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Vietnamese Occupation - 1979-1989

In mid-1978, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia, advancing about 30 miles before the arrival of the rainy season. Pol Pot's regime (officially entitled Democratic Kampuchea, DK) was disintegrating by late 1978. In December 1978, Vietnam announced formation of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS) under Heng Samrin, a former DK division commander. It was composed of Khmer communists who had remained in Vietnam after 1975 and officials from the eastern sector -- like Heng Samrin and Hun Sen -- who had fled to Vietnam from Cambodia in 1978. In late December 1978, Vietnamese forces launched a full invasion of Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979 and driving the remnants of Democratic Kampuchea's army westward toward Thailand. The Vietnamese Army continued to pursue Khmer Rouge forces.

On January 10, 1979, the Vietnam-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) government, administered by former DK local official and former Pol Pot general Heng Samrin, took over after the collapse of Pol Pot's government. According to a 1990 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights report: "There is no comparing the savage days of mass murder of less than a decade ago [under Pol Pot] with the daily deprivation of human rights that persists today [under the PRK government]....But the violations of today are serious and worthy of international condemnation. They involve the routine use of torture by both PRK and Vietnamese authorities, the daily deprivation of human liberty..., and a consistent failure to abide by long-established international norms."

An estimated 600,000 Cambodians were displaced during the Pol Pot era and the Vietnamese invasion streamed to the Thai border in search of refuge between 1979 and 1981. The international community responded with a massive relief effort coordinated by the United States through the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program. More than $400 million was provided between 1979 and 1982, of which the United States contributed nearly $100 million.

Vietnam's occupation army of an estimated 180,000 troops was posted throughout the country from 1979 to September 1989. The Heng Samrin regime's 30,000 troops were plagued by poor morale and widespread desertion. Resistance to Vietnam's occupation was extensive. A remainder of the Khmer Rouge's military forces eluded Vietnamese troops and established themselves in remote regions. A non-communist resistance movement consisting of groups that had been fighting the Khmer Rouge after 1975--including Lon Nol-era soldiers--coalesced in 1979-80 to form the Khmer People's National Liberation Armed Forces (KPNLAF), which pledged loyalty to former Prime Minister Son Sann, and Moulinaka (Movement pour la Liberation Nationale de Kampuchea), loyal to Prince Sihanouk.

In 1979, Son Sann formed the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) to lead a political struggle for Cambodia's independence. Prince Sihanouk formed his own organization, National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), and its military arm, the Armee Nationale Sihanoukienne (ANS) in 1981.

Within Cambodia, Vietnam had only limited success in establishing its client Heng Samrin regime, which was dependent on Vietnamese advisers at all levels. Security in some rural areas was tenuous, and major transportation routes were subject to interdiction by resistance forces. The presence of Vietnamese throughout the country and their intrusion into nearly all aspects of Cambodian life alienated much of the populace.

The settlement of Vietnamese nationals, both former residents and new immigrants, further exacerbated anti-Vietnamese sentiment. Reports of the numbers involved vary widely, with some estimates as high as 1 million. By the end of the decade, Khmer nationalism began to reassert itself against the traditional Vietnamese enemy. In 1986, Hanoi claimed to have begun withdrawing part of its occupation forces. At the same time, Vietnam continued efforts to strengthen its client regime, the PRK, and its military arm, the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Armed Forces (KPRAF). These withdrawals continued over the next 2 years, and the last Vietnamese troops left Cambodia in September 1989.

From July 30 to August 30, 1989, representatives of 18 countries, the four Cambodian parties, and the UN Secretary General met in Paris in an effort to negotiate a comprehensive settlement. They hoped to achieve those objectives seen as crucial to the future of post-occupation Cambodia--a verified withdrawal of the remaining Vietnamese occupation troops, the prevention of the return to power of the Khmer Rouge, and genuine self-determination for the Cambodian people. A comprehensive settlement was agreed upon on August 28, 1990.

Only with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the subsequent halt of all Soviet financial and economic assistance to its satellites did Vietnam officially announce its withdraw from Cambodia. Once the Chinese and the Soviets were no longer in conflict in the area, the Vietnamese agreed to withdraw from Cambodia. So the Phnom Penh authorities had some reason to try to make a deal. At the same time the Chinese were able to get enough international pressure on the Khmer Rouge for them to get into the deal, and the two non-communists had no other prospects but to get in on the deal. So it was possible then to actually negotiate something.

The Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict were signed in Paris on 23 October 1991 at the final meeting of the Paris Conference on Cambodia. They were the culmination of more than a decade of negotiations in which the United Nations had been closely involved from the outset. The Agreements, also known as the Paris Agreements, invited the Security Council to establish the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and to provide it with the mandate set out in the Agreements. The Council fully supported the Paris Agreements in its resolution 718 (1991) of 31 October 1991 and requested the Secretary-General to prepare a detailed plan of implementation.

The October 1991 Paris peace accords led to cautious optimism that Cambodia's 20 years of war and civil strife would come to an end and that meaningful democratic elections in 1993 could usher in a new and peaceful chapter in Cambodia's tragic history. The "Perm-Five" agreement provided for the largest United Nations role in a sovereign nation's electoral process and daily governance ever attempted. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was granted a comprehensive mandate to supervise any and all "administrative agencies, bodies and offices which could directly influence the outcome of elections" will be placed under direct United Nations supervision or control.

Urgent needs to be met during the rehabilitation phase included humanitarian needs, such as food, health, housing and other essential needs, particularly of the disadvantaged, the handicapped, women and children; resettlement and reintegration needs, including those of the returnees, some 170,000 displaced persons and the estimated 150,000 or more Cambodian military forces to be demobilized.

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Page last modified: 02-06-2012 17:25:37 ZULU