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Cambodia: 1982

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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.


1982: Cambodia

The government of Heng Samrin, backed by Vietnamese occupation forces, maintained its control over most of Cambodia (Kampuchea). Vietnamese troops scored successes during the year against insurgent forces of the Communist Khmer Rouge and the non-Communist Khmer People's National Liberation Front. Both guerrilla groups remained in the field, however, and in June their leaders joined with Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former ruler of Cambodia, to form a coalition government to oppose the regime in Phnom Penh.

Government and politics.

Pen Sovan was relieved of the posts of secretary-general of the ruling People's Revolutionary Party and chairman of the Council of Ministers in December 1981, ostensibly on grounds of ill health. He was immediately replaced as party chief by the head of state, Heng Samrin; and in February, Chan Si was named as chairman of the Council of Ministers (a post equivalent to premier). Nine days elapsed before Heng Samrin received a message of congratulations from Soviet party leader Leonid Brezhnev for his appointment as secretary-general. The delay seemed to indicate displeasure over the ouster of Pen Sovan, who had appeared somewhat closer to Moscow than to Hanoi; his removal served to confirm the dominant influence of Vietnam.

Internal war.

Communist Khmer Rouge insurgents (loyal to the Pol Pot regime overthrown by Vietnam in 1979) sustained heavy losses in December 1981, when the Vietnamese army struck at one of their forward supply bases near the junction of the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Thai sources described the battle as one of the most important military developments since the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia at the end of 1978. In January, the Vietnamese launched another offensive in the west close to the Thai border. Fresh divisions, tanks, artillery, and air power were employed; fighting lasted until March and produced heavy casualties on both sides. For the remainder of the dry season, until June, the Khmer Rouge avoided battle, as they reorganized their forces into smaller and more easily concealed units.

The Vietnamese onslaught was directed not only against Communist Khmer Rouge but also against the non-Communist resistance forces of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front. In March, four of their encampments in the southwest, along the Thai border, were attacked. As a result, several thousand armed guerrillas were driven across the border into Thailand.

At the end of the dry season the Khmer Rouge, although depleted in numbers, still survived as a fighting force. However, they had not been able to challenge Vietnam's hold on Cambodia. The announcement by the Vietnamese government in July that it was withdrawing a significant number of troops was an indication of confidence in Vietnam's control of the situation. The withdrawal also masked a rotation of forces whereby two fresh Vietnamese divisions were deployed in the western part of Cambodia.

Resistance groups unite.

Following a September 1981 agreement between the three anti-Vietnamese resistance factions to work toward forming a coalition government, the mutually suspicious partners wrangled until June over the terms of its formation. In December 1981, as a gesture of conciliation, the Khmer Rouge announced the dissolution of the Cambodian Communist Party, headed by Pol Pot. Following tripartite negotiations in Bangkok, talks were resumed in Peking in February, but only between Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan and Prince Norodom Sihanouk, on behalf of his National United Front. Their tentative accord was rejected in March by Son Sann, the leader of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, who wished to avoid Khmer Rouge domination of the coalition (of the three resistance groups, the Khmer Rouge have by far the largest number of guerrillas).

The Chinese government cut off assistance to the Khmer People's National Liberation Front in an attempt to pressure Son Sann into an accord. His position was also weakened by the Vietnamese attacks in March on his movement's base camps along the Thai border. Meanwhile, decisive pressure was applied by the government of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), eager to promote an anti-Vietnamese coalition that could retain Cambodia's seat in the United Nations (held by Khmer Rouge representatives).

On June 22, the three resistance leaders met in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur and signed a declaration establishing a coalition government. Prince Sihanouk assumed the position of president, Son Sann became premier, and Khieu Samphan took the post of vice-president with responsibility for foreign affairs. The coalition agreement guaranteed each of the three groupings the right to its own "organization, political identity, and freedom of action," including the right to receive outside aid. Creation of the coalition and a visit by Prince Sihanouk to Thailand's Khao I Dang refugee camp in July encouraged thousands of Cambodian refugees to cross back over the border into a settlement called Sihanoukville, where Sihanouk's National Army is also based.

Foreign affairs.

The government in Phnom Penh responded to the formation of the coalition by denouncing it as a brainchild of the United States and China, while Vietnam condemned it as an act of interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia. In July Vietnam's foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach, after announcing that his government was withdrawing some troops from Cambodia, promised that more withdrawals would follow if Thailand stopped aid passing through its territory to Cambodian resistance forces. He proposed that a demilitarized zone be established along the border between Cambodia and Thailand; alternatively, a safety zone might be set up, with only Phnom Penh government forces stationed in the Cambodian portion. Thach indicated a willingness to accept United Nations supervision if the UN withdrew recognition from the representatives of the "disguised Pol Pot clique." He also called for an international conference to settle regional problems. Prince Sihanouk dismissed all these proposals as propaganda.

In July, the Vietnamese foreign minister visited Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, and Thailand to promote his proposals, but he met with little success. The Asean foreign ministers met in Bangkok in August and announced that their meetings with Nguyen Co Thach had revealed no sign of a change in Vietnam's policy toward Cambodia. They reaffirmed Asean's stand on the principles of total withdrawal of all Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and the right to self-determination of the Khmer people.

In October, the UN General Assembly accepted Prince Sihanouk's coalition as Cambodia's legitimate government, again denying recognition to the Heng Samrin regime.

Relief aid.

UN forecasts of food shortages in Cambodian provinces hit by flood and drought had attracted contributions of $27 million to the UN relief fund by August 1982.

Area and population.

Area, 69,898 sq. mi. Pop. (est. 1982), 6.1 million.


People's republic. Chairman of Council of State, Heng Samrin; chairman of Council of Ministers, Chan Si.


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


Principal exports: rubber, fish. Main trading partners: Vietnam, Soviet Union.

Armed forces (est. 1982).

Army, 20,000; Vietnamese occupation forces, approximately 150,000.

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

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