leave the country for China. From there, he traveled to New York, where he addressed the UN Security Council in January on behalf of his recent jailers, in a futile endeavor to secure the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia. His action did, however, tend to undermine the Heng Samrin government, which failed to win widespread international recognition. Indeed, the ousted Pol Pot government retained its seat at the UN and the formal recognition of Western states and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Representatives of the ousted Pol Pot government assiduously attended international conferences in order to sustain its international credentials. In May, Ieng Thirith, Pol Pot's minister of social welfare and the wife of Ieng Sary, represented Cambodia at the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Manila. And in June a Pol Pot delegation was seated instead of one from the Heng Samrin government, at a preparatory, pre-summit meeting of nonaligned states held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. However, at the summit itself, held in Havana, Cuba, in early September, the Cambodian seat was left vacant, with the future status of the Pol Pot regime referred to a special committee for future study.

Since the invasion, Cambodia has been dominated by the Vietnamese, militarily and politically. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese troops were in the country, along with a few thousand Laotians. Initially, the new government seemed a welcome relief from the terror of Pol Pot's rule. By the middle of the year, however, there were indications of a revival of the traditional Khmer antagonism toward the Vietnamese, including reports of armed clashes between Vietnamese troops and forces of the Heng Samrin government. The evident concern of the Heng Samrin government about the threat to its legitimacy posed by the continued presence of Vietnamese troops was demonstrated in a speech made by the new foreign minister, Hun Sen, to government cadres in July. He stated that the presence of Vietnamese troops did not mean any loss of the country's independence, sovereignty, or territorial integrity and that they would withdraw "as soon as the remnants of the Pol Pot—Ieng Sary clique, the Chinese reactionaries, and other imperialists stop threatening the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Kampuchea."

Area and population.

Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (1979), variously estimated at 4-9 million.


Socialist state. Pres. of People's Revolutionary Council, Heng Samrin.


Former official monetary unit, riel. Local currency not yet restored.

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

| Home | Biography | Résumé | Album | Family |

Cambodia:Information | Maps | Pictures | Web Guide |

Web Guide | Search | Contact Me | Guestbook || Guestbook |


Back to the top