Thursday, April 01, 2010

1970 - 1979 Highlights 60 years of diplomatic relations

1970: Prince Sihanouk ousted and Lon No1 takes over; Cambodia begins fighting the communists with U.S. support
1973: U.S. Congress ends military assistance to Cambodia 1975: The Khmer Rouge takes Phnom Penh; U.s. Embassy staff evacuated
1975-1979: Up to two million Cambodians die under the Khmer Rouge
1979: Vietnam invades Cambodia and topples Pol Pot

Prince Sihanouk's efforts throughout the previous decade to keep Cambodia out of the war in Vietnam and walk a tightrope between superpowers had failed. In March 1970, while he vacationed in France, the National Assembly voted unanimously to withdraw its confidence from Prince Sihanouk.
Lon Nol would become the new head of state and oversee the drafting of a new constitution. In October 1970, he proclaimed the Khmer Republic, with the removal of Vietnamese Communists from Cambodian lands at the center of its agenda.
The Prince and the communist powers-the governments of North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China-claimed that the CIA was behind the coup, while President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, then National Security Advisor, expressed surprise at the take-over, stating the United States was in no way involved. Many scholars now believe that the United States knew that Sihanouk might be overthrown, but whether or not it had a hand in the coup has never been certain. The exiled Prince would go on to form a government in Paris called the Gouvernement Royal d'Union Nationale de Kampuchea, or GRUNK, while encouraging Cambodians to join the rising Khmer Rouge party.
The United States military had become increasingly suspicious of the Prince and viewed him as an obstacle to its objectives in Southeast Asia. The trafficking of weapons and supplies for Vietnamese communists through the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville had long been an issue of concern, as were Sihanouk's overtures to the North Vietnamese. Given these issues, the new regime in Cambodia was viewed as a positive change in the recently re-established diplomatic relations between the United States and Cambodia. The United States was quick to recognize and back Lon Nol's government.
Initially, the U.S. Embassy staff remained small, with the primary task of resuming dialogue with Cambodia; it was composed of Charge d' Affaires Lloyd M. Rives, a military attache, an administrative officer, a political officer, two secretaries, and a communicator. On September 15, 1970, Ambassador Emory C. Swank presented his credentials in Phnom Penh. He would remain in the post for three years.
The United States and Cambodia now shared the same goal: to get communist Vietnamese troops out of Cambodia. To this end, Lon Nol entered into an entente with the South Vietnamese, ending Cambodia's long-time position of neutrality. In doing so, Cambodia officially began to fight the communists.
But Lon Nol would not be the strong military leader Cambodia needed. Within the first few months of his rule, his Force Armee National Khmere, or FANK, would suffer major casualties and setbacks, desperately looking on as more than half of Cambodia fell to the North Vietnamese army.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon informed a shocked American public that U.S. and South Vietnamese troops were entering Cambodia in order to defeat the over 40,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers that had amassed in the east of the country. Few people outside of the President's circle knew about the plan, including Secretary of State William P. Rogers, who only five days earlier had testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the United States had no intention of intervening in Cambodia.
The strategy, known as the Cambodia Campaign or Cambodia Incursion, had several aims: to upset the supply system to the Vietnamese communists, relieve pressure on U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam, facilitate the imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, and help rid Cambodia of the communist threat. Cambodia was no longer simply a sideshow in the Vietnam War; it was now part of it.
Nations around the world condemned the military action. At home, with the United States in the throes of the anti-war movement, Nixon's announcement ignited college campuses across the country. In one of the era's most infamous incidents, four student demonstrators were killed by the National Guard at Kent State University on May 4.
The U.S. Congress had been kept in the dark on the Cambodia Incursion. Its Committee on Foreign Relations, with Senator William J. Fulbright taking the lead, demanded to know the legal basis for the troops being sent to Cambodia. Fifty U.S. Senators voiced their opposition to the campaign; 21 supported it. Shortly thereafter, the Cooper-Church Amendment was introduced to the U.S. Senate, which included a stipulation that the official number of U.S. personnel in Cambodia could never exceed 200 at any given time.
But the incursion did not have the intended results. Fleeing from the attacks, the Vietnamese communists retreated deeper into Cambodia, bringing them within a few miles of Phnom Penh. President Nixon did not lose resolve, taking the view that it was essential to U.S. policy that Cambodia not fall to the communists. He was committed to preserving Cambodia's independence. To show his support, the President sent Vice President Spiro Agnew to Phnom Penh. Nixon was also determined to increase U.S. military assistance to Cambodia, seeking to increase aid from $8.9 million in 1970 to $40 million in 1971. A few months later, the President requested an additional $255 million for Cambodia. Congress would grant $185 million; in total, the United States would provide $1.6 billion to the Lon Nol regime. Controversially, some of these funds were delivered without Congressional approval.

Vice President Spiro Agnew on his visit to Cambodia in September in 1970.

The U.S. Embassy grew as U.S. military personnel arrived in Phnom Penh and u.s. forces provided significant air power to assist the Cambodians. But both the Department of Defense and the Embassy feared for Cambodia's future. Lon Nol continued to be a weak leader, ineffectively managing the army and a government that seemed to be falling deeper and deeper into corruption and incompetence. The country needed a strong, central character that would win the war.
Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge forces, or FUNK, were becoming an increasing threat as their ranks swelled with new recruits, who were both students and peasants. FUNK was bolstered by the return of some 5,000 young Cambodians who had been indoctrinated and trained by the Viet Minh in the 15 years following the wars for independence with France, after the Vietnamese forces had withdrawn from Cambodia. These now seasoned soldiers were ready to train Cambodians to join them.
The Embassy estimated that FUNK forces had grown to 15,000 by August 1971, while other accounts suggested the number might be as high as 50,000.
The August 1971 Chenla II campaign, whose main goal was to a regain control of a key transportation link, was the last offensive led by Lon Nol's FANK troops. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong crushed the Cambodian army, killing 3,000 soldiers and sending some 15,000 demoralized troops in retreat.
The situation in Phnom Penh continued to deteriorate. To consolidate his power, Lon Nol would become increasingly anti-democratic and begin violent crackdowns on student protests and labor strikes. When an election was called in the spring of 1972, the United States hoped that Lon Nol, who had recently suffered a stroke, would graciously bow out and a reform-minded group would assume power. Not only did Lon Nol run, but he won in an election that was widely believed to be rigged. Hope was fading fast for a resolution in Cambodia.
The security situation in the country deteriorated rapidly and attacks increased, with members of Lon Nol's army defecting to the Khmer Rouge. American Foreign Service officers were forced to travel in heavily armoured vehicles. One incident saw a bomb detonated near Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Enders's car; had he not been in a protected vehicle, the attack would have killed him.

Admiral John S. McCain is welcomed by General Sisowath Sirik Matak upon arrival at the airport in 1971

The 1972 Easter Offensive in Vietnam, during which the North Vietnamese launched a massive campaign against South Vietnamese and U.S. troops, represented a major turning point in the war in Cambodia. Key Vietnamese units withdrew from Cambodia to support the offensive. From this point forward, the Khmer Rouge became the leading force battling the Lon Nol government, though officials in Washington would continue to believe that the insurgent troops were still backed by the Vietnamese. The conflict in Cambodia had now become a civil war.

A State Department report prepared in January of 1973 stated that the Cambodian government now controlled as little as a quarter of the country, and Lon Nol's government had virtually no support. It went on to say that without U.S. trade, Cambodia would be in complete economic ruin. Things had become so bad that even rice had to be imported into once-fertile Cambodia.
The same month saw the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Fighting in Vietnam stopped temporarily, and there was momentary hope that the conflict would end in Cambodia. Though the accords reiterated Cambodia's independence and neutrality as defined by the 1954 Geneva Convention, no timetable was set for a ceasefire in Cambodia. On the advice of the United States, which hoped to see an end to the wars in Indochina, Lon Nol called for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Prince Sihanouk repeatedly tried to meet with Kissinger and discuss solutions for the failing Cambodian state. Kissinger mistrusted Sihanouk's intentions and questioned his ties to the Khmer Rouge, and no talks were ever arranged.
u.s. Ambassador Emory Swank signs an assistance agreement with Cambodian Prime Minister Long Boret in 1973, which will provide Cambodia with 28,000 tons of rice.

The peace was short-lived and fighting resumed in February. Lon Nol's ineptitude and the lack of a obvious successor left Cambodia with few options for a way out, though he continued to crack down on civil rights, prohibiting public gatherings, imprisoning members of the royal family, and arresting political opponents.
The conflict continued to escalate and it looked as though Phnom Penh might fall to the Khmer Rouge at any moment. But the troops were pushed back by U.S. bombings. At home, pressure was growing to end U.S. involvement in the civil war. Congress soon revoked all funds for military involvement in Cambodia, forcing President Nixon to end all air support in mid-August of 1973.

Ambassador Swank, who was by now critical of the ongoing war, was relieved of his post. On April 3, 1974, John Gunther Dean presented his credentials and took on the daunting task of trying to salvage the increasingly hopeless situation in the country, which was now largely controlled by the Khmer Rouge. With U.S. support gone, the Lon Nol government focused its efforts on holding onto Phnom Penh for as long as it could.
Ambassador Dean urged for a controlled solution, which inevitably involved the United States negotiating with Khmer Rouge leaders. That way, he reasoned, the United States would at least
have some influence over the fate of the country. Ambassador Dean also urged Washington to open direct talks with Prince Sihanouk. But Kissinger, who was now Secretary of State, dismissed the urgency of Dean's pleas, and did not pursue diplomatic channels. By the time he came around to the idea in 1975, the Khmer Rouge was within weeks of total victory.
After President Nixon's resignation in August 1974, the Cambodia issue fell to President Gerald Ford. The administration continued to ask Congress to support Cambodia. President Ford did manage to secure a congressional, bipartisan fact-finding mission to visit Cambodia in March 1975. Stunned by the devastation, virtually all the participants returned with the intention of restoring aid to Cambodia. But it was too late.
By April, Lon Nol had left Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge was now within three miles of the city. On April 12, the U.S. Embassy in. Phnom Penh closed and 82 American citizens, along with 159 Cambodians and 35 other foreign nationals, were peacefully evacuated.
The Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh on April 17. Thirteen days later, Saigon fell. In the five years of civil war that had consumed Cambodia, 500,000 people died. But this would only be the beginning of the bloodshed in Cambodia.
Under the leadership of Saloth Sar, a long-time political rival of Lon Nol who had taken the revolutionary name Pol Pot, cities were emptied and residents were driven into the countryside.

u.s. Marine Corps evacuating U.S. Embassy staff and American citizens from Phnom Penh. The photo was taken on April 12, 1975 by war photographer Al Rockoff.

The new Democratic Kampuchea would become one of the most savage, secretive regimes in the world, maintaining ties only with North Korea and China. Little would be known about the atrocities that would ensue in the next four years, which would see nearly two million people, or a fifth of the population, perish.
A report generated in 1974 by Foreign Service Officer Kenneth Quinn, who would serve as Ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999, provided a stark portrayal of the Khmer Rouge's true nature. While stationed along the South Vietnamese border for nine months between 1973 and 1974, Quinn had interviewed countless Cambodian refugees who had escaped the brutal clutches of the Khmer Rouge. He learned that the regime abolished private property and collectivized all goods, imposed forced relocations, separated families, and classified all people as peasants, workers, or soldiers.

Education was highly suspect; wearing glasses was a crime worthy of execution. Minorities were persecuted. Work would be the only acceptable pastime. Quinn's assessment foreshadowed the country's fate.
After over 15 years of involvement in Indochina, and at great cost in American lives, the United States was ready to move on. Crises in the Middle East would occupy the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Though human rights stood at the center of his political agenda, the situation in Cambodia was not a priority. There would be some debate about the U.S. responsibility to Cambodia-most notably on the part of Representative Stephen Solarz, who would become the most informed congressmen on the issue. In 1978, President Carter issued a statement condemning the actions of the Democratic Kampuchea government and, importantly, used the word 'genocide' in his statement. The same year, legislation was passed that allowed 15,000 Cambodian refugees to settle in the United States.
In response to increased Khmer Rouge incursions into Vietnamese territory, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia in December 1978. In January, 1979 the Khmer Rouge fled Phnom Penh and Pol Pot was forced to retreat to northwestern Cambodia. Given Vietnam's recent alignment with the Soviet Union, the United States condemned the invasion, viewing it as an expansion of Soviet influence in Southeast Asia. Improving the relationship between the United States and Cambodia would have to wait

No comments:

Post a Comment