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Cambodia: 1988

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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.


1988: Cambodia

Peace Talks.

The year witnessed the first significant steps in the search for a diplomatic solution to Cambodia's ten-year-old guerrilla conflict. In late July, the four warring factions met in Bogor, Indonesia, for four days of talks. Represented at the talks were the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh and the three-party coalition trying to overthrow that government—the Communist Khmer Rouge and the non-Communist groups headed by former head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk and by Son Sann. Other "interested parties" were also represented—Vietnam, Laos, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The meeting marked the first time that the Cambodian factions all sat down together to discuss an end to the guerrilla war, which has plagued Cambodia since Vietnam invaded the country in late 1978, overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime, and installed a pro-Vietnamese government in Phnom Penh. Although participants at the meeting did not achieve any dramatic breakthroughs, the parties set up a working group which would continue to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict and which would organize another informal meeting in 1989.

According to participants in the Bogor talks, the various parties held firm to their previous positions. Vietnam and the Phnom Penh government insisted on guarantees that the Khmer Rouge—widely blamed for the deaths of over a million Cambodians when they ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979—would not return to power. The three resistance groups demanded a total withdrawal from Cambodia of Vietnamese troops, estimated to number 125,000 at the beginning of 1988.

Vietnam had earlier said, somewhat conditionally, that it would withdraw all its troops by early 1990. The Vietnamese military high command staff was withdrawn from Cambodia on June 30, marking a major step in Hanoi's effort to turn over the defense of its war-torn neighbor to Phnom Penh's 40,000-man army. Vietnam pledged to withdraw 50,000 troops by year's end, although in November, U.S. State Department officials said it was unlikely to come close to that goal.

Other Diplomatic Moves.

Prince Sihanouk was visiting Indonesia at the time of the July conference but refused to attend the sessions because he had resigned as head of the three-party resistance coalition earlier in the month, saying he felt the Khmer Rouge posed a bigger threat to Cambodia than Vietnam. Nevertheless, the prince played an important unofficial role.

In November, Sihanouk met with Cambodian Premier Hun Sen and resistance leader Son Sann near Paris. The three men established a working commission to pursue peace and announced they supported the idea of an international conference on Cambodia. Sihanouk had met with Hun Sen in December 1987 and again in January 1988; the premier had then rejected demands for an international peacekeeping force to monitor the Vietnamese withdrawal and for the dismantling of the Phnom Penh government and creation of a provisional government consisting of the four factions prior to national elections. Sihanouk also met with President Ronald Reagan, in Washington in October, and was assured that new U.S. aid for non-Communist Cambodian guerrillas would be significantly increased.

Outside parties involved in the Cambodian conflict also stepped up their diplomatic activities during the year. In August, the Soviet Union, which backs Vietnam and the Phnom Penh government, held high-level talks with China, which has pledged to support the Khmer Rouge financially and militarily as long as Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia. However, the two countries were unable to resolve their differences.

U.S. officials raised with China American concerns about a possible Khmer Rouge effort to return to power after Vietnam withdrew its forces. Although fighting in Cambodia was at its lowest level in a decade, observers reported that the Khmer Rouge had been busy moving weapons and guerrillas into the country and campaigning to win the "hearts and minds" of the peasants.

A United Nations General Assembly resolution in November called for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and a political reconciliation under the leadership of Prince Sihanouk, while opposing any return to power of the Khmer Rouge.

Government Reshuffle.

In August, the Phnom Penh government ousted or moved 11 ministers, including those responsible for the country's security, and abolished the Office for Economic Cooperation with Vietnam, Laos, and the Soviet Union. Defense Minister Koy Buntha was replaced by Tie Banh, a vice-premier and alternate member of the Central Committee of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party.


A July conference of the party Central Committee introduced a new economic policy allowing private entrepreneurs to run joint enterprises with the state. Previously, individuals had been allowed only to engage in petty trading or to run small workshops, with all factories being controlled solely by the government.

To avert "severe hardship" in rural areas of the country, a special United Nations team called on donors to provide 92,000 tons of food to Cambodia during the year. The team's report said that drought in 1987 had seriously hampered rice production.


The UN Border Relief Organization stopped food shipments in May to Huay Chan, a camp housing 9,000 Cambodian refugees in northeastern Thailand, after Khmer Rouge administrators there had blocked UN efforts to monitor distribution of the food. UN officials acted because they were unable to verify that food was not going to Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

During the summer, relief workers reported that the Khmer Rouge was moving Cambodian refugees from camps in southern Thailand to guerrilla bases nearer the Thai-Cambodian border. By November at least 15,000 had been moved. The refugees, most of whom were transferred against their will, reportedly were used to carry weapons and supplies into Cambodia for the guerrillas. United States and United Nations officials voiced concern about the reported human rights violations.

More than 300,000 Cambodian refugees continued to live along the Thai-Cambodian border in camps controlled by one of the three resistance groups. Relief workers warned that overcrowding, lawlessness, and political disunity were threatening security.

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

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