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Cambodia: 1990

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
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1981: Cambodia
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1983: Cambodia
1984: Cambodia
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1988: Cambodia
1989: Cambodia
1990: Cambodia
1991: Cambodia
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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.


1990: Cambodia

The four contending factions in the conflict in Cambodia agreed in 1990 to accept a United Nations peace plan, raising hopes that the country might find a peaceful settlement to the civil war that had been raging for 11 years.

UN Peace Plan.

In early September representatives of the four contending Cambodian factions met in Jakarta, Indonesia. One faction was the current government in Phnom Penh, headed by Premier Hun Sen, whose regime had been installed and long backed by Vietnam (with Soviet support). Also attending were the three opposition groups forming a loose antigovernment coalition—the Chinese-backed Communist Khmer Rouge, which had killed more than a million Cambodians during its three-year rule of the country in the late 1970s, and two non-Communist factions, one headed by Cambodia's former chief of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and the other, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, led by former Premier Son Sann. These last two groups had been supported by China but, unlike the Khmer Rouge, by the United States as well.

The four parties accepted a UN plan meant to form a framework for a resolution of the civil war. The plan called for creation of a Supreme National Council (SNC), in which the Hun Sen government would have half the seats with the opposition groups dividing the other half. The SNC would temporarily occupy Cambodia's seat at the United Nations and represent the country in other international institutions. However, the SNC's assumption of such a role was delayed when the first meeting of the council, held in Bangkok, Thailand, later in September, broke up over disagreements between the factions on the council's chairmanship. The Khmer Rouge later accused the Cambodian government of sabotaging the UN plan and preparing for a large-scale offensive against guerrilla strongholds inside Cambodia.

The plan accepted in Jakarta also called for UN-supervised national elections in Cambodia leading to formation of a new government. In the interim the United Nations would supervise key government ministries, send a military force to keep the peace, and oversee the disarmament of the contending groups. The agreement in Jakarta came a year after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia.

The United Nations plan, originally proposed by Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, had been endorsed in mid-1990 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. The endorsement was seen as the critical factor in the acceptance of the plan by the Cambodian factions and signaled a major shift in the position of China. As a key supporter of the Cambodian resistance, Beijing had previously insisted that the antigovernment coalition should have majority control in any power-sharing formula for Cambodia.

Beijing's shift was in step with a dramatic policy reversal by the United States, which in July announced its withdrawal of political support for the Cambodian resistance coalition and the opening of a dialogue with Vietnam. U.S. and Chinese diplomats subsequently had their first official contacts with the Hun Sen administration, and in October, the U.S. Congress approved the first American aid package for Cambodia in 15 years.

The Cost of War.

Prior to the Jakarta meeting, resistance guerrillas—in particular the Khmer Rouge—mounted bigger, more daring attacks. The Hun Sen government's war effort was absorbing 30 to 40 percent of the total national budget and fueling inflation. Extensive sabotage forced high government spending to repair damaged infrastructure. The proliferation of land mines throughout the country was causing an average of 1,200 injuries a month, according to aid agencies.

In a midyear intensification of the military effort, Phnom Penh boosted its unpopular military conscription campaign. By September the three-tiered Cambodian military structure included well over 200,000 people, although the regular army accounted for only about a quarter of that total, according to Western estimates.

The resistance coalition claimed nearly 90,000 guerrillas between them, but defense analysts believed that regular fighters numbered only about 37,000—including 15,000 Khmer Rouge guerrillas, seen as the spearhead of the resistance campaign.

The midyear escalation of fighting caused a new problem of displaced rural populations, and by late 1990, Western relief agencies estimated that about 160,000 people were living in 12 to 13 refugee camps around the country. Early in the year a new wave of Cambodian refugees arrived by boat in Indonesia and, for the first time, in Australia. By late 1990 there were more than 1,000 Cambodian boat people in refugee camps in Indonesia and about 200 in Australia.

The Hun Sen Regime.

In June the Phnom Penh government claimed it had uncovered a "coup plot" and arrested two academics and four government officials, including Minister for Communications Ung Phan. It was later revealed that the six had planned to establish an alternative non-Communist political party. In its 11th plenum in August, Cambodia's Communist Party launched a campaign against corruption which resulted in the replacement of party officials and a reshuffle of key personnel in the bureaucracy.

In September former career diplomat Hor Nam Hong was named foreign minister—a post which had previously been one of Hun Sen's responsibilities.


Attempts by the Hun Sen government to control inflation and black market exchange rates led to frequent devaluations of the Cambodian currency, the riel, which by September officially stood at 510 riels to the U.S. dollar. Efforts to regulate the semi-legal gold market were unsuccessful, and gold remained the chief currency for major transactions. Meanwhile, cutbacks in Soviet aid and the withdrawal of aid by Eastern European countries compounded Cambodia's economic tailspin.

In July, Phnom Penh started to buy oil on open markets— mostly from Singapore—although major imports still came from the Soviet Union on a barter basis, in exchange for commodities such as rubber.

In response to mounting economic difficulty, the Hun Sen government launched a drive to attract investment and stepped up efforts to liberalize the economy. The actions followed significant political and economic reforms undertaken in 1989, including the restoration of private property rights.

A liberal foreign investment code had been introduced in 1989, but the few projects negotiated in 1990 were handled on a case-by-case basis. Most of the foreign investment proposals approved by the government were small-scale.

The lifting of controls on private enterprise in 1989 produced a new entrepreneurial class and drove a widening income gap, which was seen as the cause of widespread dissatisfaction with corruption in the bureaucracy and the Hun Sen government's inability to raise living standards. Salary increases in July for civil servants—from an average of 1,500 riels a month to 3,000—were undermined by cuts in state subsidies for commodities such as fuel and rice, which increased sharply in price.

Fighting hindered agricultural production in the fertile western areas, while late rains severely affected rice harvests nationwide. The Hun Sen government had hoped to begin exporting rice, but total output from the 1990 harvests was expected to be lower than the previous year's 2.4 million tons and far short of the national rice requirement.

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

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