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Cambodia: 1981

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.


1981: Cambodia

Government and politics.

A major effort was undertaken to provide a basis in constitutional legality and popular consent for the administration imposed on Cambodia (Kampuchea) by Vietnamese force of arms in 1979. In March the government announced the promulgation of a draft constitution and rules for the conduct of local and general elections. The aim of the constitution was described in the draft as "building an independent, peaceful, free, democratic, and nonaligned Kampuchea advancing progressively and firmly towards authentic socialism." District-level elections began in March, and the process culminated in May with voting for a national assembly. A total of 148 candidates, all approved by the electoral committee of the National United Front for the Salvation of Kampuchea, contested 117 seats. The results reaffirmed the leadership of President Heng Samrin and Vice-President Pen Sovan, who secured, respectively, 99.75 percent and 99.63 percent of the votes cast in their Phnom Penh constituencies.

At the end of May, the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea held a four-day congress in Phnom Penh. Ten foreign delegations attended, including one from the Vietnamese Communist Party led by its first secretary, Le Duan. In the elected politburo of eight members, pride of place was taken by Pen Sovan, elected secretary-general at the gathering, followed by Heng Samrin and then Say Phuthang. In June a new government was announced. Heng Samrin assumed the post of chairman of the Council of State, which is the equivalent of head of state. Pen Sovan became chairman of the Council of Ministers, a post equivalent to premier.

Internal war.

The ebb and flow of guerrilla war continued without posing a major threat to the position of the government in Phnom Penh, still sustained by a Vietnamese expeditionary force of about 200,000. The principal insurgent forces were those of the Khmer Rouge, loyal to the Pol Pot regime ousted by Vietnam in 1979. Khmer Rouge insurgents enjoyed a measure of military success in February when, under pressure, the Vietnamese withdrew from a number of strongpoints along the border with Thailand. Such withdrawals, however, constituted a tactical consolidation rather than a major military defeat and corresponded with a greater assertion of Vietnamese control over centers of urban and rural population, in order to ensure security for the upcoming elections. If government restrictions on travel for visiting journalists seemed to indicate deteriorating control in some areas, the Khmer Rouge nevertheless proved unable to cause any significant disruption of the elections.

The Khmer Rouge adopted a seasonal pattern of military activities, which were stepped up concurrent with the wet season. During the spring monsoon, they posed a threat to lines of communication, especially in the western half of the country. Although such action placed an increasing burden on the Vietnamese occupying army, beset by problems of morale and illness, especially malaria, the Khmer Rouge has not been able to alter the balance of military forces. Its fighting effectiveness has been estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000, with a population base of some 100,000. However, it has faced increasing problems of recruitment among Cambodian refugees in Thailand because of the atrocities committed by the Pol Pot government between 1975 and 1979.

Politics of the united front.

Attempts by external opponents of Vietnam's military occupation of Cambodia to improve the international reputation of the internal resistance forces resulted in various initiatives aimed at establishing a united front between the Khmer Rouge and non-Communist groups. After the failure of efforts to persuade former Premier Son Sann (leader of the anti-Pol Pot Khmer People's National Liberation Front) to head such a front in February, former head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk entered into negotiations in North Korea in March with the Khmer Rouge's designated premier, Khieu Samphan. These talks proved inconclusive because Khieu Samphan rejected a major precondition for the establishment of a united front, namely, an agreement on the disarming of all Cambodian resistance forces in the event of a Vietnamese withdrawal. Prince Sihanouk commented, "If the Khmer Rouge were to retain their forces, they would swallow Sihanoukist forces and they would seize power." Prince Sihanouk continued negotiations on a united front with the Chinese foreign minister, Huang Hua, in Peking in April but did not receive a commitment for the amount of military aid he considered essential in order for him and his supporters to avoid becoming mere figureheads, used by the Khmer Rouge to achieve diplomatic legitimacy. Nonetheless, at the end of the month, he announced a willingness to participate in a united front against Vietnamese occupation. In early September, at a meeting in Singapore, Prince Sihanouk, Son Sann, and Khieu Samphan signed an agreement to work toward a coalition government. The accord provided that a committee representing the three parties would prepare for the establishment of the coalition.

Foreign affairs.

Cambodia was one of the central issues at the meeting in New Delhi in February of foreign ministers of nonaligned nations. Although a decision was not taken on representation and the Cambodian seat was left vacant, the conference did call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Cambodia.

In accordance with a United Nations General Assembly resolution of October 1980, UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim convened an international conference on Cambodia in New York in July. The conference, which was boycotted by Vietnam and its supporters, reiterated the demand of the General Assembly for the prompt withdrawal of all foreign forces from Cambodia. Accord was much more difficult to reach on what should happen if such a withdrawal occurred. The governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—which played a leading role in promoting the conference—had hoped to use the occasion to draw up a program for a comprehensive settlement which might, by impeding a return to power of the Khmer Rouge, have some appeal for the government in Vietnam. To this end, they proposed including in the conference's final declaration a statement calling for the disarming of all Cambodian parties and for the establishment of an interim government following a Vietnamese withdrawal. This proposal was strongly opposed by China, and in its place was included a bland assertion that steps should be taken to prevent any of the insurgent groups from blocking free elections. An ad hoc committee of seven participant states was set up to seek a comprehensive political settlement, but the conference's declaration was denounced by the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments and also by the Soviet Union, making the prospects for such a settlement grim.

In mid-September the UN General Assembly voted, 77-37, to allow Cambodia's seat to be retained for the third straight year by the deposed Pol Pot government.

Relief aid and economic revival.

With widespread famine in Cambodia no longer a serious threat, changes occurred in the system of international relief aid. In December 1980 the International Committee of the Red Cross ended its joint participation with Unicef in food distribution.

In February, however, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that although widespread starvation and serious malnutrition had been overcome, the economy remained in fragile condition. The rice harvest at the beginning of the year was calculated to be 700,000 tons of actual food rice (1.3 million tons of paddy rice), double that of the previous year but still 150,000-200,000 tons short of the amount needed for basic subsistence. Revival of the agricultural cycle was cast in doubt when rice planting in the middle of the year was adversely affected by heavy early rains and by a shortage of seed caused by unfavorable weather conditions.

A major revival of private trading was facilitated by an illegal, though tolerated, commerce with Thailand.

Area and population.

Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1981), 5.5 million.


People's Republic. Chairman of Council of State, Heng Samrin; chairman of Council of Ministers, Pen Sovan.


Official monetary unit, riel; 1 riel = US$0.25.


Main partners: Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

Armed forces (est. 1981).

Made up, in the main, of Vietnamese units with a total strength of 200,000.

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

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