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Cambodia: 1985

1956: Cambodia

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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.


1985: Cambodia

In the sixth year of Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia (Kampuchea), the Vietnamese occupation army launched its largest and most successful attack against Cambodian resistance forces in the western part of the country, as Hanoi vowed to "solve" the Cambodian problem within two years. The Vietnamese continued to involve the Cambodians more and more in the war, and the escalation in the fighting further set back efforts to rebuild.

Vietnamese Offensive.

From December 1984 through March 1985, the Vietnamese fought the biggest dry-season offensive in the war. They moved two-thirds of their occupation forces to western Cambodia near the Thai border and systematically attacked and overwhelmed resistance base camps in the region—those of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), a non-Communist force; then those of the Communist Khmer Rouge; and finally those of Prince Norodom Sihanouk's (non-Communist) forces. The Vietnamese greatly outnumbered the Cambodians and were willing to absorb very high casualty rates to achieve their objectives. Undaunted by Thai forces guarding the border, they also made repeated incursions into Thai territory, on the grounds that the Thais were sheltering the Cambodian resistance.

All three resistance groups were forced to adopt a complete guerrilla strategy and infiltrate their troops inside Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge were best suited to the task and made impressive strikes against the Vietnamese and Phnom Penh troops. However, their appeal to Cambodians inside the country was questionable since the former Khmer Rouge regime had been responsible for the death of one-quarter of the Cambodian population. The KPNLF was severely handicapped militarily by the loss of its bases and threatened by political squabbling among its leaders.

Resistance and Government Figures.

Prince Sihanouk, head of the coalition government of the resistance, threatened to resign after discovering that Khmer Rouge troops had murdered soldiers from his forces. Sihanouk also criticized his other coalition partner, the KPNLF, for having an army he considered negligible. But political considerations appeared to be keeping Sihanouk from resigning and the coalition from falling apart.

In September the Khmer Rouge announced the official retirement of Pol Pot as commander-in-chief of the Khmer Rouge forces. The Vietnamese had demanded that Pol Pot—head of the brutal former Khmer Rouge regime—be "eliminated" before any settlement of the war could be negotiated. However, Hanoi dismissed the report of his retirement as a cosmetic to improve the image of the resistance movement.

Foreign Minister Hun Sen was named prime minister of the Vietnamese-installed Phnom Penh regime, succeeding Chan Si, who died at the end of 1984. Also, members of the governing body of the ruling Communist Khmer People's Revolutionary Party were replaced. The party, which is at the center of the Phnom Penh regime, is now largely dominated by former Khmer Rouge who left Pol Pot shortly before the Vietnamese invasion.

War Effort.

Defense and security considerations were of increasing concern to the Phnom Penh government, to the detriment of plans for the country's economic reconstruction. The Vietnamese general in charge in Cambodia warned Phnom Penh that its fledgling army must take greater responsibility for winning the war. In 1984 the Vietnamese had ordered Cambodian civilians to be drafted into forced labor brigades; tens of thousands were sent to rugged western Cambodia to build up "national defenses" against the resistance fighters. This program of "Cambodianization" continued in 1985. Also, in July, Phnom Penh announced the formation of a new civilian People's Defense Force, to guard roads and patrol the streets of the capital.

Foreign Affairs.

Efforts were made on an international level to end the fighting. In late January and early February, UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar visited Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, on a peace mission. He was followed, in March, by Australia's foreign minister, William Hayden. Both, however, failed to find an acceptable formula to bring the warring parties to a negotiation session. A proposal put forth by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in July for indirect talks involving the Phnom Penh government, the Vietnamese, and the three resistance groups was rejected by Hanoi. Also rejected, by China, was a call by Sihanouk for an international conference, including the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the spring, U.S. Representative Stephen Solarz (D., N.Y.) introduced legislation to give $5 million in fiscal year 1986 and another $5 million in fiscal 1987 in military aid to the non-Communist rebel forces. Solarz had returned from a trip to Hanoi and Phnom Penh, in December 1984, convinced that the Vietnamese intended to win militarily in Cambodia. Congress approved the aid but in a compromise form, stipulating that the money could be used either for military or for economic assistance. The aid had a significant political impact but little effect in the field.

Refugees and the Economy.

Over 200,000 Cambodians fled into Thailand as a result of the Vietnamese dry season offensive, necessitating increased international aid for the border area. At the same time, it was becoming more difficult for Cambodian refugees to be resettled in the United States. U.S. authorities have tightened their screening process in an effort to prevent former Khmer Rouge from entering.

Cambodia's rice crop was worse than the previous year's. The regime said that the farmers were growing enough food to last seven months, and it reduced rations, but hardship persisted, and the whole economy appeared to be faltering. Although aid from the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc nations continued, it was not enough even to restore Cambodia's industrial production to the prewar level, and Cambodians had to export scarce agricultural produce to Vietnam in exchange for such necessities as cement.

Human Rights.

For the first time, a private human rights group was able to assess human rights violations from within Cambodia and within the resistance areas. The Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights found that the Khmer Rouge were still major offenders. But the group also arraigned the Vietnamese occupation forces, which, it said, were directly involved in the arrest and torture of Cambodian citizens.


An archaeological team from India visited the Angkor Wat temple complex in northwest Cambodia and reported that the legendary temples were being seriously eroded. But Phnom Penh refused to allow an international restoration team to work on the temples, because it would have had to declare the Angkor region a demilitarized zone.

A critically acclaimed movie entitled The Killing Fields brought Cambodia's recent tragedies to a large public audience. The film recounts the story of a fateful friendship between a New York Times correspondent and a Cambodian photographer who covered his country's war, barely survived the Pol Pot years, and finally escaped to the West after the Vietnamese invasion.

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

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