Cambodia Since April 1975


I. Introduction

In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge came to power, establishing a radical Maoist regime, Democratic Kampuchea, whose political and social policies devastated Cambodia. In the twenty-three years that have lapsed since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Cambodia has endured foreign invasion, civil war, and isolation from the rest of the world. The country has never rebuilt her infrastructure, provided security to her population, or escaped repeated cycles of violence. With the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991, it seemed that relief might be in sight, but the period until the 1998 elections was marred by political infighting, distrust, and continued instability. Since 1998, with the death of Pol Pot and the apparent destruction of the movement he led, there is renewed hope that this disastrous era may finally have ended. This essay covers the period from 1975 through the end of 2001, and concludes with some speculation about the chances for future stability.

Prior to 1970, the Cambodian underground communist movement led by Pol Pot was weak and did not pose any threat to Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s government. Sihanouk had dominated Cambodian politics since he was crowned King by the French in 1941, maneuvered for independence from France, and abdicated the crown to become chief of state in 1955 (see Osborne 1994). Sihanouk’s good relations with North Vietnam compounded by his suppression of internal political dissent held the Cambodian communist forces in check. Moreover, the communist movement could not win over the support of the masses because of the prince’s popularity. However, by the late 1960s the country faced serious economic difficulties brought on by a combination of factors, including Sihanouk’s rejection of American aid, corruption, and the fact that by 1966 more than a quarter of Cambodia’s rice crop was being sold across the border into war-torn Vietnam. This cut deeply into government revenues that were dependent on export taxes on rice (Chandler 1991:122). The national education program that Sihanouk established after independence in 1954 meant that there was a growing educated populace with unrealistic expectations of social mobility. Antagonism towards the Sihanouk regime increased in the 1960s among the urban elite, students and intellectuals, and the prince was overthrown in 1970 by his own Prime-Minister and senior military officials in a coup d’etat. While the United States denies orchestrating the coup, General Lon Nol was immediately awash in US funding. The knowledge that US support would be forthcoming was undoubtedly an important motivating factor for the men who directed the coup.

In 1970, the US and South Vietnamese armed forces launched heavy military air and ground campaigns against North Vietnamese soldiers inside Cambodia. Their goal was to capture the headquarters of the Vietnamese communist movement, which was based inside Cambodian territory, but which was never found by the invading forces. The military offensive pushed the North Vietnamese soldiers deeper into Cambodian territory. By the end of 1973, the total bombs dropped on Cambodia reached 539,129 tons, three times more explosives than were dropped on Japan during World War II (Ablin and Hood 1988:xxvii). While in exile, with the encouragement and support of China and North Vietnam, Sihanouk formed a united front with the Cambodian communists to fight against the United States-backed government in Phnom Penh. These developments created great opportunities for the Khmer Rouge. With support from North Vietnam and China, coupled with anger over US bombardment, and appeals from Sihanouk to join their cause, the Khmer Rouge were able to build their armed forces from around 800 soldiers in 1970 to a well-organized and well-disciplined force of 40,000 soldiers in 1973 (Ablin and Hood 1988:xxvi). By this time the Khmer Rouge controlled most of Cambodian countryside; over the next two years they advanced and finally took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

II. Democratic Kampuchea

The Khmer Rouge renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea in January 1976 (hereafter DK). The country was ruled by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) but its identity and leaders were hidden from the public. This secrecy was essential, in the view of the CPK’s leaders, because it had helped them in the past and because enemies were allegedly attempting to sabotage the revolution. The "upper organization" or Angkar Loeu was the name of the central committee of the party, the governing body of the DK regime. Its policies were aimed at radically transforming Cambodia into a new society--breaking completely with its past. Pre-revolutionary institutions were uprooted. Old traditions, thoughts, and ways of life were forbidden. In support of such actions, DK cadres echoed the motto, "when you pull the grass, you have to pull the root."

Immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh, DK leaders began evacuating approximately three million people from towns and cities throughout the country. Cambodia’s urban population had swollen to this size during the war, out of a total population of some seven to eight million, as refugees fled fighting in rural areas. Although DK cadres spuriously claimed that the evacuations were to prevent epidemics, starvation and to protect civilians from American bombing, this decision was, in fact, "a calculated, political decision, part of a wider agenda with economic and ideological rationale"(Chandler 1991:247). The evacuation’s purpose was to ensure CPK’s control over the urban population and to turn the "unproductive, culturally corrupt, and economically and politically exploitative" urban class into a new and productive people. The former inhabitants of cities and towns were forced to engage in agricultural labor in the countryside. Those who could not transform, chose not to, or who were considered a threat to the revolution were imprisoned and eliminated. Former high ranking government officials, businessmen, and military officers, for example, were immediately executed by Khmer Rouge cadres.

Sihanouk returned to Cambodia from China in late 1975 and served as the head of state; but he , was formally "retired" in April 1976, and was held throughout the rest of the DK regime under house arrest on the grounds of the palace in Phnom Penh. While he lived in relative comfort, he was constantly in fear of his life, and many members of the royal family who had been scattered throughout the countryside died during this period (Chandler 1996:213).

Despite DK’s plan to build a classless society, under the DK regime Cambodian people were divided into different social categories. Those who had not lived under the Khmer Rouge-controlled territory prior to April 17, 1975 were considered "new people," while those who had lived in the Khmer Rouge-controlled territory prior to this time were considered "base people." Base people enjoyed more privileges, though their lives were also tightly controlled and transformed by the restructuring of society (Chandler 1991:265). "New people" were used as labor to clear new agricultural land from malaria-infested forests, to dig vast irrigation projects, and to grow rice along-side peasants. The "new people" were not accustomed to long, backbreaking hours of labor in the fields. Moreover, they were considered "politically incorrect," so they were last on "distribution lists, first on execution lists and had no political rights"(Heder 1980:7). Conditions varied from district to district and over time throughout the regime; those in the North and Northwest of the country, where more than a million new people were resettled in 1975-76 were likely the harshest (Chandler 1991:269, see also Vickery 1984).

DK leaders viewed private property as a source of individualism and capitalism; these were the primary enemies of the revolution. Thus, money, markets, and private property of all sorts were abolished. Basic resources needed to sustain life could only be obtained through the newly established communes.

The leaders of DK correctly stressed the significance of agriculture in the development of Cambodia’s economy (see Twining 1989:109-150). DK’s leaders envisioned dramatic and unrealistic growth in rice production that would enable the country to generate a surplus for industrialization--a future stage where Cambodia would supposedly become the master of its destiny. Although Cambodia is an agrarian society in which rice is the major crop, rice yields have always been comparatively low, reaching an average of one metric ton per hectare during the pre-revolutionary era. The DK leadership saw Cambodia as endowed with much arable land relative to her population. They were confident that rice harvests could take place twice or three times per year, while yields per hectare could be doubled or tripled (on the 1976 Four Year Plan see Chandler, Kiernan and Boua 1988). They believed that such levels of production could be achieved through collectivization and revolutionary will. When regional leaders were unable to meet these unrealistic goals, they were purged as central DK cadre searched for those responsible for sabotaging their "perfect" revolution.

People in DK were organized into communes with militarized discipline, and then subdivided into work teams according to gender and age. The language for agricultural projects was full of military terms: "references to launching offensives (veay samrok), to struggling in a military sense (brayut), to fighting onward (tasou), and to persevering (btechnha)" (Marston 1994:111). People were forced to work from dawn to dusk and sometimes into the night with no material reward. Food rations were low as the government gathered rice surplus to feed the army, store and export.

Rice rations were given to Cambodians at a level that was not sufficient to sustain lives. Based upon various interviews with refugees between 1975-1979, one Cambodian observer suggests that only a few people received a ration of around 400 to 450 grams per day, while most Cambodians received 250 grams or less. Before 1970, an average Cambodian consumed about 600 grams of rice per day; a poor peasant’s intake of rice was around 440 grams per day (Twining 1989:109-150). A daily ration of 250 grams or less therefore caused serious malnutrition and famine among the population. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition. Ultimately more than a million and a half died in a population of just over seven million, the highest per capita rate of mass killing in modern world history.

DK leaders attempted to transform Cambodia into a new class-free society in which only "Khmer" identity was allowed to exist. While not specifically defining what that meant, the DK regime determined all facets of people’s lives ranging from religion, language, clothing, hair style and sexual relationships. Such cultural traditions as religion and extended family ties, deeply rooted in Khmer society were abolished (see Ebihara 1988, 1993). During the pre-revolutionary era, Buddhism was the state religion and was practiced by the vast majority of Cambodians. But Buddhism was viewed by the DK leadership as reactionary, exploitative and feudalistic. In 1975-76 all the monks in Cambodia were defrocked and forced to resume secular life. Buddhist temples were destroyed or turned to into detention centers, storage warehouses or housing facilities. Buddhism was replaced by political indoctrination through political meetings where self-criticism and mutual criticism were encouraged and where people were told to raise their spirit to defend and build the nation.

Extended bilateral kinship ties, links to both the maternal and paternal relatives, formed the large networks of kinsmen from which Cambodian social relations were woven. DK practices recognized only the union of husband and wife and separated extended kin units. All loyalty was to be redirected to the Angkar, the revolutionary organization.

The project to establish a uniform society greatly affected the ethnic minority groups living in Cambodia who had distinct traditions, ways of life, religions and languages. Among these groups were Vietnamese, Muslim Cham, and ethnic Chinese. Soon after the liberation of Phnom Penh, DK leaders planned to remove all Vietnamese residents from Cambodia. By September 1975, more than 150,000 Vietnamese residing in Cambodia were expelled to Vietnam (Kiernan 1997:107). However, a number of Vietnamese who were married to Cambodian spouses chose to stay in Cambodia. Virtually all of them were executed by the DK regime. Kiernan suggests that there may have been as many as 10,000 Vietnamese who stayed (1997:196, FN 147, see also pp. 296-298, 423-427 and 460). This practice of killing Vietnamese civilians continued to be the policy of the Khmer Rouge after they were overthrown, right through to 1998.

Punishing ethnic Chinese, however, was centered on class rather than race. Many Chinese were merchants and traders who resided in towns and cities. Thus, they belonged to the bourgeois class and to the category of "new people" labeled enemies of the revolution. Some important ethnic Chinese businessmen were executed soon after the Khmer Rouge came to power, while those considered capable of reform were forced to adapt to the new society. The use of Chinese language and ancestral worship, central to lives of ethnic Chinese, were prohibited.

Muslim Cham were distinct from other groups of people residing in Cambodia through their language, religion, and costume. Under the DK, Muslim Cham were forced to abandon their way of life and to assimilate into the new Khmer society. A large number were killed and those remaining were dispersed throughout the country. The execution of Muslim Cham is viewed by some scholars as an act of genocide (see Kiernan 1997). Others argue that under the overall DK policy of social uniformity, the persecution of Muslim Cham resulted not from racial hatred, but from both notions of class and the regime’s harsh views regarding possible resistance to its revolution (Heder 1997:111-113). Their refusal to adapt, by not eating pork and by not giving up their forms of worship, constituted acts of resistance that were not tolerated in DK.

The best case for the use of the term "genocide" seems to apply first to the Vietnamese, where there was a clear policy to eliminate them, and secondarily to the Cham as they were targeted for at least partial destruction based upon their religious beliefs. Heder writes, "(it) was genocide because of the close fit of such practices with the legal definition laid out in the 1948 Convention on preventing this crime against humanity, according to which ‘genocide means...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group...’" (1997:112). The use of the term to describe what happened to the ethnic Chinese is far less clear, complicated by a variety of other factors that classified urban Chinese as "enemies" of the regime. In areas of the country where Chinese lived in zones "liberated" before 1975, they were not targeted for execution or even for persecution different from others around them.

Since the decline of the Angkorean Empire in the 13th century, Cambodia has been repeatedly invaded by its two more powerful neighbors, Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. The long history of Cambodia’s subordination to foreign control and invasion caused the DK leaders to be suspicious and paranoid. Over time, this suspicion was increasingly turned towards Vietnam. While the Vietnamese leaders were voicing the idea of a "special relationship" among the three Indochinese countries, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, DK’s leaders perceived this "relationship" as Vietnam’s determination to "swallow" Cambodia. DK leaders accused the Vietnamese of sabotaging the Cambodian revolution by infiltrating their agents into the CPK. This high level of mistrust, compounded by territorial disputes, eventually resulted in open military conflict in 1977-78.

With their ultra-nationalist zeal and with China’s support, the DK leaders, in David Chandler’s words, never "considered the alternatives of defeat, compromise or negotiation" (Chandler 1992:146). DK’s army launched attacks into Vietnamese territory and killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in an attempt to pressure the Vietnamese government to accept the DK’s border negotiation proposal. In 1977 and 1978, the Vietnamese responded with counterattacks and briefly invaded Cambodia. The DK perceived the failure of their defensive forces against this incursion as betrayal by their own Eastern Zone leaders. The people of the Eastern Zone were accused of having "Cambodian bodies but Vietnamese minds." Many Eastern Zone cadres were purged and much of its population was transferred to other parts of the country. The evacuation was followed by the execution of thousands more. This purge led to the defection of a number of DK’s high ranking cadres to Vietnam.

With the failure to persuade the Khmer Rouge to negotiate a settlement, and with firm support from the Soviet Union, the Vietnamese government integrated the new DK defectors with Cambodian communist veterans who had stayed behind in Vietnam after the 1954 Geneva Agreement to form the Kampuchean National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). On Christmas Eve 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia using the KNUFNS for justification, and took control of Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979. Five days later the Vietnamese installed a new communist regime, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), with Heng Samrin as the head of state.

III. The Peoples’ Republic of Kampuchea

With some two hundred thousand Vietnamese troops stationed in Cambodia, the new People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK) began to rebuild its administrative structure. In 1979-1980, the party was busy setting up central, provincial and local governments to extend government control throughout the country. (For further discussion of the political system of PRK see Michael Vickery, 1986).

An election of representatives to fill the 117 seats at the National Assembly was organized in May 1981. The PRPK nominated all the candidates, though the party did allow more candidates than the available number of seats. The majority of the 146 candidates were senior party cadres or party members, and the rest were a handful of non-party members whose loyalty the party trusted. The party center sent directions that voters should cross out undesired candidates (Heder 1998:8 and 17). Under the constitution adopted in 1981, the National Assembly was the supreme organ of the nation and was responsible for passing laws and overseeing their implementation. In reality, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea completely dominated the government.

The PRK administration restored many socio-cultural traditions that had been forbidden during the DK era. The practice of Buddhism was no longer banned, though it was not declared the state religion. Some temples were rebuilt and men over 50 years old were allowed to ordain. Rights of minority groups were revived. Muslim Cham were allowed to practice their religion freely, and to rebuild their mosques. Muslim Cham and the upland peoples were specifically courted by the PRK regime. Members of these minority groups were appointed to positions of authority within the government at the central and provincial levels. However, there was also a policy of trying to "convert" upland people to be "civilized," meaning to live in individual houses, wear Khmer clothes, eat Khmer food, and generally act like Khmer.

After the Vietnamese invasion, many Vietnamese began to migrate to Cambodia; some were former residents of Cambodia who had fled in the 1970s while others were new arrivals. The presence of this Vietnamese population in Cambodia was politically controversial. In the early 1980s, while the PRK admitted that there were 60,000 Vietnamese immigrants residing in Cambodia, Khmers living abroad and in refugee camps along the Cambodian-Thai border placed the number in hundreds of thousands (Chandler 1996:233). With the presence of Vietnamese civilians, soldiers and advisors, the growing Khmer resistance to the PRK (see below) claimed that Hanoi was pursuing a policy of Vietnamization in Cambodia.

Although Chinese and Sino-Khmers did not suffer greatly during the PRK, their freedom was restricted by the government. These restrictions paralleled similar limitations on Sino-Vietnamese in Vietnam. Chinese schools and religious associations were banned. In 1983 after the issue of Party Center Circular #351, the government announced a nationwide registration of ethnic Chinese. However, Circular #351 was not thoroughly implemented. Some local governments strictly implemented the process while others did not. As a result the effects of the policy also varied from place to place. In some areas, Chinese were driven out of their houses and were removed from their jobs. Some disappeared without reason (Edwards and Chan 1996:76-77). Others were taken to be photographed with identification numbers.

Immediately after the collapse of the DK regime, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians traversed the country in search of family members. This mobility of the population and the social chaos that ensued after the collapse of tight DK control resulted in low rice production in 1979. Consequently, people consumed even draught animals and rice seed. The shortage of draught animals and rice seed, compounded with drought for the 1979-80 planting season, led to severe food shortages. Thousands of people, especially elderly people and children, died of starvation. This tragedy generated a generous response from the world community, which provided emergency food relief to Cambodia under the supervision of United Nations agencies.

People’s lives subsequently improved considerably as they took up residence and began to engage in agricultural and commercial activities. The PRK introduced a semi-socialist economic system in which factories, land, and industrial crop plantations such as rubber and banking belonged to the state. Peasants were organized into solidarity groups (krom samaki) comprised of 10 to 20 families. Members of the group communally cultivated certain plots of land and shared the harvest based upon their contributions. There were three main different kinds of krom samaki that varied in the extent to which property and labor were collectivized (Frings 1994, 1997). However, by the mid-1980s in virtually all areas peasants had reverted to farming private plots. The PRK administration also reintroduced money and markets. Small businesses and handicraft production sprung up throughout the country.

The PRK reestablished schools and basic medical care throughout the country, though the tremendous loss of life under DK meant a lack of trained staff, and an external embargo meant no international aid from the West for the regime (see Mysliwiec 1988).

In the meantime, traumatized by the DK and fearful of foreign domination, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled to refugee camps located along the Cambodian-Thai border. The camps were administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other private international organizations. Some 200,000 of the refugees were able to resettle in western countries such as France, the United States, Canada and Australia. The rest continued to live in fear and poverty in the camps until 1993.

Defeated, the remnant of the DK forces withdrew to the Thai-Cambodian border, where they were supported by China and Thailand. The Thai army provided food and shelter to the Khmer Rouge soldiers while China shipped large quantity of weapons. This enabled the DK forces to regroup and reorganize into guerrilla units to fight the Vietnamese and PRK forces. Internationally, with strong support from the United States, China and ASEAN, DK continued to retain the Cambodian seat at the United Nations.

Two other non-communist resistance movements were established at the Thai border. In 1979, Cambodia’s long-term political veteran Son Sann formed the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF). A year later, Prince Norodom Sihanouk founded the National United Front for a Cooperative, Independent, Neutral and Peaceful Cambodia (FUNCINPEC).

As information about DK’s atrocities spread worldwide, the Khmer Rouge became increasingly vilified. In 1982, to restore the credibility of the anti-Vietnamese resistant movements, China, the United States, and ASEAN forced the three movements to form a tri-party coalition government in exile under the title of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). Norodom Sihanouk became CGDK’s president. Aside from their common goal to end the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, these three parties did not have anything in common. The United States, China, and ASEAN did not expect that the resistance movement would be successful in driving the Vietnamese out of Cambodia. However, they were an important instrument for inflicting pressure on Vietnam so that the latter would come to the negotiating table.

After the creation of the CGDK, some military units and followers transferred their bases a few kilometers across the Thai border into Cambodia. The Vietnamese and the PRK responded by launching a series of dry season military offensives in 1983-85 against these bases. The Phnom Penh government also conscripted thousands of civilians to lay mines and build defensive lines along the border to prevent encroachment by the resistance forces. Many of these workers died of malaria while some others were maimed by landmines. These programs, known as K-5 (ka pram) were extremely unpopular. Though life under the PRK was undeniably better than under the DK regime, human rights abuses existed. Those suspected of counter-revolutionary activities, including any contact with the border camps, were arrested, tortured and imprisoned without trial (see Amnesty International 1987).

While military campaigns were launched to weaken the resistance movements, the Vietnamese also intensified their effort to strengthen the PRK armed forces to prepare for the eventual withdrawal of their forces.

IV. 1989-1993 State of Cambodia

The period from 1989 through the middle of 1993 was a time of transition. Dramatic changes in the international context and important shifts within the country eventually allowed for the signing of a peace agreement and the staging of elections. The momentum for peace negotiations began in December 1987, when Norodom Sihanouk met with Hun Sen, the Prime-Minister of the PRK, outside Paris. Talks among the four Cambodian factions were held in Jakarta in July 1988 and again in February 1989. In July-August 1989 representatives of the factions and nineteen countries met in Paris, where the talks stalled.

These steps coincided with dramatic changes on the international stage. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe meant a reduction in aid for Vietnam and Cambodia and the withdrawal of Soviet advisers. As far as Cambodia was concerned, changing relationships between Russia, China and the United States meant that all three powers were looking for ways to end their support for the different Khmer factions. These changes put pressure on Vietnam, which withdrew its military forces from Cambodia in September 1989.

The peace talks were revived in 1990 with the introduction of an Australian plan that included a role for the United Nations in supervising and controlling the administration of the country during the transition period until elections could be held. This plan eventually became the basis for the Paris Peace Agreements that were signed in October 1991 by the four factions and nineteen other countries, including the members of the UN Security Council and the countries of ASEAN.

In early 1989, even before the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, the PRK had begun making changes within the country. A series of reforms, some relatively cosmetic and some more substantial, were designed to improve the PRK’s image abroad as well as to rally popular support. The name of the government was changed to the State of Cambodia (SOC), and a new national flag and anthem were adopted. Buddhism was reinstated as the state religion. Most importantly, collectivization was ended and people were given the right to buy and sell land and to pass it to their children. Although the government retained tight control of the economy in principle, free market trade flourished, and black market goods flowed in from Thailand, and across Cambodia from Thailand to Vietnam. Overseas Khmer began returning to visit their relatives, bringing much needed cash. The reforms were extremely popular and there was a surge of optimism within the country.

But if SOC was willing to loosen its hold on the economy, it stood firm on the issue of one party rule. When a group of government officials began meeting to discuss the formation of another political party, they were arrested in June 1990 and imprisoned for counterrevolutionary activities.

While the SOC political structure remained essentially unchanged, some fissures began to appear as the movement towards a peace agreement raised the specter of political change. Corruption skyrocketed as ex-PRK political cadres faced the prospect of losing their jobs after elections. Logs, gems, rubber and other goods began to be exported in large quantities with the revenues benefiting individuals, including military commanders, without any of the profit from these sales reaching SOC state coffers.

Some ministries almost ceased to function as staff busied themselves selling off state resources, from agricultural implements to medicines to the desks in their offices (see Marston 1997). Those who did not participate were not viewed as patriotic or loyal, but simply stupid. Civil servants saw themselves as having struggled to rebuild the country since 1979; now was their only chance to show some material gain for their efforts. At the central level the corruption included the sale of state owned buildings for individual gain. It was one such incident that set off a series of demonstrations by students in December 1991.

Between December 17 and 22, 1991 a series of demonstrations broke out in Phnom Penh focused on the issue of corruption. Participants from several different ministries accused their superiors of selling off factories and other state properties and not sharing the profits from these sales with ministry employees. On December 21, the arrest of a group of students set off a series of marches on police stations and the National Assembly that escalated into stone throwing by the students. Eventually police and military forces answering with gunfire. An Amnesty International report, written by investigators who were on the scene, estimate that at least eight people died in the confrontations (see Amnesty International 1992, Thion 1993:186-210). These actions were the first time since 1975 that students had openly participated in protests against a Cambodian government.

The shift in policy by the government in two other areas, however, demonstrated significant change. The first was the opening up of religious freedoms. In early 1989 the restriction was lifted on the ordination of men under 50 years old. In 1990, the Venerable Tep Vong reported that membership in the sangha had reached 16,400, of whom some 40% were novices. This was up from the 6,500-8,000 monks variously estimated between 1985 and 1989 (Keyes 1994:62-63). The government also removed restrictions that had required that donations for temples first be used for state projects such as schools.

Since Buddhism was reinstated as the state religion, a tremendous resurgence has occurred. Temples are being rebuilt across country as communities acquire the resources to do so. Many overseas Khmer send funds for the reconstruction of temples. Buddhist education has been reinstituted in Pali, and a publications program with funding from Japanese and German sources is reprinting classic Buddhist texts. The Buddhist Institute has been reopened in a spacious new building with a new library.

The second set of changes began taking place in the area of ethnic relations. Under the PRK, ethnic Vietnamese were allowed greater protection than under any previous Cambodian regime, and there were significant opportunities for people with bilingual skills. After the Vietnamese troop withdrawal in 1989, many Vietnamese civilians also returned to Vietnam. In part this reflected their lack of confidence that the PRK would be able to hold off the Khmer Rouge on its own. It also reflected their loss of status and the loss of business opportunities for those who conducted commerce with the military. But the more stable communities of ethnic Vietnamese, including people who had been born in Cambodia and who had fled to Vietnam in the 1970s, stayed on. These included communities of fishermen around the great lake and craftsmen in Phnom Penh (see Jordens 1996). Large numbers of Vietnamese returned to Cambodia, or came to Cambodia for the first time, during the UNTAC period to take advantage of the job opportunities in the construction and entertainment booms that came with the UN mission.

The ethnic group for whom dramatic improvements occurred after 1989 was the Chinese. The series of restrictions placed on them during the PRK were gradually reduced. In December 1990 permission was given for the formation of the first overseas Chinese association since 1975. The SOC restored the rights of ethnic Chinese to observe their religious customs and celebrate Chinese festivals. The first Chinese language schools were reopened that year, and in 1991 Chinese New Year was officially celebrated for the first time since 1975. Over the next five years, the Chinese community has undertaken what Edwards and Sambath have referred to as a "massive renaissance of Chinese cultural identity" (Edwards and Chan 1996:81-82). This has included the reopening of Chinese temples, schools, businesses specifically identified as Chinese, the publication of Chinese newspapers and the reemergence of Chinese as the language of business in Cambodia.



The 1991 Paris Peace Agreements invested Cambodian sovereignty in a Supreme National Council (SNC), which was headed by Norodom Sihanouk and contained representatives from the four factions. The SNC in turn delegated "all powers necessary" to implement the accords to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia or UNTAC, whose mandate was far reaching:

Under the Agreements, the United Nations was to organize and conduct free and fair elections; coordinate the repatriation of Cambodian refugees and displaced persons; coordinate a major programme of economic and financial support for rehabilitation and reconstruction; supervise or control the existing administrative structures in Cambodia; supervise, monitor and verify the withdrawal of foreign forces, the cease-fire, the cessation of outside military assistance to all Cambodian factions and the demobilization of at least 70 per cent of the military forces of the factions; coordinate with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the release of all prisoners of war and civilian internees; and foster an environment of peace and stability in which all Cambodians could enjoy the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments (The United Nations and Cambodia 1995:8). To accomplish these tasks, UNTAC deployed some 16,000 military personnel and 5000 civilians, including 3,500 police, the largest UN operation to that date. (Several analyses of the UNTAC era have appeared in print, see for example Heder and Ledgerwood 1996, Shawcross 1994, Ledgerwood 1994, Doyle 1995, Utting 1994.)

Although the representatives of Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge, had initially signed the Peace Agreement, they refused to participate in cantoning and demobilizing of troops. In the run-up to the election, they attacked SOC held areas, UN forces and ethnic Vietnamese civilians. In response to Khmer Rouge noncompliance, the SOC also refused to demobilize its forces.

UNTAC proved incapable of supervising or controlling the "existing administrative structures" of the SOC administration. The SOC retained control of the government at all levels, including the national security apparatus. A campaign to harass and contain opposition political parties resulted in the deaths of more than 100 opposition political activists across the country in 1992-93.

Other aspects of the UN mission were more successful. More than 360,000 refugees living in camps in Thailand were repatriated to Cambodia in time for the May 1993 elections. The Human Rights component, hampered by a small staff and few resources, was able to run education campaigns, arranged for the release of political prisoners, and brought about improvements in prison conditions. The Information and Education division ran a radio and television campaign to educate voters and convince them that the balloting would be secret.

Most successful was the organization and management of the elections. The core of the electoral component was 700 UN volunteers stationed around the country at the district level. Working with dedicated local staff, these volunteers registered 4.8 million voters. Despite Khmer Rouge threats to attack the electoral process, and the deaths of a Japanese electoral volunteer and his translator, the process of setting up the voting sites continued under UN and SOC military protection.

The voting on May 23-28, 1993 was a joyous affair. Ninety percent of the voters who had registered turned out to vote. The fact at they did so in such large numbers despite Khmer Rouge threats was a resounding act of defiance against Khmer Rouge claims to legitimacy or support. The elections were the beginning of the end of the movement.

Of the twenty parties on the ballot, only four won seats in the new 120 seat National Assembly. FUNCINPEC won the most votes with 45 percent (58 seats), the Cambodian People’s Party (the old PRPK) had 38 percent (51 seats), Son Sann’s Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) had 3.8 percent (10 seats), and the Molinaka Party gained enough votes in one province for a single seat. According to the Paris Agreements, approval of a new constitution required a two-thirds majority of the new National Assembly.

While the lack of a two-thirds majority gave FUNCINPEC reason to consider forming a coalition government, there were other more convincing reasons. The CPP was unwilling to admit defeat, or to turn over control of the government to FUNCINPEC. In the days after the election, the CPP alleged fraud in the election process and declared that the eastern provinces of the country would secede and set up an independent state. This forced a series of negotiations with Sihanouk at the center of the conflict. He eventually suggested a compromise whereby FUNCINPEC would receive 45 percent of the government portfolios, the CPP 45 percent and BLDP 10 percent. There would be two Co-Prime Ministers and within the ministries, the leadership would be further divided, for every CPP Minister, there would be a FUNCINPEC vice-minister and vice-versa. This astonishing compromise set the stage for years of chaos, mistrust, and political intrigue. The CPP finally formally recognized the election results on June 21, 1993.

VI. The Royal Government

On September 24, 1993, the new Constitution was promulgated and the Kingdom of Cambodia was established with Norodom Sihanouk as King. Under the provisions of the new constitution he was to reign, but not to hold political power. Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC and Hun Sen of the CPP were named Co-Prime-Ministers. The role of UNTAC was formally ended on schedule.

The division of provincial level authority was finally decided in December 1993. Similar to the arrangement of ministerial portfolios, every governor would have a vice-governor from the other party. The provinces were split between the CPP and FUNCINPEC. It was agreed that elections would be held at the local level in the future. In reality none of the PRK/SOC structures were to change over the next nine years at the provincial level or below. In rural areas where 85-90 percent of the population lives no changes in personnel were visible in their communities.

At the highest levels of the new government a relative period of calm followed as ministers and vice-ministers settled into their new positions. The military forces of the coalition partners were merged, and the Ministries of Defense and Interior both had Co-Ministers from FUNCINPEC and CPP.

FUNCINPEC’s problems from the outset were in part of their own making. They had been a resistance movement of armed fighters, not a political organization. They found themselves with a drastic shortage of trained personnel for government postings. A second problem quickly emerged when it became clear that some FUNCINPEC officials had jumped on the corruption bandwagon. Businessmen complained that whereas before they had to pay off officials of one party, now it was necessary to pay off two.

Over the next two years, the "opposition" parties, now supposedly "partners" in a coalition, were to splinter and divide, with new offshoots of these divisions joining the CPP in an ever more monolithic system. As David Chandler pointed out in 1996, " To all intents and purposes, Cambodia reverted to the one-party rule that had characterized it since 1955" (Chandler 1996:241). Since Chandler’s comments in 1996, this process has proceeded apace, culminating in the expulsion of Ranariddh’s FUNCINPEC from the government in a violent coup d’etat in July of 1997 (see below).

As for the CPP, there was only one occasion on which it appeared that fissures within the party would erupt publicly. This was the July 2, 1994 aborted coup attempt which seemed focused on attacking both FUNCINPEC and Hun Sen. While Prince Norodom Chakropong and Ministry of Interior Officials Sin Song (the supposed organizers of the eastern province secession movement after the election) and Sin Sen were charged and convicted as the organizers of the attempt, speculation was rampant that others in the CPP leadership had also been involved.

But most of the political breakdown between 1994 and 1996 was to the advantage of the CPP, as they watched and facilitated the demise of what Cambodian publications still referred to as "the opposition." In October 1994, the outspoken FUNCINPEC Minister of Finance, Sam Rainsy, was fired. He was admired by external donors for his revamping of financial policies, but as an outspoken opponent of corruption he made enemies across party lines. The FUNCINPEC Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norodom Sirivuth resigned in protest at Sam Rainsy’s ouster. In December 1995, Sirivuth was arrested and accused of plotting to assassinate Hun Sen. He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and exiled from the country. By agreeing to these changes Ranariddh cooperated in the destruction of two of his most important allies.

In June of 1995, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party split into two factions, that of the founder Son Sann, and a splinter group lead by Minister of Information Ieng Mouly. Ieng Mouly immediately received Hun Sen’s backing in his bid for BLDP leadership. When Son Sann tried to hold a party congress in October 1995, grenades were thrown into the crowd assembling for the meeting, resulting in many injuries, but no deaths.

Also in October, Sam Rainsy announced the formation of a new political party, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP). In February 1996, only five months later, a KNP lieutenant named Nuon Soeur broke away and declared an alternative KNP. He was also accorded immediate support from the CPP. External CPP support to factions within the opposition parties played on internal conflicts to wreak havoc within.

At the April 1996 FUNCINPEC party congress Rannaridh attacked the coalition with CPP, arguing that FUNCINPEC had no real power and demanding an equal share of power at the district level. Sam Rainsy supported Rannaridh’s stand, raising the possibility that the former FUNCINPEC allies might reunite. A time of serious political tension followed, with coup rumors, troop movements and talk of intervention by the king.

The next split was to come within the ranks of the Khmer Rouge. Since the election, the Royal government had been attacking Khmer Rouge positions, including the strong holds of Pailin and Anlong Veng. While they had had some success, they were unable to hold their gains. During the period of tension between the two Prime Ministers in 1996, FUNCINPEC was actively negotiating with Khmer Rouge forces in Pailin. In August, Ieng Sary, the former DK foreign minister, defected to the government, bringing with him not only a large portion of the Khmer Rouge troops, but also the gem and timber-rich areas around Pailin that were the financial backbone of the movement. In a controversial move Ieng Sary was given amnesty and his forces were merged with the Royal army. Both Hun Sen and Ranariddh actively courted Ieng Sary and his newly founded Democratic National Unity Movement (DNUM). Both saw the new forces as a potential trump card in their ongoing competition with the other.

In February 1997, a new political alliance was formed between FUNCINPEC, Sam Rainsy’s Khmer Nation and Son Sann’s BLDP Party called the National United Front. Sam Rainsy’s party had gained in strength the previous year, when he supported the formation of labor unions in the nation’s garment factories. Then in March a group of FUNCINPEC negotiators was captured and killed by Khmer Rouge hard-liners at Anlong Veng. Clearly FUNCINPEC had been trying to negotiate an alliance that included the hard-line Khmer Rouge against the CPP. At this crucial juncture, King Norodom Sihanouk began discussing abdication. Hun Sen reacted angrily to these events, threatening to scrap local and national elections planned for 1997 and 1998. He also proposed a Constitutional amendment prohibiting members of the royal family from participating in politics.

On March 30th, a peaceful demonstration in Phnom Penh led by Sam Rainsy was attacked with four grenades. At least 15 people died in the attack and more than 100 people in the crowd were injured. Sam Rainsy barely escaped alive. It was immediately alleged that soldiers from Hun Sen’s personal guard had facilitated the escape of the attackers by preventing bystanders from pursuing them. Hun Sen for his part condemned the perpetrators, but then went on to say that the organizers of the rally were to blame (Phnom Penh Post, April 4-17, 1997:1). Nothing was ever done to bring anyone to justice for this attack.

Within the next month, there was another split within FUNCINPEC, as several members of the National Assembly formally broke off from Ranariddh. With these new defectors as allies, the CPP nearly succeeded in securing the needed two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to form a government on its own. Tensions escalated dramatically thereafter as both Prime Ministers increased the numbers and armaments of their personal "bodyguard" units. The coalition government by this time had virtually ceased to function, and the National Assembly was unable to meet.

During May and June, both FUNCINPEC and the CPP were negotiating with the Khmer Rouge hard-liners in Anlong Veng. Both saw an alliance with the Khmer Rouge as a possible deciding factor in their struggle with the other. These negotiations triggered a further split within the Khmer Rouge forces. The power struggle was apparently won by Ta Mok, who announced that Pol Pot had been "captured." Pol Pot was accused of executing the former Khmer Rouge defense minister Son Sen and his family, apparently under the suspicion that they had been in contact with CPP negotiators. Rannaridh and Hun Sen together announced that a deal has been made to turn over Pol Pot, but the deal collapsed. On the night of June 17, FUNCINPEC and CPP bodyguard units clashed for 90 minutes in the streets of Phnom Penh.

The buildup of tension finally exploded with two days of fierce fighting July 5 and 6, 1997. FUNCINPEC had successfully concluded negotiations with the Khmer Rouge, but the planned announcement of their alliance was preempted. Instead, on the morning of July 5th, CPP forces surrounded and tried to enter and disarm the FUNCINPEC military headquarters outside the capital. When FUNCINPEC military officials refused, fighting ensued.

Ranariddh, who had fled the country the night before, was accused and eventually convicted in abstentia of conducting illegal negotiations with the Khmer Rouge, illegally importing weapons, and secretly moving armed forces into the city that included Khmer Rouge troops. The government proclaimed it had defeated "anarchical forces," and denied that there had been a coup. While the government’s version of events state that Ranariddh’s forces "attacked" the city, eyewitness accounts by journalists and others (including this author), recorded coordinated CPP attacks on the FUNCINPEC base, on party offices and the homes of FUNCINPEC military leaders. The fighting ended on the night of July 6th. For the next two days CPP soldiers looted the areas of the city where fighting had taken place.

A report issued by the United Nations Center for Human Rights documented the execution of some 40 FUNCINPEC officials and military personnel in the days following the coup. A subsequent report listed another 50 persons who were dead or missing (United Nations 1997).

Many FUNCINPEC and BLDP officials fled the country in the hours following the fighting. FUNCINPEC military forces in the northwest of the country, and their commanders who had survived the fighting in Phnom Penh, withdrew to the Thai border town of O’Smach. Other FUNCINPEC officials stayed and joined the group that had splintered from Rannaridh’s FUNCINPEC three months before. Ung Huot, the former FUNCINPEC Minister of Foreign Affairs was named the new Co-Prime Minister and Hun Sen declared that the government was unchanged.

The international community, however, viewed matters differently--at least initially. Cambodia was denied admission to ASEAN, and most Southeast Asian nations evacuated their nationals from the country. Bilateral aid programs were temporarily suspended. In September, the IMF and the World Bank announced the suspension of aid, and the United Nations voted to leave Cambodia’s seat empty. Tourism dropped dramatically and new investment ground to a halt as everyone waited out the upheaval.

But from an international perspective, the choices were limited. No one, it seemed, was willing to commit to funding a renewed round of warfare by backing the FUNCINPEC militarily from the Thai border. The primary goal of both Western nations and ASEAN in the year after the coup was to ensure that national elections were held on schedule in 1998. Japanese diplomatic efforts resulted in a compromise whereby Rannaridh was found guilty of "raising armed forces against the government and colluding with the Khmer Rouge," but was then immediately pardoned by his father the King--with Hun Sen’s permission. This set the stage for his return to participate in the elections in 1998.

The other fallout of the coup has been the final disintegration of the Khmer Rouge. To prove to the world that they had in fact dumped Pol Pot from the leadership, the Khmer Rouge staged a bizarre "show trial" in July 1997 to which they invited a Western reporter and his cameraman. The surreal footage of the weakened old man being shouted at by a crowd of mostly women and children was shown around the world, but no one leapt to embrace the newly "democratic" movement. After he was found guilty, not of his crimes during the Khmer Rouge regime, but of the murders of Son Sen and his family, Pol Pot was sentenced to house arrest.

During the spring of 1998, the Hun Sen government was successful in their own negotiations with Khmer Rouge commanders that again fractured the movement. Government soldiers were able to take and hold the Khmer Rouge base at Anlong Veng. The remaining Khmer Rouge hard-liners retreated towards the Thai border. It was in these mountains that Pol Pot died on April 15, apparently of heart failure. By December 1998, the two remaining central figures of the DK regime that remained at large, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea had also defected to the government. They were publicly welcomed by Hun Sen, who said that it was time to "dig a hole and bury the past." Ta Mok was arrested and is still being held in a prison in Phnom Penh awaiting possible trial on charges of genocide.

The issue of whether or not to hold a trial of some kind the surviving leaders of the DK period is still up in the air at the time of this writing (early 2002). Hun Sen rejected the United Nations appeal for an international tribunal, arguing that such a tribunal would violate Cambodia’s sovereignty as well as raise the specter of renewed civil war. Donor countries, most importantly the United States, continued to apply pressure, and after nearly two years of protracted negotiations between the government and UN legal experts, a draft law on a tribunal passed the National Assembly and was signed in to law by King Norodom Sihanouk in 2001. The tribunal proposed is a hybrid mixture of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors. Problems still remain however, the law as passed failed to address certain issues raised by the UN, including prior immunity given to Ieng Sary, and the incorporation of certain international standards aimed at ensuring fairness (for an extended discussion of the negotiation process, see Heder forthcoming and Heder 2001).

Under intense pressure, from the international community and active intervention of King Norodom Sihanouk, the elections were held in July of 1998. In the run-up to the elections there were repeated allegations of voter intimidation and political violence by CPP against the opposition parties. Such tactics were similar to those the 1993 election: forcing people to join the CPP, forcing people to take oaths that they would vote for the party, verbal threats, shooting at party signs, tearing down party materials, and in some cases physical violence. The UN Center for Human Rights investigated a dozen political murders in the weeks before the elections. The opposition parties were also restricted in their access to electronic media.

The election itself proceeded with remarkably little violence. One Khmer Rouge attack near their former stronghold at Anlong Veng resulted in ten deaths. More than 5 million voters registered, estimated to be over 90 percent of the eligible populace. Of these, some 90 percent of the registered voters turned out to vote on election day. Of the thirty-nine parties that stood in the elections, voters overwhelmingly turned to only three, Hun Sen’s CPP, FUNCINPEC and Sam Rainsy’s Party.

The CPP won 64 seats in the 122 member parliament, with 41.2 percent of the vote, FUNCINPEC won 43 seats with 31.5 percent, and the Sam Rainsy Party with 14.2 percent of the vote will have 15 seats. FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy party both claimed large-scale election irregularities, and intially refused to discuss the formation of a coalition until their allegations could be investigated. The foreign observers who monitored Cambodia’s election, however, declared that it was "fair enough to reflect the broad will of the people." The 500 foreign observers covered less than 10 percent of the polling sites, but local observers, including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL), who did cover the majority of sites, said that their observations did not confirm allegations of widespread abuses.

FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party organized public protests to demand investigations of voting irregularities. These protests were broken up with hundreds of riot police who violently dispersed the crowds. In the aftermath 18 bodies were found disposed of around the outskirts of the city. The negotiations between the parties dragged on into the fall. Since a two-thirds majority is required in the National Assembly to form a government, the formation of a new coalition was forced on the parties.

It was not until November 13 that the announcement was made of a coalition government formed between FUNCINPEC and CPP. Hun Sen was the Prime Minister, and the CPP retained control over five crucial ministries: Defense, Interior, Justice, Finance, and Foreign Affairs. Prince Ranariddh became the Chairman of the National Assembly, and CPP President Chea Sim was made the head of a new royally appointed Senate. Amnesties were given to a number of people, allowing for their return to Cambodia, including Norodom Sirivudh, Norodom Chakrapong, and a number of FUNCINPEC military officers. Norodom Sirivudh returned to Cambodia, and in 2001 became the Secretary General of FUNCINPEC.

The coalition is nearly completely dominated by Hun Sen’s CPP. For the many foreign governments concerned with the election, including the European Union, Japan, the United States, and the neighboring ASEAN countries, this outcome will be welcomed since Hun Sen is widely viewed as the only person capable of bringing stability to the country.

Cambodia joined ASEAN in April 1999, completing the dream of an "ASEAN 10." The government was reseated at the United Nations and World Bank and IMF funding were restored. Bilateral assistance was also reinstated, though donor countries remain frustrated with the slow rate of reform on certain issues including government reform and corruption. In 2001 the Cambodian Consultative Group pledged $615 million in assistance for the coming year, a figure higher than the Cambodian government had requested. US government also announced in 2001 the resumption of direct bilateral aid to the Cambodian government.

There has been a transformation in Cambodia’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. President Jiang Zemin visited in 2000, Defense Minister Chi Haotian and National People’s Congress Chairman Li Peng in 2001. China has moved from being CPP’s bitter foe to one of its closest allies, providing military and civilian aid, trade agreements and interest free loans.

Within the country there is a newfound stability since 1998. With the demise of the Khmer Rouge, there is no military activity in Cambodia for the first time in three decades, creating safe environment for travelling. It is safe to travel around the country. There has been steady economic growth in the last several years, focused primarily in textiles and tourism. There are now some 200 garment factories providing 170,000 jobs and 70 percent of the country’s $1.4 billion US in annual exports (Cambodian Development Review, October-December 2001:14). Tourism has rebounded well after dropping following the violence in 1997. Agricultural production is also up, with the 2001-2002 harvest predicted at a record four million tons (Phnom Penh Post August 31- September 13, 2001:3).

There remain however a vast array of problems including: poverty, growing landlessness in rural areas, a health system in collapse, an HIV/AIDs epidemic, and looming environmental disaster from logging and over-fishing. These issues will be addressed in the second section of this course.

End Notes

1. All together these groups constituted only some 10 percent of the prewar population. In the 1950s the population was roughly 87 percent Khmer, 8percent Vietnamese, 3 percent Chinese, and 2 percent Cham, Upland minority groups and "other". (Ebihara 1968, pp. 51-56).

2. The allegations focused on the fact that some of the metal seals on the ballot boxes had broken in transport to the counting sites. The boxes with broken seals were counted separately and showed no significant differences from the overall trends of the ballot count. Futher, the numbers of ballots effecred were too low to have altered the course of the elections. Hun Sen, in an interview in Jily 1998 again epeated the claim that the CPP had lost the 1993 election because of foul ply on the part of UNTAC. (Kyoto News Service July 26, 1998).

3. The IMF had already previously suspended aid payments because of the government's failure to collect tax revenues, particularly taxes on vast logging operations.