The establishment of the tripartite Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) in June 1982 was a significant achievement for the resistance groups, which had quarreled bitterly throughout the negotiations that led to unity. Following its founding, the CGDK became the center of the anti-Vietnamese cause, served as the country's lawful spokesman in international forums, and demonstrated a credible capacity for bringing the Cambodian conflict to a political and military stalemate. In the late 1980s, this stalemate renewed multilateral interest in a settlement of the Cambodian question.

In the aftermath of the 1978 Vietnamese invasion, many Cambodians clamored for national unity, but only a few responded to the Khmer Rouge's appeal for unity under the PDFGNUK (the political party created by the Khmer Rouge in 1979). Their reluctance to rally behind the Khmer Rouge was understandable because they envisioned a new Cambodia that was neither ruled by the Khmer Rouge nor controlled by the Vietnamese. Many Cambodians believed that an essential condition of any movement aimed at restoring national freedom should be opposition to the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese. Sihanouk and Son Sann were both uneasy about reconciliation with the Khmer Rouge. Still, Cambodian solidarity against Hanoi would be fragile at best without the participation of the Khmer Rouge, the strongest of all the resistance groups. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Then in January 1979, Sihanouk, charged by the Democratic Kampuchea leadership with presenting Cambodia's case before the United Nations, broke with his sponsors and demanded that the Khmer Rouge be expelled from the United Nations for their mass murders. And in early 1980, he deplored ASEAN's continued recognition of Democratic Kampuchea, criticized China's military aid to the Khmer Rouge, and accused Thai authorities of closing their eyes to Chinese arm shipments through Thailand to Khmer Rouge rebels. In June 1980, Sihanouk, frustrated, announced his permanent retirement from all political activities. *

Meanwhile, Son Sann, who had been indirectly in touch with Pol Pot since November 1979, announced in January 1980 that he would form an anti-Vietnamese united front with the Khmer Rouge if the group's leaders agreed to step down and to relinquish their power to his new organization. He also raised the possibility of forming his own provisional government to rival the Khmer Rouge. Cooperation with Sihanouk seemed unlikely. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] Khieu Samphan, president of the State Presidium of the defunct regime of Democratic Kampuchea, proposed that Son Sann join forces with the Khmer Rouge on a common political platform. In 1979 and in 1980, the Khmer Rouge reportedly came under pressure from China to forge a united front under Sihanouk or Son Sann. The ASEAN countries also urged the Khmer Rouge to put its blood-stained image behind it and to mend its political fences with the noncommunist resistance groups. The United Nations informed the Khmer Rouge that a new mode of behavior would be necessary if its deposed regime were to retain its seat in the organization. *

Meetings Between Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge

The united front idea got off to a slow start in 1981. In February Sihanouk, reversing his retirement from politics, indicated his willingness to lead the front if China and the Khmer Rouge supported his preconditions of Chinese military and financial assistance to all Cambodian resistance factions, not just the Khmer Rouge, and of the disarming of all resistance groups after the Vietnamese disengagement from Cambodia. The disarming was essential, he asserted, to prevent the Khmer Rouge from inaugurating a new round of terror and a new civil war. As a safeguard, Sihanouk also wanted an international peace-keeping force after the Vietnamese departure, an internationally guaranteed neutralization of Cambodia, and a trusteeship under which the country would be a ward of the United Nations for five to ten years. Furthermore, he requested that the country's official name be Cambodia instead of Democratic Kampuchea. The name change was a bid to undermine the legal status of the Pol Pot regime as de jure representative of Democratic Kampuchea because the latter designation had been that of the Khmer Rouge exclusively. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Son Sann was indifferent to Sihanouk's willingness to lead the front. Khieu Samphan, on the other hand, was conciliatory and stated that the KCP would be disbanded if necessary. He acknowledged at the same time that Democratic Kampuchea had blundered by trying to develop the country "much too fast," adding that this haste had "affected the health of people" and had cost the lives of nearly 1 million Cambodians. He also blamed Vietnam's "special warfare of genocide" for the deaths of "2.5 million" Cambodians. In addition, he claimed that a new Cambodia would not be socialist, would honor private property, and would cooperate on a "large-scale" with the West. He even said that Democratic Kampuchea was ready to join ASEAN as a member "at any time." *

Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan held their first exploratory unity talks in Pyongyang on March 10 and 11, 1981, without Son Sann, who claimed that neither of the two spoke for the Cambodian people. The talks foundered because Khieu Samphan objected to Sihanouk's demand that all resistance factions be disarmed in the future. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] Sihanouk sought to enlist the cooperation of Son Sann, especially in securing arms from China and from the United States. Sihanouk realized, however, that China would not back his 2,000- strong force unless he collaborated with the Khmer Rouge on its terms. Then in April, Sihanouk said he was willing to drop his demand for the disarmament of Khmer Rouge forces in exchange for Chinese aid to the ANS. *

Son Sann reacted cautiously to the Sihanouk-Khieu Samphan talks, distrusting collaboration with the Khmer Rouge at least until after the KPNLF's military strength matched that of the communist faction. However, he left open the possibility of future cooperation, citing a KPNLF-Khmer Rouge cease-fire accord in early 1980. Son Sann also disclosed that he had ignored Sihanouk's four attempts at tactical cooperation since 1979. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] By August 1981, unity talks seemed to have collapsed because of unacceptable preconditions advanced by the KPNLF and by the Khmer Rouge. Son Sann was adamant that Khmer Rouge leaders "most compromised" by their atrocities be exiled to China and that the proposed united front be led by the KPNLF. Meanwhile, Khieu Samphan urged his rivals not to undermine the autonomy of the Khmer Rouge or to undo the legal status of Democratic Kampuchea. *

Forming the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea

The three leaders broke their deadlock, with encouragement from ASEAN, and held their first summit in Singapore from September 2 to 4. They reached a four-point accord that included the creation of "a coalition government of Democratic Kampuchea"; the establishment of an ad hoc committee to draw up a blueprint for the coalition government; an expression of support for the resolution of the first International Conference on Kampuchea (held in New York, July 13 to July 17, 1981) as well as for other relevant UN General Assembly resolutions on Cambodia; and an appeal for international support of their common cause. They also decided not to air their internal differences publicly "during the whole period of the agreement" and not to attack one another in the battlefield. Most observers regarded the agreement as a breakthrough that would enable the Khmer Rouge regime to hold onto its seat in the United Nations and that would enhance the prospect of increased access to foreign military assistance for the KPNLF and FUNCINPEC. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

At a joint press conference on September 4, all sides sought to paper over their differences. Son Sann muted his demand for the removal of the Khmer Rouge leadership, and Khieu Samphan portrayed Democratic Kampuchea in a new, moderate light, maintaining that it would respect individual rights and private ownership of property. Sihanouk noted that the three resistance groups would maintain their separate military units, but under a joint general staff and a military council that soon would be established. *

But in a separate press interview the following day, Sihanouk provided a glimpse of those differences that persisted among the resistance leaders. He revealed his reluctance to join what he called "war-mongering" leaders, possibly alluding to Khieu Samphan or to Son Sann. Sihanouk held out little hope for a military solution to the unrest in Cambodia and emphasized that China, the Soviet Union, and the United States would have to lend assistance if the crisis were to be solved peacefully. Sihanouk also struck a prophetic note, saying that Cambodians must not only reach "an honorable compromise" with the Vietnamese, but that should also work out a comprehensive reconciliation among themselves and should include the Vietnamese-installed puppet regime in Phnom Penh. *

Between September 13 and November 14, 1981, the ad hoc committee established under the accord met nine times in Bangkok and agreed on principles of equal power sharing among the three factions, on decision making by consensus, and on use of Democratic Kampuchea's legal framework as the basis for the proposed coalition government. To no one's surprise, these principles were subject to conflicting self-serving interpretations. Sihanouk and Son Sann feared that the Khmer Rouge group would somehow exploit the coalition scheme at their expense. Their fear was well-founded in that Khieu Samphan wanted the coalition government to be an integral part of Democratic Kampuchea. In an apparent effort to offset the perceived Khmer Rouge advantage, Son Sann resurrected his demand that Khmer Rouge leaders be excluded from the coalition government and that the KPNLF be guaranteed control of a majority of key ministerial posts. The Khmer Rouge called Son Sann's demands "unreasonable." By mid-November, Son Sann had announced his dissociation from the coalition scheme. *

On November 22 and 23, Singapore intervened, with backing from Thailand and the other ASEAN countries, and proposed the formation of "a loose coalition government" in which Democratic Kampuchea would become one of three equal partners of the alliance, not the all-important constitutional anchor for the tripartite government. Sihanouk praised the Singapore formula as "a much better deal" for the noncommunist groups. The Khmer Rouge rejected the formula, asserted that the loose coalition arrangement would not have any legal status as "the Democratic Kampuchean Government," and, on December 7, criticized Sihanouk and Son Sann for attempting to "isolate and weaken" the Khmer Rouge, which was the only force both fighting and stalemating the Vietnamese. *

In February 1982, Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan met in Beijing without Son Sann to clarify several ambiguities. One notable result of the meeting was a shift in the Khmer Rouge insistence on constitutional linkage between Democratic Kampuchea and the proposed coalition government. In what was described as "another concession," Khieu Samphan elaborated the position that his side would not attempt to integrate the other resistance groups into "the Democratic Kampuchean institutions." He emphasized, however, that the others must accept and defend the "legal status" of Democratic Kampuchea as a UN member state. Sihanouk asked Son Sann to resolve his differences with Khieu Samphan and to join the coalition. By May, Son Sann had softened his anti-Khmer Rouge posture and had expressed readiness to cooperate with the others under a Thai-proposed plan that would have Sihanouk as head of state, Son Sann as prime minister, and Khieu Samphan as deputy prime minister. In talks with Khieu Samphan in mid-June, Son Sann agreed on the principle of tripartite rule. *

Structure of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in the 1980s

The three leaders finally signed an agreement on the longsought coalition on June 22, 1982, in Kuala Lumpur. Sihanouk pledged to be "a loyal partner" and to respect the accord; Son Sann praised the CGDK as "an authentic and legal government"; and Khieu Samphan voiced hope that the CGDK would last a long time, even after the eventual Vietnamese departure. The three signed the coalition agreement without identifying their organizations because Son Sann had refused to recognize Sihanouk's FUNCINPEC. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The June agreement failed to mitigate substantially suspicion of the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk and Son Sann, for instance, refused to allow CGDK headquarters to be located on Khmer Rouge-controlled territory. Within only a few days of the signing, Sihanouk proposed--at the urging of Singapore and Malaysia--that the two noncommunist groups merge in an effort to improve their standing vis-à-vis the Khmer Rouge. But Son Sann, wanting to maintain a separate identity, rejected the idea. In addition, Sihanouk had planned to announce, in Bangkok on July 12, that the agreement had been signed, but the Voice of Democratic Kampuchea--the Khmer Rouge's clandestine radio station, aired the text of the accord on July 11 and upstaged Sihanouk. Animosity between Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan grew because of the incident. *

The purpose of the CGDK, as stated in the June accord, was "to mobilize all efforts in the common struggle to liberate Kampuchea from the Vietnamese aggressors" and "to bring about the implementation of the declaration of the International Conference on Kampuchea and other relevant UN General Assembly resolutions." After the Vietnamese withdrawal, the Cambodians were to determine their own future through a general, free, and secret election under UN supervision. *

The CGDK was to function within the "legitimacy and framework of the State of Democratic Kampuchea," and its three partners were to share power equally and to make decisions by consensus. Each partner would have a certain degree of freedom and would maintain organizational and political autonomy. The autonomy would be needed should the CGDK prove unworkable, in which case the right to represent Cambodia would revert to the Khmer Rouge "in order to ensure the continuity of the state of Democratic Kampuchea" as a member of the United Nations. *

The coalition's top governing body was the "inner cabinet," formally called the Council of Ministers. The three-member inner cabinet consisted of Sihanouk as president of Democratic Kampuchea, Khieu Samphan as vice president in charge of foreign affairs, and Son Sann as prime minister. The cabinet was to meet regularly inside Cambodia--to demonstrate the viability of the CGDK--for the purposes of discussing domestic and foreign policy matters and of resolving differences within the coalition. Below the inner cabinet were six coordinating committees, each with one representative from each of the coalition's three factions. The six committees, or ministries, were in charge of economy and finance; national defense; culture and education; public health and social affairs; military affairs, and press and information affairs. *

In the late 1980s, the CGDK claimed to have held an inner cabinet session inside Cambodia at least once a year since its formation. According to unconfirmed reports, much of the time in these sessions was devoted to charges made by Sihanouk that Khmer Rouge soldiers had attacked his troops. The Khmer Rouge denied the charges, blaming "Vietnamese agents" for such incidents if, indeed, they had occurred at all. *

Khmer Rouge in the 1980s

The KCP, synonymous with the Khmer Rouge, was the largest and strongest component of the CGDK in 1987. In December 1981, however, the party had announced its dissolution, citing the incompatibility of communism with Democratic Kampuchea's anti-Vietnamese united front line. It is difficult to ascertain whether the KCP was indeed disbanded because the Khmer Rouge always were secretive. The change of name to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK) probably was a cosmetic gesture aimed at regaining international respectability following the party's imposition of a brutal regime on Cambodia from 1975 to 1978. The party's essential continuity was probable because the PDK leadership remained identical to that of its predecessor, the KCP, and the most important party leader--Pol Pot--exercised a shadowy, but powerful, influence behind the scenes in 1987 just as he had in the 1970s. Fragmentary accounts that reached the outside world hinted that, despite the name change, the party continued to treat refugees and peasants under its control with a harshness and an arbitrariness that showed little more concern for human rights than that of the former communist government of Cambodia. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

In the name of Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge issued a comprehensive conciliatory policy statement on July 6, 1985. It noted that the "Democratic Kampuchea side" expressed readiness to hold peace talks with Vietnam--but only after Vietnam's complete withdrawal from Cambodia--and indicated willingness to welcome "other Cambodians, including Heng Samrin and his group" as long as they no longer served the Vietnamese. Referring to the future of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge side hinted for the first time that it might accept exclusion from a postwar government that might include the Heng Samrin regime. The Khmer Rouge also expressed greater openness to the establishment of a new Cambodia with a parliamentary and liberal capitalist system. *

The Khmer Rouge's principal leaders, from July 1985, were Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen, in addition to Pol Pot who operated behnind the scenes. Khieu Samphan was concurrently chairman of the State Presidium, prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea, provisional chairman of the PDFGNUK, and vice president in charge of foreign affairs of the CGDK. Son Sen served as commander in chief of the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK) and, in that capacity, as the Khmer Rouge chairman on the Coordinating Committee for National Defense. Ieng Sary served as Democratic Kampuchea's deputy prime minister in charge of foreign affairs and as its chairman on the Coordinating Committee for Economy and Finance. Other key figures included Ieng Thirith (also known as Khieu Thirith, reportedly related to Khieu Sampan), wife of Ieng Sary and head of Democratic Kampuchea's Red Cross Society; Ta Mok (also known as Chhet Choeun), vice chairman and chief of the general staff of the NADK and reportedly Pol Pot's right-hand man; and Nuon Chea (also known as Long Reth)--a political hardliner loyal to Pol Pot--chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Representative Assembly of Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot, formerly prime minister, the KCP's general secretary, and commander in chief of the NADK, headed the Higher Institute for National Defense from September 1985 onward. Although reportedly in failing health and in Beijing-induced retirement in China in 1987, Pol Pot was still the power behind the scenes, according to some observers. *

Ieng Sary's status in 1987 was unclear because he had not been seen in public since August 1985. For years Ieng Sary and Pol Pot were named by their adversaries as the two figures most responsible for mass murders in Cambodia, and Hanoi and the Heng Samrin regime insisted on their exclusion from any future political accommodation with the CGDK. *

Fighting Between the KPNLF and the Khmer Rouge

From its inception in October 1979, the right-wing, proWestern , former prime minister Son Sann, noted for his integrity and for his unyielding personality, led the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF). The organization was the strongest of the country's noncommunist resistance forces. Its key figures were formerly prominent in the administrations of Sihanouk and of republican leader Lon Nol. A number of displaced Cambodians sheltered in temporary camps on Thai soil near the Thai-Cambodian border backed the KPNLF, which had originated in the anti-Khmer Rouge movement of the 1960s. It controlled about 160,000 civilians confined at "Site 2," a camp in Thailand barely a kilometer from the Cambodian border. Most of the people in the camp were toughened survivors of the Pol Pot era, and they were therefore a potential pool from which to recruit armed rebels for the KPNLF. *

In the 1984 to 1985 Vietnamese dry-season offensive, the KPNLF reportedly lost nearly a third of its 12,000 to 15,000 troops in battle and through desertions. This setback, which was blamed on Son Sann for his alleged meddling in military matters, aggravated the long-standing personality conflicts within the KPNLF. Some KPNLF members criticized Son Sann's alleged tendency toward being dictatorial and unbending, and they questioned his lukewarm attitude toward the idea of a unified military command that included Sihanouk's ANS. Criticism mounted after reports that some of the organization's field commanders were involved in the black market and in other forms of corruption. Charges of human rights violations in the KPNLF-run camps for displaced persons further fueled internal dissension. *

In December 1985, a dissident faction, wanting to limit Son Sann's role to ceremonial duties, announced the formation of a Provisional Central Committee of Salvation, which would be the new executive body of the KPNLF. The new group asserted that it had seized power from Son Sann in order to put an end to the internal problems of the KPNLF. Key members of the group included two KPNLF vice presidents: General Sak Sutsakhan, formerly Lon Nol's chief of staff; and General Dien Del, commander in chief and chief of staff of the KPNLF armed forces. Other notables were Abdul Gaffar Peangmeth and Hing Kunthon, two executive committee members whom Son Sann had dismissed earlier, and Huy Kanthoul, a former prime minister. *

Son Sann countered with the formation of a new military command committee under General Prum Vith. He said, however, that General Sak would remain as commander in chief of the Joint Military Command (that now included the ANS), which was launched in January 1986, reportedly as a concession to the dissident group. Under a compromise worked out through a third party, General Sak regained his control of the armed forces in March 1986. Son Sann, then seventy-four years old, withdrew a previous threat to resign as CGDK prime minister. By early 1987, unity in the KPNLF had been restored, and Son Sann retained his presidency, while General Sak remained in full control of the military. *

In a major reshuffle of the military high command in March, General Sak placed his deputy, Dien Del, in charge of anticorruption measures. The need for sweeping internal reform already had become a pressing issue in January 1987, when morale was so low that several hundred KPNLF soldiers defected to Sihanouk's ANS. *


Sihanouk's political organization, the National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful, Neutral, and Cooperative Cambodia (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif--FUNCINPEC), emerged in 1987 as an increasingly popular resistance group, that drew support from a broad range of Cambodians. FUNCINPEC's indispensable asset was Sihanouk himself. He maintained residences in Pyongyang, in Mougins (located in southern France), and in Beijing. His son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was Sihanouk's sole authorized spokesman and was the head of FUNCINPEC's office in Bangkok. Among his confidants were Nhek Tioulong, a former cabinet minister under Sihanouk; Buor Hel, a cousin of Sihanouk's; and Chak Saroeun, FUNCINPEC secretary general. As vice president of the organization's Executive Committee and commander in chief of the ANS, former prime minister In Tam was also a key FUNCINPEC loyalist, but he resigned in March 1985 as the result of a feud with Prince Ranariddh. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

FUNCINPEC had its share of internal problems. After In Tam's departure, Ranariddh, to the dismay of In Tam's supporters, became the ANS's temporary commander in chief. In January 1986, Sihanouk reshuffled the ANS high command, formally appointing his son commander in chief and, in addition, ANS chief of staff. Sihanouk also dismissed General Teap Ben, who had been chief of staff since 1981, for alleged embezzlement of refugee funds and for disloyalty; Tean Ben was relegated to the nominal post of deputy commander in chief of the Joint Military Command. In May 1986, Sihanouk, citing Ranariddh's heavy workload, was reported to be considering the appointment of General Toal Chay as the new ANS chief of staff. At the end of 1987, however, Sihanouk's son continued to hold the two key military posts. *

Cambodia Tries to Find Its Way in the Early 1980s with ASEAN Help

Since 1979 the ASEAN countries have played a significant role on behalf of the Cambodian resistance factions. Individually and collectively, through the annual conferences of their foreign ministers, these countries consistently have stressed the importance of Vietnam's withdrawal as a precondition for a comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodian question. They have rejected all moves by Hanoi and Phnom Penh that were aimed at legitimizing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the Heng Samrin regime. Together with China, they also were architects of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] Phnom Penh's principal foreign policy spokesman has been Vietnam, and its major diplomatic moves have been coordinated by and proclaimed by the annual conference of foreign ministers of the three Indochinese states meeting consecutively in Hanoi (or Ho Chi Minh City), in Phnom Penh, and in Vientiane. Hanoi's position on Cambodia has been that the "so-called Kampuchean problem is but the consequence of Chinese expansionism and hegemonism," that Vietnam's military presence in Cambodia was defensive because it was meeting the Chinese threat to Cambodia and to Vietnam, and that Hanoi would withdraw from Cambodia when the Chinese threat no longer existed. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Thailand's stance on the Cambodian issue has been of particular concern to Phnom Penh and to Hanoi. ASEAN initially maintained the position that Thailand was not a party to the Cambodian conflict but an "affected bystander" entitled to adopt a policy of neutrality. Hanoi and Phnom Penh denounced that posture as "sham neutrality" and accused Thailand of colluding with China; they alleged that Thailand allowed shipment of Chinese arms through its territory to the "remnants of [the] Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique," which was operating inside the Thai border. They also claimed that Bangkok sheltered and armed Pol Pot's guerrillas and other Cambodian "reactionaries." *

Nevertheless, the Heng Samrin regime made friendly overtures to Bangkok. In June 1980, for example, it proposed a meeting to discuss resuming "normal relations" and turning their common border into "a border of friendship and peace." The Heng Samrin regime stated that its primary concern was the elimination of "all hostile acts" between the two countries and that it was willing to forget the past and "all the provocations launched by Thailand against Cambodia." Thailand replied that talks with the Heng Samrin regime would solve nothing. Besides, Thai officials said, such talks would lend an inappropriate appearance of recognition to the Phnom Penh regime. They also stressed that Vietnam had to withdraw from Cambodia before constructive talks could take place. *

In July 1980, the three Indochinese states proposed the signing of multilateral or bilateral treaties of peaceful coexistence, nonaggression, and noninterference among themselves and Thailand. They added that the treaties should also be signed by "other Southeast Asian countries." The proposal also called for the creation of a Southeast Asian zone of peace and stability and for a demilitarized border zone between Cambodia and Thailand. Bangkok, however, viewed the proposal as an attempt to divert international attention from the fundamental question of Vietnamese occupation and as a gambit to get indirect or "back-door" recognition for the Heng Samrin regime. *

The Indochinese states sought to open a dialogue with the ASEAN countries in 1981 by proposing a regional conference, which was to be attended also by observers such as the UN secretary general and by representatives from several countries. The proposal was Hanoi's way of internationalizing the Cambodian issue: Vietnam would be able to link its role in Cambodia to the roles of Thailand and of China in aiding the anti-Vietnamese resistance groups. To highlight the linkage, Hanoi made two suggestions: first, the regional conference could address "the Cambodian question" if the Thai and Chinese connections also were discussed; and second, Vietnam would immediately withdraw some of its troops if and when Thailand stopped aiding the resistance groups and if the UN withdrew its recognition of Democratic Kampuchea. *

In July 1982, Hanoi, aware that no one was taking it seriously, departed from its previous position. It announced that it had gone ahead with a partial withdrawal and now demanded only that Thailand promise to stop aiding Khmer insurgents. At that time, the Indochinese foreign ministers revealed that "in the immediate future," the PRK would not plan to reclaim the Cambodian seat at the United Nations if the Pol Pot clique were expelled from that organization. The Thai government dismissed Hanoi's statement as a rhetorical concession designed only to mislead the world and characterized the partial withdrawal as nothing more than a disguised troop rotation. *

At the first Indochinese summit held on February 22 and February 23, 1983, in Vientiane, the participants declared that all Vietnamese "volunteers" would be withdrawn when external threats to Cambodia no longer existed, but that Hanoi, would reassess its option to return to Cambodia if a new threat emerged after it had withdrawn from the country. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] Hanoi contended that its partial withdrawal was a positive first step toward eventual restoration of peace in Cambodia, but some observers felt that the real reason for the withdrawal was Hanoi's realization that a deadlock over the Cambodian issue would create too much of a drain on its limited resources. Another likely reason for the withdrawal was the growing Cambodian irritation with the movement of Vietnamese nationals into Cambodia's fertile lands around the Tonle Sap. This population migration was a potential source of renewed ethnic conflict. *

In July 1983, the Indochinese foreign ministers denied "the slanderous allegation of China, the United States, and a number of reactionary circles within the ASEAN countries" that Vietnam was aiding and abetting Vietnamese emigration to Cambodia. (Khmer Rouge sources claimed that as of 1987, between 600,000 and 700,000 Vietnamese immigrants were in Cambodia; the Heng Samrin regime put the number at about 60,000.) *

In September 1983, ASEAN foreign ministers issued a joint "Appeal for Kampuchean Independence," proposing a phased Vietnamese withdrawal, coupled with an international peacekeeping force and with assistance in rebuilding areas vacated by the Vietnamese. Hanoi rejected the appeal, however, seeking instead a position of strength from which it could dictate terms for a settlement. Vietnam launched a major dry-season offensive in 1984 in an attempt to crush all resistance forces permanently. The offensive destroyed most, if not all, resistance bases. *

In January 1985, the Indochinese foreign ministers claimed that the Cambodian situation was unfolding to their advantage and that the Cambodian question would be settled in five to ten years with or without negotiations. At that time, PRK Prime Minister Hun Sen revealed Phnom Penh's readiness to hold peace talks with Sihanouk and with Son Sann, but only if they agreed to dissociate themselves from Pol Pot. On March 12, Hun Sen proposed a dialogue with rival factions under a six-point plan. The proposal called for the removal of the Pol Pot clique from all political and military activities; for a complete Vietnamese withdrawal; for national reconciliation and for free elections under UN supervision; for peaceful coexistence in Southeast Asia; for cessation of external interference in Cambodian affairs; and for the establishment of an international supervisory and control commission to oversee the implementation of agreements. Shortly afterward, Hanoi stressed that the question of foreign military bases in Cambodia was an issue that could be negotiated only between Vietnam and Cambodia. Hanoi also signaled that the Khmer Rouge regime could participate in the process of Cambodian self-determination only if it disarmed itself and broke away from the Pol Pot clique. *

"Proximity Talks"

The conciliatory gestures of Hanoi and of Phnom Penh were part of a spate of proposals and counterproposals made in 1985. On April 9, Malaysia suggested "proximity," or indirect, talks between the CGDK and the Heng Samrin regime. Vietnam, the PRK, and the Soviet Union reacted favorably. Sihanouk voiced "personal" support for indirect negotiations. He was, however, uncertain whether his CGDK partners and unnamed foreign powers would go along with the Malaysian proposal because such talks, indirect as they might be, not only would imply de facto recognition of the Phnom Penh regime but also would obscure the question of Vietnamese occupation. ASEAN's deputy foreign ministers met in Bangkok in May, nevertheless; they endorsed the Malaysian plan and referred the matter to CGDK's representatives in Bangkok. At the time of the ASEAN meeting, Sihanouk released a memorandum that called for unconditional peace talks among all Cambodian factions and for the formation of a reconciliation government comprising both the CGDK and the Heng Samrin regime. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

During the ensuing diplomatic exchanges, the Malaysian plan was discarded. The ASEAN foreign ministers, who met in Kuala Lumpur from July 8 to July 9, 1985, adopted a Thai compromise proposal that called for "a form of indirect or proximity talks" between the CGDK and Vietnam. The proposal noted that the Heng Samrin regime could attend the talks only as part of the Vietnamese delegation. The CGDK, China, and the United States backed the Thai proposal, but Phnom Penh and Hanoi rejected it as a scheme to restore the Pol Pot faction to power. *

In yet another attempt to break the Cambodian impasse, Indonesia offered in November 1985 to host an informal "cocktail party" for all warring Cambodian factions. (At that time Indonesia served as ASEAN's official "interlocutor" with Vietnam.) Indonesia apparently had concluded that such an informal gathering was timely in view of two recent developments: the Khmer Rouge announcement in July that it would acquiesce, if necessary, to being excluded from a future Cambodian coalition government; and Hanoi's disclosure in August that it would complete its withdrawal from Cambodia by 1990 (five years sooner than had been indicated in its April 1985 announcement), even in the absence of a political settlement on the Cambodian issue at that time. Another notable development was the Khmer Rouge disclosure in September that Pol Pot had stepped down from his post as commander in chief of the armed forces to take up a lesser military post. On December 30, Khieu Samphan stated that Pol Pot's political-military role would cease permanently upon Hanoi's consenting to complete its withdrawal by the end of 1990. Hanoi, in an apparent departure from its previous stand, pledged that its pullout would be completed as soon as the Khmer Rouge forces disarmed. *

In 1986 the Cambodian stalemate continued amid further recriminations and new conciliatory gestures. On March 17, the CGDK issued an eight-point peace plan that included the Heng Samrin regime in a projected four-party Cambodian government. The plan called for a two-phase Vietnamese withdrawal; for a cease-fire to allow an orderly withdrawal--both the cease-fire and the withdrawal to be supervised by a UN observer group, for the initiation of negotiations, following the first phase of the withdrawal, and for the formation of an interim four-party coalition government with Sihanouk as president and Son Sann as prime minister. According to the plan, the coalition government would then hold free elections under UN supervision to set up a liberal, democratic, and nonaligned Cambodia, the neutrality of which would be guaranteed by the UN for the first two or three years. The new Cambodia would welcome aid from all countries for economic reconstruction and would sign a nonaggression and peaceful coexistence treaty with Vietnam. Hanoi and Phnom Penh denounced the plan and labeled it as a vain attempt by China to counter the PRK's "rapid advance." Sihanouk shared some of the misgivings about the plan, fearing that, without sufficient safeguards, the Khmer Rouge would dominate the quadripartite government that emerged. Perhaps to allay such misgivings, China signaled the possibility of ending its aid to the Khmer Rouge if Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. *

In late October 1986, Hanoi, through an Austrian intermediary, suggested two-stage peace negotiations to Sihanouk. In the first stage, there were to be preliminary talks in Vienna among all Cambodian parties, including the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot, however, was to be excluded). The second phase was to be an international conference that included the contending Cambodian factions, as well as Vietnam, and other interested countries. Sihanouk responded with a counterproposal that called for his meeting with a top-level Vietnamese leader. This meeting was to be followed by an all- Cambodian session and then by an international conference. According to unconfirmed reports, Pol Pot, now gravely ill, had been transferred to Beijing shortly after Hanoi's offer to Sihanouk. If these reports were true, Pol Pot's role within the Khmer Rouge camp may have ended with his illness. *

Sihanouk Steps Up His Maneuvering

In 1987 Sihanouk engaged in considerable maneuvering as he sought to restore some momentum to the search for a negotiated solution to the situation in Cambodia. Adopting the tactic of temporary abdication of responsibility that he had employed before in his long political career, he began a one-year leave of absence from his duties as president of the CGDK in May 1987. Sihanouk cited several reasons for his decision. The first was his displeasure with continued Khmer Rouge attacks on his troops and the human rights violations by the Khmer Rouge and by the KPNLF against displaced persons in refugee camps controlled by these groups. The second reason was the alleged "duplicity" of unnamed foreign governments, which, Sihanouk said, were exploiting Cambodia as a pawn in their power struggle. He also claimed that an unidentified foreign sponsor-- probably an allusion to China--was deliberately holding back "the rebirth of Sihanoukism" for the benefit of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, Sihanouk added that he was leaving to explore the prospect of reconciliation with leaders of Hanoi and Phnom Penh. Sihanouk's temporary dissociation from the CGDK, some observers believed, would free him from the burden of consulting with Son Sann and Khieu Samphan. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

A new phase in the Cambodian peace strategies began in 1987. At the beginning of the year Hanoi renewed its October bid to Sihanouk. Hanoi appeared eager to seek a way out of the Cambodian imbroglio, but continued to argue that Vietnam had "security interests" in Cambodia and that China was the main threat to Southeast Asia. It also was evident that Hanoi was attempting to split ASEAN's consensus on Cambodia by claiming that Indonesia and Malaysia had a correct view of the Chinese threat while rejecting the view of Thailand and Singapore that Vietnam was ASEAN's principal nemesis in the region. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987] In addition, as Soviet interest in Cambodia grew, there was speculation among observers that Moscow might involve itself in the quest for a negotiated settlement. A visit to Phnom Penh in March 1987 by Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze signaled a departure from Moscow's long-standing position that it was only "a third party" to the Cambodian conflict. It also constituted tacit acknowledgment that the Soviet Union had been supporting--at least indirectly--Vietnam's presence in Cambodia through economic and military aid, which totaled the equivalent of US$2 billion per year. *

The Heng Samrin regime became more assertive in articulating its policy options than it had been before. It became known in early April that Hun Sen had sent word to Sihanouk suggesting a meeting in Canberra, or Paris, or Stockholm at the prince's convenience. (It was Hun Sen's second effort to initiate such a dialogue. In 1984 he had proposed a similar meeting, but Sihanouk had declined because of objections by China and by his CGDK partners.) *

Sihanouk's one-year leave of absence from the CGDK, effective May 7, 1987, was a good sign for Cambodia because he could now freely explore possibilities for a settlement without squabbling with his coalition partners. On June 23, Sihanouk agreed to see Hun Sen in Pyongyang, but two days later, hours after Chinese acting premier Wan Li had met with Sihanouk's wife, Princess Monique, Sihanouk abruptly canceled the meeting. China apparently objected to any negotiations as long as Vietnam kept troops in Cambodia. Sihanouk said in July that he preferred to talk first with a Vietnamese leader because the Cambodian conflict was between the Khmer and the Vietnamese and not among the Cambodian factions. He said that he would not mind meeting with Hun Sen, however, as long as the initiative for such a meeting came from Hun Sen or his regime and not from Hanoi. *

Events occurred rapidly in the summer of 1987. In June UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar issued a compromise plan that called for a phased Vietnamese withdrawal; for national reconciliation leading to the formation of a new coalition government with Sihanouk as president; for a complete Vietnamese pullout and for free elections; and for special provisions to deal with the armed Cambodian factions. On July 1, while ostensibly on vacation in the Soviet Union, Hun Sen had talks with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The two agreed that "the realities which prevail in the region" must not be ignored in any plan for Cambodian settlement. On July 25, the Khmer Rouge faction publicly disavowed any intention to return to power at the expense of other factions and stated that to do so would jeopardize its national union policy and would alienate "friends in the world." *

Hanoi, meanwhile, continued to put off discussions about its presence in Cambodia, thereby forcing the resistance to deal directly with the Heng Samrin regime. Between July 27 and July 29, Vietnam's foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach, conferred with his Indonesian counterpart in Ho Chi Minh City and called for "an informal meeting" or cocktail party of all Cambodian factions without any preconditions. The cocktail party, to be held in Jakarta, was to be followed by a conference of all concerned countries, including Vietnam. On July 30, Heng Samrin journeyed to Moscow to consult with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Then in an interview published in the Italian Communist Party daily L'Unita on August 12, Hun Sen sought to exonerate the Soviet Union from blame for Cambodia's plight and instead blamed China for the country's difficulties. Referring to the proposed meeting with Sihanouk, Hun Sen insinuated that Sihanouk had "bosses" who would not let him engage freely in a dialogue. On August 13, the Indochinese governments endorsed "the Ho Chi Minh formula" (Hanoi's term for Indonesia's original cocktail party idea) as a significant "breakthrough" toward a peaceful settlement in Cambodia. *

The ASEAN foreign ministers met informally on August 16 to discuss the cocktail party idea, and they forged a compromise that papered over some of the differences among the six member states concerning the Cambodia situation. Even this attempt to achieve unanimity proved fruitless, however, as Hanoi rejected the ASEAN suggestion. *

Sihanouk-Hun Sen Meeting

Hun Sen's April 1987 proposal for a talk with Sihanouk was resurrected in August when the prince sent a message to Hun Sen through the Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador in Pyongyang. Sihanouk was hopeful that his encounter with Hun Sen would lead to another UN-sponsored Geneva conference on Indochina, which, he believed, would assure a political settlement that would allow Vietnam and the Soviet Union to save face. Such a conference, Sihanouk maintained, should include the UN secretary general, representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Laos, Vietnam, and the four Cambodian factions. He also suggested the inclusion of ASEAN countries, members of the defunct International Control Commission (India, Canada, and Poland), and other concerned parties. *

The Heng Samrin regime had apparently envisioned a meeting between Sihanouk and Hun Sen when it announced on August 27 a "policy on national reconciliation." While artfully avoiding the mention of Vietnam, the policy statement called for talks with the three resistance leaders but not with "Pol Pot and his close associates." An appeal to overseas Cambodians to support Phnom Penh's economic and national defense efforts and assurances that Cambodians who had served the insurgent factions would be welcomed home and would be assisted in resuming a normal life and in participating in the political process were key features of the policy. The regime also expressed for the first time its readiness to negotiate the issue of Cambodian refugees in Thailand. The offer to negotiate undercut the resistance factions, which, Phnom Penh contended, were exploiting displaced Cambodians by using them against the Heng Samrin regime for military and political purposes. *

Resistance leaders questioned Phnom Penh's sincerity in promulgating its policy of reconciliation and were uncertain how to respond. At their annual consultation in Beijing, they and their Chinese hosts predictably called for a Vietnamese pullout as a precondition to a negotiated settlement. Sihanouk, however, launching a gambit of his own through Cambodian emigres in Paris, called for reconciliation émigrés among all Khmer factions. The initiative met with a favorable, but qualified, response from PRK Prime Minister Hun Sen and, in early October, the Phnom Penh government unveiled its own five-point plan for a political settlement. The PRK proposals envisioned peace talks between the rival Cambodian camps and "a high position [for Sihanouk] in the leading state organ" of the PRK, Vietnamese withdrawal in conjunction with the cutoff of outside aid to the resistance, general elections (organized by the Heng Samrin regime) held after the Vietnamese withdrawal, and the formation of a new four-party coalition. The October 8 plan also proposed negotiations with Thailand for the creation of a zone of peace and friendship along the Cambodian-Thai border, for discussions on an "orderly repatriation" of Cambodian refugees from Thailand, and for the convening of an international conference. The conference was to be attended by the rival Cambodian camps, the Indochinese states, the ASEAN states, the Soviet Union, China, India, France, Britain, the United States, and other interested countries. The CGDK, however, rejected the plan as an attempt to control the dynamics of national reconciliation while Cambodia was still occupied by Vietnam. *

Sihanouk and the PRK continued their exploratory moves. On October 19, Hun Sen agreed to meet with Sihanouk, even though Sihanouk had cancelled similar meetings scheduled for late 1984 and for June 1987. At the end of October, Hun Sen flew to Moscow for diplomatic coordination. The CGDK announced on October 31 that a "clarification on national reconciliation policy" had been signed by all three resistance leaders. It was likely that the two main goals of the clarification, which was dated October 1, were to restate the CGDK's position on peace talks and to underline the unity among the resistance leaders. The statement said that "the first phase" of Vietnamese withdrawal must be completed before a four-party coalition government could be set up, not within the framework of the PRK but under the premises of a "neutral and noncommunist" Cambodia. *

Sihanouk was clearly in the spotlight at this point. It was possible that his personal diplomacy would stir suspicion among his coalition partners, as well as among Chinese and ASEAN leaders. It was also possible that he might strike a deal with Phnom Penh and Hanoi and exclude the Khmer Rouge faction and its patron, China. Mindful of such potential misgivings, Sihanouk went to great lengths to clarify his own stand. He said that he would not accept any "high position" in the illegal PRK regime, that he would disclose fully the minutes of his talks with Hun Sen, and that he would not waver from his commitment to a "neutral and noncommunist" Cambodia free of Vietnamese troops. *

Sihanouk and Hun Sen met at Fère-en-Tardenois, a village northeast of Paris, from December 2 to December 4, 1987. The communiqué they issued at the end of their talks mentioned their agreement to work for a political solution to the nine-year-old conflict and to call for an international conference. The conference, to be convened only after all Cambodian factions reached an agreement on a coalition arrangement, would support the new coalition accord and would guarantee the country's independence, neutrality, and nonalignment. The two leaders also agreed to meet again at Fère-en-Tardenois in January 1988 and in Pyongyang at a later date. The communiqué ended with a plea to the other Cambodian parties--Sihanouk's coalition partners--to join the next rounds of talks. *

The communiqué offered no practical solution. In fact, it did not mention Vietnam, despite Sihanouk's demand that the communiqué include a clause on Vietnamese withdrawal. At a December 4 press conference, Hun Sen disclosed an understanding with Sihanouk that "concrete questions" would be discussed at later meetings. Included in the concrete questions were "the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, Cambodia's future government, and Norodom Sihanouk's position." Hun Sen also revealed that during the meeting Sihanouk had told him that "the future political regime of Cambodia" should be a French-style democracy with a multiparty system and free radio and television. In an official commentary the following day, Hanoi was deliberately vague on Hun Sen's concrete questions, which, it said, would be dealt with "at the next meetings." *

In foreign capitals, there were mixed reactions to what Hun Sen called the "historic meeting." Officials in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Vientiane, and Moscow were enthusiastic. Thai officials, however, were cautious, if not disappointed, and they stressed the need for Vietnamese withdrawal and for Thailand's participation in peace talks with the Cambodians. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta both welcomed the unofficial, or indirect, talks as a promising start toward a political solution. They agreed with Bangkok on the necessity of Vietnamese withdrawal. Officials in Pyongyang said the meeting was "a good thing," but declined to accept the suggestion of Hun Sen and Sihanouk that they mediate between China and the Soviet Union on the Cambodian issue. China stressed that it supported Sihanouk's efforts to seek "a fair and reasonable political settlement of the Kampuchean question." Such a settlement was said to be possible only when Vietnam withdrew all its troops from Cambodia. *

On December 10, Sihanouk abruptly announced the cancellation of the second meeting with Hun Sen. He said that such a meeting would be useless because Son Sann and Khieu Samphan refused to participate in it and because they also refused to support the joint communiqué. He added that--out of fear that the governments in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Moscow might realize an unwarranted propaganda advantage from the meeting--he would not meet Hun Sen. But on December 15, Sihanouk announced abruptly that he would resume talks with Hun Sen because ASEAN members saw the cancellation as "a new complication" in their efforts to pressure the Vietnamese into leaving Cambodia. By December 20, Sihanouk and Hun Sen had agreed to resume talks on January 27, 1988. On December 21, Son Sann expressed his readiness to join the talks in a personal capacity, provided that Vietnam agreed to attend the talks or, if this was not possible, provided that Vietnam informed the UN secretary general and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of its plan to vacate Cambodia as quickly as possible after all Cambodian factions had embarked on the process of internal reconciliation. *

As 1987 drew to a close, talking and fighting continued amid hopes and uncertainties about the future of Cambodia. It was equally clear that progress toward a political settlement hinged chiefly on the credibility of Vietnam's announced intention to withdraw from Cambodia by 1990 and that this withdrawal alone was insufficient to guarantee a peaceful solution to Cambodia's problems. At least three more critical issues were at stake: an equitable power-sharing arrangement among these four warring factions, an agreement among the factions to disarm in order to ensure that civil war would not recur, and an effective international guarantee of supervision for the implementation of any agreements reached by the Cambodian factions. Still another critical question was whether or not an eventual political settlement was sufficient to assure a new Cambodia that was neutral, nonaligned, and noncommunist.

Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP)

In late 1987, the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) continued to be the ruling Marxist- Leninist party of the PRK. It is an offshoot of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), which played a dominant role in Cambodian resistance against the French and the Japanese. Some leaders of the anticolonial Cambodian resistance, or Khmer Issarak, had been members of the ICP, and they had helped found the KPRP in 1951. The party was formed after the decision by the ICP's Second Party Congress in February 1951 to dissolve itself and to establish three independent parties for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. On September 30, 1960, the KPRP party was renamed the Workers' Party of Kampuchea (WPK). Pol Pot emerged as the key figure. In 1966 shortly after Pol Pot returned from talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing, the party's name was changed to the KCP. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The communist party in Cambodia has a history of bitter factional feuds. After the Second Party Congress in 1960 and the disappearance of party General Secretary Tou Samouth in 1962, the party split into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions. The dominant faction, led by Pol Pot, adopted a position that was pro-Chinese and anti-Soviet. In January 1979, the split became irreversible as the pro-Vietnamese/pro-Soviet faction under Pen Sovan replaced the Pol Pot faction as the de facto ruler in Phnom Penh. The rival factions even disagreed on the founding date of the communist party in Cambodia: the Pol Pot faction, under Khieu Samphan, in late 1987, claimed September 30, 1960; however, the other group, the mainstream KPRP under Heng Samrin, continued to honor 1951 as the founding year. *

The Heng Samrin faction held the Third Party Congress of what would later become the KPRP between January 5 and 8, 1979. Heng Samrin's faction claimed that it alone was the legitimate descendant of the communist party founded in 1951. Very little is known about the Third Party Congress (also known as the Congress for Party Reconstruction) except that Pen Sovan was elected first secretary of the Central Committee and that the party then had between sixty-two and sixty-six regular members. *

Some key figures in the Pen Sovan leadership were former collaborators with Pol Pot, but this information, and the communist ideological convictions of the new leadership were not publicized because the leadership feared backlash from people who had been brutalized by the Pol Pot regime. Such concern was implicit in Pen Sovan's political report to the Fourth Party Congress held from May 26 to May 29, 1981. In the report, he was careful to distance the KPRP from Pol Pot's KCP, and he denounced the KCP as a traitor to the party and to the nation. *

The KPRP decided at the Fourth Party Congress to operate "openly." This move seemed to reflect the leadership's growing confidence in its ability to stay in power. The move may have had a practical dimension as well because it involved the people more actively in the regime's effort to build the country's political and administrative infrastructure. The Fourth Party Congress reviewed Pen Sovan's political report and defined the party's strategy for the next several years. The Congress adopted five "basic principles of the party line," which were to uphold the banners of patriotism and of international proletarian solidarity; to defend the country (the primary and sacred task of all people); to restore and to develop the economy and the culture in the course of gradual transition toward socialism; to strengthen military solidarity with Vietnam, Laos, the Soviet Union, and other socialist nations; and to develop "a firm Marxist-Leninist party." At the Congress it was decided that henceforth the party would be known as the KPRP, in order to distinguish it from "the reactionary Pol Pot party and to underline and reassert the community of the party's best traditions." The Fourth Party Congress also proclaimed its resolve to stamp out the "reactionary ultra-nationalist doctrine of Pol Pot," to emphasize a centralized government and collective leadership, and to reject personality cults. The "ultra-nationalist doctrine" issue was an allusion to Pol Pot's racist, anti-Vietnamese stance. The Congress, attended by 162 delegates, elected twenty-one members of the party Central Committee, who in turn elected Pen Sovan as general secretary and the seven members of the party inner circle to the Political Bureau. It also adopted a new statute for the party, but did not release the text. *

According to Michael Vickery, veterans of the independence struggle of the 1946 to 1954 period dominated the party Central Committee. A majority of the Central Committee members had spent all or part of the years 1954 to 1970 in exile in Vietnam or in the performance of "duties abroad." The KPRP's pro-Vietnamese position did not change when Heng Samrin suddenly replaced Pen Sovan as party leader on December 4, 1981. Pen Sovan, who was reportedly flown to Hanoi under Vietnamese guard, was "permitted to take a long rest," but observers believed that he was purged for not being sufficiently pro-Vietnamese. In any case, the new general secretary won Hanoi's endorsement by acknowledging Vietnam's role as senior partner in the Cambodian- Vietnamese relationship. The party recognized the change in leadership symbolically by changing the official founding date of the KPRP from February 19, 1951, to June 28, 1951, in deference to the Vietnam Workers' Party (Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), which was established in March 1951. *

In mid-1981, the KPRP was essentially a skeletal organization. It had few party branches except for those in Phnom Penh, in Kampong Saom, and in the eighteen provincial capitals. Party membership was estimated at between 600 and 1,000, a considerable increase over 1979 but still only a fraction of the number of cadres needed to run the party and the government. In 1981 several of the 18 provinces had only 1 party member each, and Kampong Cham, the largest province with a population of more than 1 million, had only 30 regular members, according to Cambodia specialist Ben Kiernan. *

The party held its Fifth Party Congress from October 13 to October 16, 1985, to reflect on the previous five years and to chart a new course for the next several years. The party's membership had increased to 7,500 regulars (4,000 new members joined in 1985 alone). The party had an additional pool of 37,000 "core" members from which it could recruit tested party regulars. There were only 4,000 core members in mid-1981. According to General Secretary Heng Samrin's political report, the KPRP had twenty-two regional committees and an undisclosed number of branches, circles, and cells in government agencies, armed forces units, internal security organs, mass organizations, enterprises, factories, and farms. The report expressed satisfaction with party reconstruction since 1981, especially with the removal of the "danger of authoritarianism" and the restoration of the principles of democratic centralism and of collective leadership. It pointed out "some weaknesses" that had to be overcome, however. For example, the party was "still too thin and weak" at the district and the grass-roots levels. Ideological work lagged and lacked depth and consistency; party policies were implemented very slowly, if at all, with few, if any, timely steps to rectify failings; and party cadres, because of their propensities for narrow-mindedness, arrogance, and bureaucratism, were unable to win popular trust and support. Another major problem was the serious shortage of political cadres (for party chapters), economic and managerial cadres, and technical cadres. Still another problem that had to be addressed "in the years to come" was the lack of a documented history of the KPRP. Heng Samrin's political report stressed the importance of party history for understanding "the good traditions of the party." *

The report to the Fifth Congress noted that Heng Samrin's administration, in coordination with "Vietnamese volunteers," had destroyed "all types" of resistance guerrilla bases. The report also struck a sobering note: the economy remained backward and unbalanced, with its material and technical bases still below pre- war levels, and the country's industries were languishing from lack of fuel, spare parts, and raw materials. Transition toward socialism, the report warned, would take "dozens of years." *

To hasten the transition to socialism, the Fifth Congress unveiled the PRK's First Plan, covering the years 1986 to 1990. The program included the addition of the "private economy" to the three sectors of the economy mentioned in the Constitution (the state sector, collective sector, and the family sector). Including the private economy was necessary because of the "very heavy and very complex task" that lay ahead in order to transform the "nonsocialist components" of the economy to an advanced stage. According to the political report submitted to the congress, mass mobilization of the population was considered crucial to the successful outcome of the First Plan. The report also noted the need to cultivate "new socialist men" if Cambodia were to succeed in its nation-building. These men were supposed to be loyal to the fatherland and to socialism; to respect manual labor, production, public property, and discipline; and to possess "scientific knowledge." *

Heng Samrin's political report also focused on foreign affairs. He recommended that Phnom Penh strengthen its policy of alliance with Vietnam, Laos, the Soviet Union, and other socialist countries. He stressed--as Pen Sovan had in May 1981--that such an alliance was, in effect, "a law" that guaranteed the success of the Cambodian revolution. At the same time, he urged the congress and the Cambodian people to spurn "narrow-minded chauvinism, every opportunistic tendency, and every act and attitude infringing on the friendship" between Cambodia and its Indochinese neighbors. (He was apparently alluding to the continued Cambodian sensitivity to the presence of Vietnamese troops and of about 60,000 Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia. CGDK sources maintained that there were really about 700,000 Vietnamese settlers in the country.) *

The KPRP's three objectives for the period 1986 to 1990 were to demonstrate military superiority "along the border and inside the country" for complete elimination of all anti-PRK activities; to develop political, military, and economic capabilities; and to strengthen special relations with Vietnam as well as mutual cooperation with other fraternal countries. Before Heng Samrin's closing address on October 16, the 250 party delegates to the congress elected a new Central Committee of 45 members (31 full members and 14 alternates). The Central Committee in turn elected Heng Samrin as general secretary, a new Political Bureau (nine full members and two alternates), a five-member Secretariat, and seven members of the Central Committee Control Commission. After the Fifth Congress, the party's organizational work was intensified substantially. The KPRP claimed that by the end of 1986 it had more than 10,000 regular members and 40,000 candidate members who were being groomed for regular status. *


The ruling KPRP grew slowly in membership over the years and was supported by a mass organization from which it drew its applicants and support. This organization, known as the KNUFNS, had been formed in late 1978 with Vietnamese backing, as a common front against the Pol Pot regime in Phnom Penh. The organization underwent various name changes, emerging eventually in late 1981 as the Kampuchean (or Khmer) United Front for National Construction and Defense (KUFNCD). In the meantime, its role in the political life of the nation had been officially established in the Constitution, which states in Article 3 that "The Kampuchean Front for National Construction and the revolutionary mass organizations constitute a solid support base of the state, encouraging the people to fulfill their revolutionary tasks." [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The KUFNCD's specific missions were to transmit party policies to the masses, to act as an ombudsman, and to mobilize the people around the regime's efforts to consolidate the so-called "workerpeasant alliance." The front's cadres were required to stay in close touch with the people, to report their needs and problems to authorities, and to conduct mass campaigns to generate support for the regime, or to lead "emulation" drives to spur the population to greater efforts in pursuit of specific goals. The cadres were also responsible for organizing networks of KUFNCD activists in villages and in communes and for coordinating their functions with cadres of various mass organizations. *

The KUFNCD also was responsible for conducting "activities of friendship," which were aimed at improving the climate for close cooperation with "the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese army and experts." Another major function of the front was to reeducate Buddhist monks so that they would "discard the narrow-minded views of dividing themselves into groups and factions" and would participate more actively in the revolutionary endeavors of the KUFNCD. *

Among the more important mass organizations affiliated with the KUFNCD were the Kampuchean Federation of Trade Unions (KFTU--62,000 members in December 1983), officially described as "the training school of the working class for economic and administrative management"; and the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Youth Union (KPRYU), an important reservoir of candidate members for the KPRP and "a school of Marxism" for people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-six. As of March 1987, when the Youth Union held its Second National Congress, there were more than 50,000 members in villages, factories, enterprises, hospitals, schools, public offices, and the armed forces. Other mass organizations included the Kampuchean Revolutionary Youth Association (KRYA), an 800,000- member group for children (aged 9 to 16); the Kampuchean Young Pioneers Organization (KYPO), a 450,000-member group for preschoolers under the general guidance of the KPRYU and the KRYA; and the Kampuchean Revolutionary Women's Association (KRWA), which claimed 923,000 members as of October 1983. All these organizations held rallies to arouse public awareness on national commemorative occasions such as the Kampuchea-Vietnam Solidarity Day on February 18, the Day of Hatred ("against the genocidal Pol Pot-Ieng SaryKhieu Samphan clique and the Sihanouk-Son Sann reactionary groups") observed on May 20, and the day of solidarity between the people and the army on June 19. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia,, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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