UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


1991-1997 - Cambodian Civil War

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.

Despite the peace accords signed in Paris in 1991, Khmer Rouge activity persisted until 1997. As part of this ongoing process, the United States ended its diplomatic support for the Khmer Rouge representation at the UN. In October 1991, after 3 years of difficult negotiation, sponsored by the five permanent members of the Security Council, Cambodia's four warring factions signed a peace agreement. The four Cambodian factions and 18 nations signed the Comprehensive Political Settlement ending nearly 20 years of civil war in Cambodia. This agreement called for a U.N. peacekeeping mission to ensure the implementation of a comprehensive settlement of the war. The mandate was authorized under chapter 6 of the U.N. charter, which provides for the peaceful resolution of disputes. The U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) labored under a peacekeeping mandate that was ambiguous and that stretched the mission both operationally and politically.

UNTAC's mandate authorized it to undertake a broad range of activities, such as locating and confiscating weapons, supervising the cease-fire, relocating all forces to cantonment areas, and investigating and acting upon human rights violations. Yet some factions, particularly the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (formerly the Khmer Rouge) and the Cambodian People's Party, did not disarm their troops, violated human rights, and violated the cease-fire on numerous occasions. The failure of the parties to abide by the terms of the peace agreement and the subsequent refusal of the Khmer Rouge to participate in the election process put the success of the mission in jeopardy.

The United States was unwilling to be subjected to UN command and contributed very few official personnel to UNTAC's multi-faceted efforts. Some countries did not have the equipment necessary to deploy in Cambodia. For example, some units did not deploy with equipment to purify water from surface sources, even though the U.N. had asked them to bring this equipment. At least one battalion arrived without necessary equipment such as tents and field rations to sustain them for 60 days, as required for the mission. Consequently, UNTAC had to supply the battalion with these basic field necessities. Similarly, some police did not have a driver's license or could not speak English or French--basicrequirements for UNTAC police. Some countries sent personnel with little or no police experience.The quality of UNTAC military and police personnel varied. Although most military contingents were held in high regard, others were not. One country contributed troops with little or nomilitary experience, resulting in numerous disciplinary problems.

On 30 May 1992, Viet Nam confirmed in writing to UNTAC that its forces, volunteers and all equipment had been completely withdrawn from Cambodia by 26 September 1989 and that they had not been reintroduced. Viet Nam also stated that military assistance to Cambodia had ended in September 1989 and no country had been allowed to use Vietnamese territory to provide such aid to the Cambodian parties.

At the end of July 1992, the Special Representative wrote to the Secretary-General that the military situation had somewhat worsened, with aggressive action by NADK in the north and parts of the centre and south, while the acceptance of cantonment by the three parties had created a vacuum. At the same time, some NADK soldiers had shown interest in being cantoned and joining their families, but their leaders had managed to keep tight control.

The Governments of Japan and Thailand undertook consultations with PDK on 22 and 29 October 1992. PDK was still not prepared to cooperate in the further implementation of the Paris Agreements. Furthermore, PDK had indicated its intention not to take part in the electoral process so long as, in its view, a neutral political condition was not ensured.

With the onset of the dry season, ceasefire violations increased, mostly in Kompong Thom, Siem Reap and Battambang provinces in central and north-west Cambodia. The violations typically took the form of artillery duels, which drove villagers from their homes without causing extensive casualties on either side.

On 20 December 1992, PDK informed the Special Representative by letter that UNTAC should not enter PDK-controlled zones without prior authorization and that UNTAC must assume full responsibility for incidents that occurred as a result of its failure to obtain such authorization. In January and February 1993, ceasefire violations continued, including exchanges of artillery and mortar fire between CPAF and NADK and movement of troops. CPAF forces launched attacks on NADK forces in a number of districts and moved closer to the PDK-held district town of Pailin in the province of Battambang.

UNTAC began the demobilization process on June 13, 1992, but the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm and demobilize its troops. By September 1992, 50,000 troops from the three factions other than the Khmer Rouge were in UNTAC cantonment sites. The Secretary General announced the effective end of the cantonment process in January 1993, after the Khmer Rouge continued in its refusal to demobilize its soldiers, claiming that UNTAC had not fully implemented the peace agreement. After the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm its troops, UNTAC ended attempts to demobilize the four factions. After the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm and even sporadically attacked UNTAC troops, UNTAC left an open door for the Khmer Rouge to rejoin the peace process. By refusing to act aggressively against the Khmer Rouge, UNTAC retained the support of the remaining factions and key nations such as China and Thailand.

UNTAC made limited progress in creating an environment free from government and political intimidation. Between March and May 1993, over 200 people were killed in acts of political violence, primarily by the Khmer Rouge, but also by the existing government administration. Incidents occurred in the months preceding the election, but the approximately 16,000 UNTAC troops, 3,500 civilian police, and 1,500 international civilian peacekeepers provided a presence throughout Cambodia that helped provide confidence in the electoral process.

Just one month before the elections, the Khmer Rouge withdrew from the provisional government and the electoral race. From May 23 to 28, 1993, over 4.2 million Cambodians - about 90 percent of the registered voters - elected national leaders. Subsequently, the major parties, excluding the Khmer Rouge, agreed to a provisional coalition government. To successfully hold the election, UNTAC developed aneffective grass roots organization, conducted a nationwide education campaign about voting, and organized an electoral staff of over 50,000 during polling.

Soon after UNTAC dissolved on 26 September 1993, American - Cambodian diplomatic relations were restored. In 1993, Sihanouk was crowned King of Cambodia for the second time but the new constitution gave him little power. The Khmer Rouge continued to operate against the government and continued to use traditional insurgent tactics, like painting the new government as a puppet of foreign interests. For instance, the Khmer Rouge had occupied the temple complex at Preah Vihear to protest efforts by Thai and Cambodian authorities to settle existing disputes (Preah Vihear continued to be a major point of contention between Thailand and Cambodia) and in 1995 disrupted illegal logging on the Lao-Cambodian border operated by Cambodians employed by Lao businessmen.

The new Cambodian government also attempted to force the Khmer Rouge back to the negotiating table or to neutralize them entirely. Government forces had been conducting such offensives against the Khmer Rouge since before the election in May 1993. With the end of the UN Peacekeeping mission government forces were left to contend with the Khmer Rouge without major external support. In March 1994, government forces launched a major offensive against the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin. Though government forces seized Pailin, the de facto Khmer Rouge capital, by April 1994, Khmer Rouge forces operating from sanctuaries in Thailand had recaptured it. Government forces retreated into disarray and Khmer Rouge fighters looked poised to advance into government held areas. Cambodia's First Prime Minister was quoted by VOA in 1995 as fearing that there was a legitimate threat to government control of the capital Phnom Penh.

Following the failure of the Pailin offensive, the Cambodian government sought to find another solution to the continuing conflict. In May 1994, after Khmer Rouge representatives refused to meet within Cambodia, peace talks were held in Pyongyang, North Korea. Sihanouk continued to offer to include Khmer Rouge elements in the government, but continued demands for the Khmer Rouge to integrate themselves with the rest of the country and disarm their forces led to the collapse of the talks. A second set of talks in June 1994 collapsed as well. In July 1994, Cambodian authorities ordered Khmer Rouge representatives out of the capital and outlawed the Khmer Rouge.

Between 1994 and 1997, the Khmer Rouge continued to conduct a low-level insurgency against the government. The Khmer Rouge found themselves plagued by defections to Cambodian forces, which reduced their ability to operate. However, in 1997 guerrillas in the Cambodian provinces were still responsible for deadly attacks on foreigners. In addition, the unstable political situation in Cambodia led to marked political violence, but in 1997 the most significant act of terrorism there was a grenade attack on an opposition political rally in March 1997, which left 19 persons dead and injured more than 100, including a US citizen. In October 1997, the US Secretary of State designated the Khmer Rouge as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. By the end of 1997, most of the remaining Khmer Rouge fighters accepted a government amnesty and laid down their arms, putting an end to nearly three decades of war. General parliamentary elections took place in 1998 and 2003.

At the millennium, with the collapse of the Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement, an economic boom and extensive infrastructural improvements, Cambodia became a safe and attractive tourist destination. In 2003, 870,000 tourists visited the kingdom. Two years later, the figure topped 2 million. Thousands of the visitors came from the United States. Most of them came to see the Angkor temples.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 29-05-2012 18:40:56 ZULU