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Cambodia: 1987

1956: Cambodia

1957: Cambodia
1958: Cambodia
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1960: 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.


1987: Cambodia

Guerrilla War.

"A bit of peace, a bit of war" was how Premier Hun Sen of the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh described the situation in Cambodia (Kampuchea) in 1987. He was referring to the guerrilla war that has plagued the country since Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge government in 1979 and installed a regime loyal to Hanoi.

The number of guerrilla attacks appeared to drop off in 1987, but the anti-Vietnamese resistance forces moved around the country with relative ease. Resistance leaders seemed to focus on recruiting and on infiltrating small groups of guerrillas for actions that would have propaganda value, rather than on engaging the Vietnamese forces in open combat.

However, the war continued to take its toll. New amputees arrived in the capital every day. Farmland was taken out of production because of turmoil in the countryside. And the conflict diverted manpower, as thousands of young men were drafted into the army or recruited to clear forests and to construct a tank ditch and bamboo fence along the Thai border to impede the infiltration of guerrillas from bases in Thailand.

Vietnamese officials insisted they will withdraw their 140,000 troops from Cambodia by 1990 even if resistance forces step up their attacks against President Heng Samrin's regime. These officials admitted that Phnom Penh's 30,000-man army was still weak, but they claimed the guerrillas would not be able to change the balance of forces in the event that the Vietnamese leave.

Tensions continued within the tripartite resistance coalition, consisting of the Communist Khmer Rouge and two non-Communist groups, one of them headed by former chief of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk. In May, Sihanouk resigned for one year as leader of the coalition, protesting the killing of two of his soldiers by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Observers speculated that Sihanouk may actually have stepped down to give himself more maneuvering room to negotiate a resolution of the Cambodian conflict.


In July, Vietnam accepted an Indonesian proposal to organize an informal meeting, or "cocktail party," at which the various Cambodian political factions could talk "without preconditions and without political label." But Hanoi later rejected revisions of the proposal, made by the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to require that Vietnam participate in the first round of talks and that the eight-point plan offered by the Cambodian resistance in 1986 form the basis for the talks. That plan had called for, among other things, a four-party interim government and UN-supervised election.

In September, Sihanouk and Hun Sen accepted an invitation from seven former Cambodian prime ministers and other ministers now living in France to participate in a meeting with the leaders of the other two resistance groups. Sihanouk said the meeting would discuss the withdrawal of "foreign forces" and ways to build a "free, independent, neutral, nonaligned, and peaceful Cambodia."

The Soviet Union, Vietnam's major supplier of economic and military aid, became more active in diplomacy over Cambodia. In late 1986, Moscow agreed to discuss the Cambodia conflict for the first time with China, the main backer of the Khmer Rouge. Then, in March 1987, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze toured five Southeast Asian countries; it was considered significant that he discussed the future of Cambodia during stops in Thailand and Indonesia. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach promised, while Shevardnadze was in Hanoi, to seek a political solution to the Cambodian issue. Thailand's foreign minister visited Moscow in May, also to discuss the Cambodia conflict.

New Government Officials.

The Phnom Penh government replaced three of its highest officials in December 1986, with each being succeeded by his deputy. Premier Hun Sen was replaced as foreign minister by Kong Korm; Defense Minister Bou Thang by Koy Buntha; and Planning Minister Chea Soth by Chea Chanto. This shake-up apparently was an attempt to improve the efficiency of government ministries by dividing key jobs among more people. The three former ministers had each held two government posts in addition to their positions in the Politburo of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party. The new ministers appeared to be technocrats promoted for their administrative skills rather than for their revolutionary backgrounds.


Cambodia was hit in 1987 by its most serious drought in more than a decade. Most of the country's short-season rice crop normally harvested in September was lost, and only about 20 percent of the 4 million acres of rice fields targeted for the main crop had been planted by the end of August. The United Nations launched an appeal for international aid, including rice, rice seed, fertilizer, and insecticides.

Human Rights.

Amnesty International issued a report in June, charging the Phnom Penh regime with detaining and torturing thousands of political prisoners. The London-based human rights organization said it had definite information on more than 160 cases in which political prisoners were tortured to extract confessions or to get information about suspected political opponents. Phnom Penh immediately rejected the charges.


Over 250,000 Cambodian refugees continued living along the Thai border in camps controlled by one of the three resistance groups fighting the Vietnamese. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a New York-based organization, charged in a report released in February that the refugees suffered rape, murder, and robbery by undisciplined non-Communist resistance forces and Thai Rangers, as well as shelling from Vietnamese artillery and the threat of harsh discipline from Khmer Rouge personnel.

Thailand closed the Khao I Dang refugee camp at the beginning of 1987 and slowly began moving the camp's approximately 25,000 refugees to settlements along the Cambodian border. The Thai government closed the camp because it believed that most of the remaining inhabitants would not be accepted by Western countries for resettlement abroad.

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

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