Cambodian Civil War

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Cambodian Civil War
Part of the Second Indochina War
Image:Cambodia sm04.png
Date 1967-1975
Location Cambodia/Khmer Republic
Result Fall of the Khmer Republic to the Khmer Rouge; creation of Democratic Kampuchea
Image:Flag of the Khmer Republic.svgKhmer Republic,
Image:Flag of the United States.svgUnited States,
Image:Flag of South Vietnam.svgRepublic of Vietnam
Image:Flag of Democratic Kampuchea.svgKhmer Rouge,
Image:Flag of North Vietnam.svgDemocratic Republic of Vietnam,
Image:FNL Flag.svgNational Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF)
~250,000 FANK troops ~100,000 (60,000) Khmer Rouge
~600,000 dead, 1,000,000+ wounded<ref>This estimate was given by Prince Sihanouk after the conclusion of the conflict. The true numbers will never be known. William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia. New York: Washington Square Books, 1979, p. 379.</ref>
This article is part of
the History of Cambodia series
Early history of Cambodia
Migration of Kambojas
Funan (AD1 - AD630)
Chenla (AD630 - AD802)
Khmer Empire (AD802 - AD1432)
Rule over Isan
Dark ages of Cambodia (1432 - 1887)
The loss of the Mekong Delta
Colonial Cambodia (1887-1953)
Post-Independence Cambodia
Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975)
Coup of 1970
Khmer Rouge Regime (1975-1979)
Mayagüez incident
People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989)
Modern Cambodia (1989-present)
2003 Phnom Penh riots
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The Cambodian Civil War was a conflict that pitted the forces of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (known as the Khmer Rouge) and their allies the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (NLF) against the government forces of Cambodia (after October 1970, the Khmer Republic), which were supported by the United States (U.S.) and the Republic of Vietnam.

The struggle was exacerbated by the influence and actions of the allies of the two warring sides. North Vietnamese involvement was designed to protect its base areas and sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia, without which the prosecution of it's military effort in South Vietnam would have been more difficult. The U.S. was motivated by the need to buy time for its withdrawal from Southeast Asia and to protect its ally, South Vietnam. American, South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese forces directly participated (at one time or another) in the fighting. The central government was mainly assisted by the application of massive U.S. aerial bombing campaigns and direct material and financial aid.

The Republican government, after five years of savage fighting (and after suffering massive casualties, the destruction of its economy, the starvation of its population, and grevious atrocities committed by it's enemy), was defeated on 17 April 1975. The victorious Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea. This conflict, although an indigenous civil war, was considered to be part of the larger Second Indochina War (1960-1975) that also consumed the neighboring Kingdom of Laos and Republic of Vietnam.


[edit] Setting the Stage, 1965-1970

[edit] Background

During the early to mid-1960s, Prince Norodom Sihanouk's leftist policies had protected his nation from the turmoil that engulfed Laos and South Vietnam.<ref>Arnold Issacs, Gordon Hardy, and MacAlister Brown et al, Pawns of War. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1987, pps. 54-58.</ref> Neither the People's Republic of China nor the North Vietnamese disputed Sihanouk's claim to represent "progressive" political policies and the leadership of the prince's domestic leftist opposition, the Prachea Chon Party, had been integrated into the government.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 83.</ref> On 3 May 1965, Sihanouk broke diplomatic relations with the U.S., ended the flow of American aid, and turned to China and the Soviet Union to make up the difference.<ref>Isaacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 83.</ref>

By the late 1960s, Sihanouk's delicate domestic and foreign policy balancing act was beginning to go awry. In 1966 an agreement had been struck between the prince and the Chinese, allowing the presence of large-scale People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and NLF troop deployments and loigistical bases in the eastern border regions.<ref>Samuel Lipsman and Edward Doyle, et al, Fighting for Time. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1983, p. 127.</ref> He had also agreed to allow the use of the port of Sihanoukville by communist-flagged vessels delivering supplies and materiel to support the PAVN/NLF military effort in South Vietnam.<ref>Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam. Trans. by Merle Pribbenow, Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002, p. 465, fn24.</ref> These concessions had made a sham of Cambodia's neutrality, guaranteed by the Geneva Accords of 1954.

Sihanouk was convinced that China, not the U.S., would eventually control the Indochinese Peninsula and that "our interests are best served by dealing with the camp that one day will dominate the whole of Asia - and coming to terms before its victory - in order to obtain the best terms possible."<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 127.</ref>

Meeting in Beijing: Mao Zedong (l), Prince Sihanouk (c), and Le Duc Tho (r)

During the same year, however, he allowed his pro-American Minister of Defense, General Lon Nol to crack down on leftist activities, crushing the Prachea Chon by accusing its members of subversion and subservience to North Vietnam.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 85.</ref> Simultaneously, Sihanouk lost the support of the conservatives by his failure to come to grips with the deteriorating economic situation (exacerbated by the loss of rice exports, most of which went to the PAVN/NLF) and with the growing PAVN/NLF military presence.<ref>Beginning in 1966, Cambodians sold 100,000 tons of Cambodian rice to PAVN, who offered the world price and paid in U.S. dollars. The government paid only a low fixed price and thereby, lost the taxes and profits that would have been gained. The drop in rice for export (from 583,700 tons in 1965 to 199,049 tons in 1966) elevated an economic crises that grew worse with each passing year. Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 85.</ref>

On 11 September, Cambodia held its first open election. Open did not mean fair however. Through manipulation and harassment (and to Sihanouk's surprise) the conservatives won 75 percent of the seats in the National Assembly.<ref>David P. Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1991, pps. 153-156 and Milton Osborne, Sihanouk. Honolulu HA: University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p. 187.</ref> Lon Nol was chosen by the right as prime minister and, as his deputy they named Sirik Matak, an ultraconservative member of the Sisowath branch of the royal clan and long-time enemy of Sihanouk. In addition to these developments and the clash of interests among Phnom Penh's politicized elite, social tensions created a favorable environment for the growth of a domestic communist insurgency in the rural areas.<ref>Chandler, p.157.</ref>

[edit] Revolt in Battambang

Main article: Lon Nol

The prince now found himself in a political bind. To maintain the political balance against the rising tide of the conservatives, he named the leaders of the very group he had been oppressing as members of a "counter-government" that would monitor and criticize Lon Nol's government.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 86.</ref>

One of Lon Nol's first priorities was to fix the ailing economy by halting the illegal sale of rice to the communists. Soldiers were dispatched to the rice-growing areas to forcably collect the harvests at gunpoint, and they paid only the low government price. There was wide-spread unrest, especially in rice-rich Battambang Province, an area long-noted for the presence of large landowners great disparity in wealth, and where the communists still had some influence.<ref>Chandler, pps. 164-165 and Osborne, p. 192.</ref>

General Lon Nol

On 11 March 1967, while Sihanouk was out of the country in France, a rebellion broke out in the area around Samlaut in Battambang, when enraged villagers attacked a tax collection brigade. With the probable encouragement of local communist cadres, the insurrection quickly spread throughout the whole region.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 130.</ref> Lon Nol, acting in the prince's absence (but with his approval), responded by declaring martial law.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 86.</ref> Hundreds of peasants were killed and whole villages were laid waste during the repression.<ref>Chandler, p. 165.</ref> After returning home in March, Sihanouk abandoned his centrist position and personally ordered the arrest of Khieu Samphan, Hou Yuon, and Hu Nim, the leaders of the "countergovernment", all of whom escaped into the northeast.<ref>Chandler, p. 166.</ref>

Simultaneously, Sihanouk ordered the arrest of Chinese middlemen involved in the illegal rice trade, thereby raising government revenues and placating the conservatives. Lon Nol was forced to resign, and, in a typical move, the prince named new leftists to the government to balance the conservatives.<ref>Chandler, p. 166.</ref> The crisis passed, but it engendered two tragic consequences. First, it drove thousands of new recruits into the arms of the hard-line maquis of the Cambodian Communist Party - which Sihanouk labelled the Khmer Rouge. Second, for the peasantry, the name of Lon Nol became associated with ruthless repression throughout Cambodia.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, P. 87.</ref>

[edit] Communist Regroupment

Main article: Khmer Rouge

While the 1967 insurgency had been unplanned, the Khmer Rouge tried, without much success, to organize a more serious revolt during the following year. The prince's decimation of the Prachea Chon and the urban communists had, however, cleared the field of competition for Saloth Sar (also known as Pol Pot), Ieng Sary, and Son Sen, the Maoist leadership of the maquisards.<ref>Chandler, p. 128.</ref> They led their followers into the highlands of the northeast and into the lands of the Khmer Loeu, a primitive people who were hostile to both the lowland Khmers and the central government. For the Khmer Rouge, who still lacked assistance from the North Vietnamese, it was a period of regroupment, organization, and training. Hanoi basically ignored its Chinese-sponsored allies, and the indifference of their "fraternal comrades" to their insurgency from 1967 to 1969 would make an indelible impression on the Khmer Rouge leadership.<ref>Wilfred P. Deac, Road to the Killing Fields. College Station TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997, p. 55 and Chandler, p. 141.</ref>

Pol Pot (Saloth Sar), commander of Khmer Rouge forces

On 17 January 1968, the Khmer Rouge launched their first offensive. It was aimed more at gathering weapons and spreading propaganda than in seizing territory since, at that time, the adherents of the insurgency numbered no more than 4-5,000.<ref>Lt. Gen. Sak Sutsakhan, The Khmer Republic at War and the Final Collapse. Washington DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1984, p. 32 and Chandler, pps 174-176.</ref> During the same month, the communists established the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea as the military wing of the party.

As early as the end of the Battambang revolt, Sihanouk had begun to reevaluate his relationship with the communists.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 89.</ref> His earlier agreement with the Chinese had availed him nothing. They had not only failed to restrain the North Vietnamese, but they had actually involved themselves (through the Khmer Rouge) in active subversion within his country.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 130.</ref> Besides, PAVN and the NLF would make very convenient scapegoats for Cambodia's ills, much more so than the miniscule Khmer Rouge, and ridding Cambodia of their presence would solve many problems simultaneously.<ref>Issacs, Hardy & Brown, p. 88.</ref>

At the suggestion of Lon Nol (who had returned to the cabinet as defense minister in November, 1968) and other conservative politicians, on 11 May 1969, the prince welcomed the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. and created a new Government of National Salvation with Lon Nol as his prime minister.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 90.</ref> He did so "in order to play a new card, since the Asian communists are already attacking us before the end of the Vietnam War."<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 140.</ref> The Americans took advantage of this same opportunity to solve some of their own problems in Southeast Asia.

[edit] Operation Menu

Main article: Operation Menu

Although the US had been aware of the PAVN/NLF sanctuaries in Cambodia since 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson had chosen not to attack them due to possible international repercussions and his belief that Sihanouk could be convinced to alter his policies.<ref>Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking, 1983, p. 590.</ref> Johnson did, however, authorize the reconnaissance teams of the highly-classified Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (SOG) to enter Cambodia and gather intelligence on the Base Areas in 1967.<ref>Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Command History 1967, Annex F, Saigon, 1968, p. 4.</ref> The election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968 and the introduction of his policies of gradual U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam and the Vietnamization of the conflict there, changed everything.

B-52s over Cambodia

On 18 March 1969, on secret orders from Nixon, the U.S. Air Force carried out the bombing of Base Area 353 (in the Fishhook region opposite South Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province) by 59 B-52 bombers. This strike was the first in a series of attacks on the sanctuaries that lasted until May 1970. During Operation Menu, the Air Force conducted 3,875 sorties and dropped more than 108,000 tons of ordnance on the eastern border areas.<ref>Bernard C. Nalty, The Air War over South Vietnam. Washington DC: Air Force Museums and History Program, 2000, pps. 127-133.</ref> During this operation, Sihanouk remained quiet about the whole affair, possibly hoping that the U.S. would be able to drive the North Vietnamese and NLF from his country. Hanoi too, remained quiet, not wishing to advertise the presence of its forces in "neutral" Cambodia. The Menu bombings remained secret from the US Congress and people until 1973.

[edit] The Overthrow of Sihanouk, 1970

[edit] The Lon Nol Coup

While Sihanouk was out of the country on a trip to France, anti-Vietnamese rioting (which was semi-sponsored by the government) took place in Phnom Penh, during which the North Vietnamese and NLF embassies were sacked.<ref>Shawcross, p. 118 & Deac, p. 56-57.</ref> In the prince's absence, Lon Nol did nothing to halt these activities.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 142.</ref> On the 12th, the prime minister closed the port of Sihanoukville to the North Vietnamese and issued an impossible ultimatum to them. All PAVN/NLF forces were to withdraw from Cambodian soil within 72 hours or face military action.<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 42.</ref>

Sihanouk, hearing of the turmoil, headed for Moscow and Beijing in order to demand that the patrons of PAVN and the NLF exert more control over their clients.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 90.</ref> On 18 March 1970, Lon Nol requested that the National Assembly vote on the future of the prince's leadership of the nation. Sihanouk was ousted from power by a vote of 92-0.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 143.</ref> Heng Cheng became president of the National Assembly, while Prime Minister Lon Nol was granted emergency powers. Sirik Matak retained his post as deputy prime minister. The new government emphasized that the transfer of power had been totally legal and constitutional, and it received the recognition of most foreign governments. There have been, and continue to be, accusations that the U.S. government played some role in the overthrow of Sihanouk, but conclusive evidence has never been found to support them.<ref>Shawcross, pps. 112-122.</ref>

The majority of middle-class and educated Khmers had grown weary of the prince and apparently welcomed the change of government.<ref>Shawcross, p. 126.</ref> They were joined by the military, for whom the prospect of the return of American military and financial aid was a cause for celebration.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 144.</ref> Within days of his deposition, Sihanouk, now in Beijing, broadcast an appeal to the people to resist the usurpers.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 90.</ref> Demonstrations and riots occurred (mainly in areas contiguous to PAVN/NLF controlled areas), but no nationwide groundswell threatened the government.<ref>Deac, p. 69.</ref> In one incident at Kompong Cham on 29 March, however, an enraged crowd killed Lon Nol's brother, Lon Nil, tore out his liver, and cooked and ate it.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 144.</ref> An estimated 40,000 peasants then began to march on the capital to demand Sihanouk's reinstatement. They were dispersed, with many casualties, by contingents of the armed forces.

Power brokers: President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Dr. Henry Kissinger

[edit] The Vietnamese Massacres

Most of the population, urban and rural, took out their anger and frustrations on the North Vietnamese. Lon Nol's call for 10,000 volunteers to boost the manpower of Cambodia's poorly-equipped, 30,000-man army, managed to swamp the military with over 70,000 recruits.<ref>Deac, p. 71.</ref> Rumours abounded concerning a possible PAVN offensive aimed at Phnom Penh itself. Paranoia flourished and this set off a violent reaction against the nation's 400,000 ethnic Vietnamese.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 144.</ref>

Lon Nol hoped to use the Vietnamese as hostages against PAVN/NLF activities, and the military set about rounding them up into detention camps.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle p. 144.</ref> That was when the killing began. In towns and villages all over Cambodia, soldiers and civilians sought out their Vietnamese neighbors in order to murder them.<ref>Deac, p. 75.</ref> On 15 April, the bodies of 800 Vietnamese floated down the Mekong River and into South Vietnam.

The South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, and the NLF harshly denounced these actions.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 145.</ref> Significantly, no Cambodians - not even those of the Bhuddist community - condemned the killings. In his apology to the South Vietnamese government, Lon Nol replied that
"it was difficult to distinguish between Vietnamese citizens who were Viet Cong and those who were not. So it is quite normal that the reaction of Cambodian troops, who feel themselves betrayed, is difficult to control."<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. 146.</ref>

[edit] FUNK and GRUNK

From Beijing, Sihanouk proclaimed that the government in Phnom Penh was dissolved and his intention to create the Front Uni National du Kampuchea or FUNK (National United Front of Kampuchea). Sihanouk later said "I had chosen not to be with either the Americans or the communists, because I considered that there were two dangers, American imperialism and Asian communism. It was Lon Nol who obliged me to choose between them."<ref>Lipsman & Brown, p. 144.</ref>

The prince then allied himself with the Khmer Rouge, the North Vietnamese, the Laotian Pathet Lao, and the NLF, throwing his personal prestige behind the communists.<ref>Lipsman & Doyle, p. p. 144.</ref> On 5 May the actual establishment of FUNK and of the Government Royal d'Union Nationale du Kampuchea or GRUNK (Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea), was proclaimed. Sihanouk assumed the post of head of state, appointing Penn Nouth, one of his most loyal supporters, as prime minister.

Khieu Samphan was designated deputy prime minister, minister of defense, and commander in chief of the GRUNK armed forces (though actual military operations were directed by Saloth Sar [aka Pol Pot]). Hu Nim became minister of information, and Hou Yuon assumed multiple responsibilities as minister of the interior, communal reforms, and cooperatives. GRUNK claimed that it was not a government-in-exile since Khieu Samphan and the insurgents remained inside Cambodia. Sihanouk and his loyalists remained in China, although the prince did make a visit to the "liberated areas" of Cambodia, including Angkor Wat, in March 1973. These visits were used mainly for propaganda purposes and had no real influence on political affairs.<ref>Chandler, pps. 228-229.</ref>

For Sihanouk, this was a short-sighted marriage of convenience that was spurred on by his thirst for revenge against those who had "betrayed" him..<ref>Chandler, p. 200 and Osborne, pps. 214 & 218.</ref> For the Khmer Rouge, it was a means to greatly expand the appeal of their movement. Peasants, motivated by loyalty to the monarchy, gradually rallied to the FUNK cause.<ref>Chandler, p. 201.</ref> The personal appeal of Sihanouk, the overall better behavior of the communist troops, and widespread allied bombardments facilitated recruitment. This task was made even easier for the communists after 9 October 1970, when Lon Nol abolished the loosely federalist monarchy and proclaimed the establishment of a centralized Khmer Republic.<ref>Chandler, p. 202.</ref>

[edit] The Widening War, 1970-1971

[edit] The Opposing Sides

In the wake of the coup, Lon Nol did not immediately launch Cambodia into war. He appealed to the international community and to the United Nations in an attempt to gain support for the new government and condemned violations of Cambodia's neutrality "by foreign forces, whatever camp they come from."<ref>Lipsman & Brown, p. 146.</ref> His hope for continued neutralism availed him no more than it had Sihanouk.

Cambodian officers and US officials, 1971

As combat operations quickly disclosed, the two sides were badly mismatched. Government troops, were now renamed the Forces Armees Nationales Khemeres or FANK (Khmer National Armed Forces) and thousands of young urban Cambodians flocked to join it in the months following the removal of Sihanouk. With the surge of recruits, however, FANK expanded well beyond its capacity to absorb the new inductees.<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 48.</ref> Later, given the press of tactical operations and the need to replace combat casualties, there was insufficient time to impart needed skills to individuals or to units, and lack of training remained the bane of FANK's existence until its collapse.<ref>Deac, p. 172.</ref>

During the 1974-1975 period, FANK forces would grow from 100,000 to approximately 250,000 men (probably one-third of whom either did not exist or had deserted).<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 39.</ref> U.S. military aid (ammunition, supplies, and equipment) was funneled to FANK through the Military Equipment Delivery Team, Cambodia (MEDTC). Authorized a total of 113 officers and men, the team arrived in Phnom Penh in 1971.<ref>Nalty, p. 276.</ref> The attitude of the Nixon administration could be summed up by the advice given by Henry Kissinger to the first head of the liaison team, Colonel Jonathan Ladd: "Don't think of victory; just keep it alive."<ref>Shawcross, p. 169.</ref>

There were other problems. The officer corps of FANK was generally corrupt and greedy.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 108.</ref> The inclusion of "ghost" soldiers allowed payroll-padding; ration allowences were kept by the officers while their men starved; and the sale of arms and ammunition on the black market (or to the enemy) was common.<ref>Shawcross, pps 313-315 and Chandler, p. 205.</ref> Worse, the tactical ineptitude among the officers was as common as their greed.<ref>General Abrams dispatched General Conroy to Phnom Penh to observe the situation and report back. Conroy's conclusions were that the Cambodian officer corps "had no combat experience...did not know how to run an army nor were they seemingly concerned about their ignorance in the face of the mortal threats that they faced." John M. Shaw, The Cambodian Campaign. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2005, p. 137.</ref> Lon Nol frequently bypassed the general staff and directed operations down to battalion level while also forbidding any real coordination between the army, navy, and air force.<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 89.</ref>

The common soldiers fought bravely at first, but they were saddled with low pay, (with which they had to buy purchase their own food and medical care) ammunition shortages, and mixed equipment. Due to the pay system, there were no allotments for their families, who were, therefore, forced to follow their husband/son into the battle zones. These problems (exacerbated by continuously declining morale) would only increase over time.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 108.</ref>

Initially arrayed against an armed force of such limited capability was arguably the best light infantry army in the world at the time - the People's Army of Vietnam.<ref>In a post-war survey of U.S. infantry officers that had served in the Vietnam Conflict, 44 percent rated PAVN as "skilled and tough fighters". One officer commented "There was a tendency to underestimate the enemy. They were, in fact, the best enemy we have faced in our history." Douglas Kinnard, The War Managers. Wayne NJ: Avery Publishing Group, 1985, p. 67.</ref> When their forces were supplanted, it was by the tough, rigidly indoctrinated peasant army of the Khmer Rouge with its core of seasoned leaders, who now received the full support of the North Vietnamese. Khmer Rouge forces, which had been reorganized at an Indochinese summit held in Conghua, China in April 1970, would grow from 12-15,000 in 1970 to 35-40,000 by 1972, when the so-called "Khmerization" of the conflict took place and combat operations against the Republic were handed over completely to the insurgents.<ref>Sutsakhan, pps. 26-27.</ref>

The development of these forces took place in three stages. 1970 to 1972 was a period of organization and recruitment, during which Khmer Rouge units served as auxiliaries to PAVN. From 1972 to mid-1974, the insurgents formed units of battalion and regimental size. It was during this period that the Khmer Rouge began to break away from Sihanouk and his supporters and the collectivization of agriculture was begun in the liberated areas. Divisional-size units were being fielded by 1974-1975, when the party was on its own and began the radical transformation of the country.<ref>The evolution of the communist forces is described in Sak, pps. 78-82.</ref>

The Cambodian Incursion, April-May, 1970
With the fall of Sihanouk, Hanoi became alarmed at the prospect of a pro-Western regime that might allow the Americans to establish a military presence on their western flank. To prevent that from happening, they began transferring their military installations away from the border area to locations deeper within Cambodian territory. A new command center was established at the city of Kratié and the timing of the move was propitious. President Nixon was of the opinion that:
"We need a bold move in Cambodia to show that we stand with Lon Nol...something symbolic...for the only Cambodian regime that had the guts to take a pro-Western and pro-American stand."<ref>Karnow, p. 608.</ref>

[edit] The Cambodian Incursion

Main article: Cambodian Incursion

On 29 April 1970, South Vietnamese and U.S. units (also alarmed by the prospect of Cambodia being overrun) unleashed a limited, multi-pronged Cambodian Incursion that Washington hoped would solve three other problems: First, it would provide a shield for the American withdrawal (by destroying the PAVN logistical system and killing enemy troops); Second, it would provide a test for the policy of Vietnamization; Third, it would serve as a signal to Hanoi that Nixon meant business.<ref>Karnow, p. 607.</ref> Despite Nixon's appreciation of Lon Nol's position, the Cambodian leader was not even informed in advance of the decision to invade his country. He learned about it only after it had begun from the head of the U.S. mission, who had himself learned about it from a radio broadcast.<ref>Karnow, p. 608.</ref>

Extensive logistical installations and large amounts of supplies were found and destroyed, but as reporting from the American command in Saigon disclosed, still larger amounts of materiel had already been moved deeper into the countryside.<ref>Deac, p. 79.</ref> According to Republican General Sak Sutsakhan, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, after only a 30-day campaign, created "a void so great on the allied side that neither the Cambodian nor the South Vietnamese armies were ever able to fill it."<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 174.</ref>

On the day the incursion was launced, PAVN reacted by launching an offensive (Campaign X) of its own against FANK forces in order to protect and expand their Base Areas and logistical system.<ref>Deac, p. 72. PAVN units invilved included the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 9th Infantry Divisions and the PAVN/NLF C40 Division. Artillery support was provided by the 69th PAVN Artillery Division.</ref> By June, three months after the removal of Sihanouk, they had swept government forces from the entire northeastern third of the country. After defeating those forces, PAVN turned the newly won territories over to the local insurgents. The Khmer Rouge also established liberated areas in the south and the southwestern parts of the country, where they operated independently of the North Vietnamese.<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 32.</ref>

[edit] Chenla II

On the night of January 21-22 1971, a force of 100 PAVN/NLF commandos attacked Pochentong airfield, the main base of the Republican Air Force. In this one action, the raiders destroyed almost the entire inventory of government aircraft, including all of its fighter planes. This may, however, have been a blessing in disguise, since the air force was composed of old (even obsolete) Soviet aircraft. The Americans would soon replace the airplanes with newer models. The attack did, however, stall a proposed FANK offensive. Two weeks later, Lon Nol suffered a stroke and was evacuated to Hawaii for treatment. It had been a mild stroke, however, and the general recovered quickly, returning to Cambodia after only two months.

Areas under government control, August 1970

It was not until 20 August that FANK launched Operation Chenla II, its first offensive of the year. The objective of the campaign was to clear Route 6 of enemy forces and thereby reopen communications with Kompong Thom, the Republic's second largest city, which had been isolated from the capital for more than a year. The operation was initially successful, and the city was relieved. The PAVN and Khmer Rouge counterattacked in November and December, annhilating government forces in the process. There was never an accurate count of the losses, but the estimate was "on the order of ten battalions of personnel and equipment lost plus the equipment of an additional ten battalions."<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 79</ref> The strategic result of the failure of Chenla II was that the offensive initiative passed completely into the hands of PAVN and the Khmer Rouge.

[edit] The Agony of the Khmer Republic, 1972-1975

[edit] Struggling to Survive

From 1972 through 1974, the war was conducted along FANK's lines of communications north and south of the capital. Limited offensives were to launched to maintain contact with the rice-growing regions of the northwest and along the Mekong River and Route 5, the Republic's overland connection to the south. The strategy of the Khmer Rouge was to gradually cut those lines and squeeze Phnom Penh. As a result of these operations, FANK forces became fragmented, isolated, and unable to lend one another mutual support.

The main U.S. contributions to the FANK effort came in the form of the bombers and tactical aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. When President Nixon launched the incursion in 1970, American and South Vietnamese troops operated under an umbrella of air cover that was designated Operation Freedom Deal. When those troops were withdrawn, the air operation continued, ostensibly to interdict PAVN/NLF troop movements and logistics.<ref>Nalty, p. 199.</ref> In reality (and unknown to the American Congress and public), they were utilized to provide tactical air support to FANK.<ref>The Editors of the Boston Publishing Company, War in the Shadows. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1988, p. 146.</ref> As a former U.S. military attache in Phnom Penh reported, "the areas around the Mekong River were so full of bomb craters from B-52 strikes that, by 1973, they looked like the valleys of the moon."<ref>War in the Shadows, p. 149.</ref>

On 10 March 1972, just before the Constituent Assembly was to approve a revised constitution, Lon Nol announced that he was suspending the deliberations. He then forced Cheng Heng, the chief of state since Sihanouk's deposition, to surrender his authority to him. On the second anniversary of the coup, he relinquished his authority as chief of state, but retained his position as prime minister and defense minister.

On 4 June, Lon Nol was elected as the first president of the Khmer Republic in a blatantly rigged election.<ref>Chandler, pps. 222-223.</ref> As per the new constitution (ratified on 30 April), political parties formed in the new nation and they soon became a source of political factionalism that the Republic would have been better off without. As General Sutsakhan has stated: "the seeds of democratization, which had been thrown into the wind with such goodwill by the Khmer leaders, returned for the Khmer Republic nothing but a poor harvest."<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 89.</ref>

In January 1973, hope sprang into the breasts of the Republic's government, army, and population when the Paris Peace Accord was signed, ending the conflict (for the time being) in South Vietnam and Laos. On 29 January, Lon Nol proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire throughout the nation. All U.S. bombing operations were halted in hopes of securing a chance for peace. It was not to be. The Khmer Rouge simply ignored the proclamation and carried on fighting. By March, heavy casualties, desertions, and low recruitment had forced Lon Nol to introduce conscription. In April, insurgent forces launched an offensive that pushed into the suburbs of the capital. The U.S. Air Force then launched an intense bombing operation that forced the communists back into the countryside after being decimated by the airstrikes.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 100.</ref>

By the last day of Freedom Deal (15 August 1973), 250,000 tons of bombs had been dropped on the Khmer Republic, 82,000 tons of which had been released in the last 45 days of the operation.<ref>John Morocco, Rain of Fire. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985, p. 172.</ref> Since the inception of Operation Menu in 1969, the U.S. Air Force had dropped 539,129 tons of ordnance on Cambodia/Khmer Republic.<ref>Shawcross, p. 297.</ref>

[edit] The Shape of Things to Come

As late as 1972-1973, it was a commonly held belief, both within and outside Cambodia, that the war was essentially a foreign conflict that had not fundamentally altered the nature of the Khmer people.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 106.</ref> By late 1973, there was a growing awareness among the government and population of the fanaticism, total lack of concern over casualties, and complete rejection of any offer of peace talks which "began to suggest that Khmer Rouge fanaticism and capacity for violence were deeper than anyone had suspected."<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 106.</ref>

Reports of the brutal policies of the organization soon made their way to Phnom Penh and into the population - like whispers in the night - foretelling a violent madness that was about to consume the nation. There were tales of the forced relocations of entire villages, of the summary execution of any who disobeyed or even asked questions, the forbidding of religious practices, of monks who were defrocked or murdered, and where traditional sexual and marital habits were foresworn.<ref>Isaacs, Hardy, & Brown, pps. 106-107 and Shawcross, p. 322.</ref> War was one thing, the offhand manner in which the Khmer Rouge dealt out death, so contrary to the Khmer character, was quite another.<ref>Osborne, p. 203.</ref>

The reports of these atrocities began to surface during the same period in which the North Vietnamese were withdrawing from the Cambodian battlefields. This was no coincidence. The concentration of the North Vietnmaese effort on South Vietnam allowed the Khmer Rouge to apply their doctrine and policies without restraint for the first time.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 107.</ref>

The Khmer Rouge leadership was almost completely unknown by the public. They were referred to by their fellow countrymen as peap prey - the forest army. Previously, the very existance of the communist party as a component of GRUNK was hidden.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, pps. 106-107.</ref> Within the liberated zones it was simply referred to as "Angka" - the organization. During 1973, the communist party fell under the control of it's most fanatical members, Pol Pot and Son Sen, who believed that "Cambodia was to go through a total social revolution and that everything that had preceded it was anathema and must be destroyed."<ref>Issacs, Hary, & Brown, p. 107.</ref>

Also hidden from scrutiny was the growing antagonism between the Khmer Rouge and their North Vietnamese allies.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 107 and Chandler, p. 216.</ref> The radical leadership of the party could never escape the suspicion that Hanoi had designs on building an Indochinese federation with themselves as its master.<ref>Ideology was not all that separated the two communist groups. Many Cambodian communists shared racially-based views about the Vietnamese with their countrymen. Deac, p. 230 & p. 216.</ref> The Khmer Rouge were ideologically tied to the Chinese, while North Vietnam's chief supporters, the Soviet Union, still recognized the Lon Nol government as legitimate.<ref>Deac, p. 68.</ref> After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, PAVN cut off the supply of arms, hoping to force the Khmer Rouge into a cease-fire.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 107 and Shawcross, p. 281.</ref> When the Americans were freed by the signing of the accords to turn their air power completely on the Khmer Rouge, this too was blamed on Hanoi.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 107</ref> During the year, these suspicions and attitudes led the party leadership to carry out purges within their ranks. Most of the Hanoi-trained party members were executed on the orders of Pol Pot.<ref>Chandler, p. 211.</ref>

The need of the Khmer Rouge for the sinecure of Prince Sihanouk lessened. The organization demonstrated to the people of the liberated areas in no uncertain terms that open expressions of support for Sihanouk would result in their liquidation.<ref>Chandler, p. 231.</ref> Although the prince still enjoyed the protection of the Chinese, when he appeared in public overseas to publicize the GRUNK cause, he was treated with almost open contempt by Ministers Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan.<ref>Osborne, p. 224.</ref> In June, the prince told Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that when "they [the Khmer Rouge] have sucked me dry, they will spit me out like a cherry stone."<ref>Shawcross, p. 321.</ref>

By the end of the year, Sihanouk loyalists had been purged from all of GRUNK's ministries and all of the prince's supporters within the insurgent ranks were also eliminated.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 107.</ref> Shortly after Christmas, as the insurgents were gearing up for their final offensive, Sihanouk spoke with the French diplomat Etienne Manac'h. He said that his hopes for a moderate socialism akin to Yugoslavia's must now be totally dismissed. Stalinist Albania he said, would be the model.<ref>Shawcross, p. 343.</ref>

[edit] The Fall of Phnom Penh

By the time the Khmer Rouge initiated their dry-season offensive to capture the beleaguered Cambodian capital on 1 January 1975, the Republic was in chaos. The economy had been gutted, the transportation network had been reduced to air and water systems, the rice harvest had been reduced by one-quarter, and the supply of freshwater fish (the chief source of protien) had declined drastically. The cost of food was 20 times greater than pre-war levels and unemployment was not even measured anymore.<ref>Samuel Lipsman, Stephen Weiss, et al, The False Peace: 1972-74. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985, p. 119.</ref>

The final offensive against Phnom Penh, April, 1975

Phnom Penh, which had a pre-war population of around 600,000, was overwhelmed by refugees (who continued to flood in from the steadily collapsing defense perimeter) to a size of around two million. These helpless and desperate civilians had no jobs and little in the way of food, shelter, or medical care. Their condition (and the government's) only worsened when Khmer Rouge forces gradually gained control of the banks of the Mekong. From the riverbanks, their mines and gunfire steadily reduced the river convoys bringing relief supplies of food, fuel, and ammunition to the slowly starving city (90 percent of the Republic's supplies moved by means of the river convoys). After the river was effectively blocked in early February, the US began an airlift of supplies. This became increasingly risky, however, due to communist rocket and artillery fire, which constantly rained down on the airfields and city.

Desperate yet determined units of Republican soldiers, many of whom had run out of ammunition, dug in around the capital and fought until they were overrun as the Khmer Rouge advanced. By the last week of March, approximately 40,000 communist troops had surrounded the capital and began preparing to deliver the coup de grace to about half as many Republican forces.<ref>Frank Snepp, Decent Interval. New York: Random House, 1977, p. 279.</ref>

Lon Nol resigned and left the country on 1 April, hoping that a negotiated settlement might still be possible if he was absent from the political scene.<ref>Deac, p. 218.</ref> Saukham Khoy became acting president of a government that had less than three weeks to live. Last-minute efforts on the part of the U.S. to arrange a peace agreement involving Sihanouk ended in failure. When a vote in the U.S. Congress for a resumption of American air support failed, panic and a sense of doom pervaded the capital. The situation was best described by General Sak Sutsakhan (now commander-in-chief of FANK):

"The picture of the Khmer Republic which came to mind at that time was one of a sick man who survived only by outside means and that, in its condition, the administration of medication, however efficient it might be, was probably of no further value."<ref>Sutsakhan, p. 155.</ref>

On 12 April, concluding that all was lost (and without notifying the Khmer government), the U.S. evacuated its embassy personnel by helicopter in Operation Eagle Pull. The 276 evacuees included U.S. Ambassador John Gunther Dean, other American diplomatic personnel, the acting president of Cambodia, senior Khmer Republic government officials and their families, and members of the news media. In all, 82 U.S., 159 Cambodian, and 35 third-country nationals were evacuated.<ref>The Republic's five-year war cost the U.S. about a million dollars a day - a total of $1.8 billion in military aid. Operation Freedom Deal added another $7 billion. Deac, p. 221.</ref> Although invited by Ambassador Dean to join the evacuation (and much to the Americans surprise), Sirik Matak, Long Boret, Lon Non (Lon Nol's brother), and most members of Lon Nol's cabinet declined the offer.<ref>Issacs, Hardy, & Brown, p. 111.</ref> They chose to share the fate of their people (and all of whom were later executed by the Khmer Rouge).

After the Americans (and the president) had departed, a seven-member Supreme Committee, headed by General Sak Sutsakhan, assumed authority over the collapsing Republic. By the 15th, the last solid defenses of the city were overcome by the communists. In the early morning hours of 17 April, the committee decided to move the seat of government to Oddar Meanchay Province in the northwest. Around 1000, the voice of General Mey Si Chan of the FANK general staff broadcast on the radio, ordering all FANK forces to cease firing, since "negotiations were in progress" for the surrender of Phnom Penh.<ref>Francois Ponchaud, Cambodia: Year Zero. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1978, p. 7.</ref> The war was over. The terrible dreams of the Khmer Rouge were about to come to fruition in the newly-proclaimed Democratic Kampuchea. The Year Zero had begun.

[edit] Notes


[edit] Sources

Published Government Documents

  • Military Institue of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam: A History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975. Trans. by Merle Pribbenow. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002.
  • Nalty, Bernard C. Air War over South Vietnam: 1968-1975. Washington DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2000.
  • Sutsakhan, Lt. Gen. Sak, The Khmer Republic at War and the Final Collapse. Washington DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1984.


  • Osborne, Milton, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Honolulu HA: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Secondary Sources

  • Chandler, David P. The Tragedy of Cambodian History. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1991.
  • Deac, Wilfred P. Road to the Killing Fields: the Cambodian Civil War of 1970-1975. College Station TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.
  • Dougan, Clark, David Fulghum, et al, The Fall of the South. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985.
  • The Editors of the Boston Publishing Company, War in the Shadows. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Issacs, Arnold R., Gordon Hardy, MacAlister Brown, et al, Pawns of War: Cambodia and Laos. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Books, 1983.
  • Kinnard, Douglas, The War Managers. Wayne NJ: Avery Publishing Group, 1985.
  • Lipsman, Samuel, Edward Doyle, et al, Fighting for Time. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1983.
  • Lipsman, Samuel, Stephen Weiss, et al, The False Peace: 1972-74. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985.
  • Morocco, John, Rain of Fire: Air War, 1969-1975. Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1985.
  • Osborne, Merle, Before Kampuchea: Preludes to Tragedy. Boston: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.
  • Ponchaud, Francois, Cambodia: Year Zero. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1978.
  • Shaw, John M., The Cambodian Campaign: The 1970 offensive and America's Vietnam War. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2005.
  • Shawcross, William, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia. New York: Washington Square Books, 1979.
  • Snepp, Frank, Decent Interval. New York: Random House, 1977.

Cambodian Civil War

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