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The Khmer Rouge and Vietnam Communist => Suite II
Posted By: Mahendra (wayport.net)
Date: Tuesday, 1 April 2003, at 2:06 a.m.
The KR and VN Communist => Suite !
The reason for a below post article is in the hope to enlight some of our Khmer Radical's, that are blindly and carelessly about their Khmer History.
Please do a diligent research and take actions ! Fraternity your, Funan
In the spring of 1973, in a conversation with the Soviet ambassador, Le Duan stated that “the initiative in Cambodian affairs is not in our hands” (Fund 5, inventory 66, file 782. Record of conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the VWP Central Committee Secretary Le Duan, April 19, 1973, p. 78.) This was a fair but late recognition by the Vietnamese leader. Pham Hung - the member of VWP Politbureau responsible for Cambodia - made unsuccessful attempts to act according to the Vietnamese script. It was clear to all that Pol Pot was waging his own war, independent of Hanoi. (Pham Hung held a few meetings with Pol Pot in January 24-26, 1973. Nayan Chanda, Brother Enemy, N.Y., 1986, p. 68.)
In April 1973, Hanoi openly advised its Soviet allies that it had no real control of the situation in the Cambodian Communist Party. In the same conversation with the Soviet ambassador, Le Duan declared that “the Cambodian People’s Revolutionary Party has contentions both with Sihanouk and with its own members. Their organization is situated in Beijing. Even the Chinese embassy in Hanoi has more contacts with them than we have. However Khmer comrades are very careful. Our help to them is substantial. There is a possibility to get closer to them gradually” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 66, file 782. Record of the Soviet ambassador’s conversation with the VWP Central Committee secretary Le Duan, April 19, 1973, p. 7 .
Pham Van Dong told the Soviet ambassador about bitter alienation of the relations between Khmer and Vietnamese communists. In their conversation of April 14, 1973, the Vietnamese prime minister indicated that “our support and help to Cambodian friends is decreasing and its scale is now insignificant”. Pham Van Dong took a much more optimistic position, in comparison with Le Duan’s, when he was asked by the Soviet representative about the “presence of conspiracy in the Cambodian problem behind the Vietnamese back”. He said “we know that there are plans directed to the creation of difficulties in relations between the peoples of Indochina. We, however, have enough forces to resist these plans. The leadership of the DRV is constantly working on the Cambodian problem” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 66, file 782. Record of the Soviet ambassador’s conversation with the VWP Politbureau member and prime minister of Vietnam, Pham Van Dong, April 14, 1973, p. 80.)
To all appearances, under the influence of Vietnamese leaders’ information on the significant independence of the Khmer leadership, Moscow officials came to a conclusion about the necessity of making their own contacts with the Khmer Rouge. In the same conversation with Pham Van Dong, the Soviet ambassador said that “comrades from the KPRP do not evaluate fairly enough their connections with the C.P.S.U., depending [the issue of] of recognition of Sihanouk by the USSR. We need their help to know the situation in Cambodia better.” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 66, business 782. Record of the Soviet ambassador’s conversation with the VWP’s Politbureau member and prime minister of Vietnam, Pham Van Dong, April 14, 1973, p. 85.)
A little later, in June 1973, the envoy-counsellor of the embassy of the USSR in the DRV informed Moscow: “in accordance with the assignment of the Centre, I have passed the letter of the Central Commitee of the C.P.S.U. to the KPRP Central Committee. In the conversation with the VWP Central Commitee deputy chief of department Tran Khi Khien, he said that it was difficult to foresee a response of the Cambodian friends as to how they will consider the initiative of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 66, file 782. Record of the Soviet embassy to the DRV’s envoy-counsellor’s conversation with the VWP Central Committee deputy chief of department Tran Khi Khien, June 16, 1973, p. 132.)
Analysis of these documents proves, surprisingly, that Moscow’s attempts to create connections with the Khmer Rouge were undertaken indirectly, via its Vietnamese allies, in whom the Cambodian leadership had minimal confidence. The passing on of the official invitation for cooperation with the Khmers by means of the Vietnamese party worker ensured the blazing collapse of the whole project. As it now appears, Moscow, though wishing to establish direct ties with the Khmer Rouge leadership, at the same time did not want to complicate its relations with Hanoi by trying to approach the Cambodian leadership over Hanoi’s head.
At the same time the information provided to the Soviet side by Hanoi contained its own puzzles. In November 1973, the deputy chief of the socialist countries department of the VWP Central Committee, Nguyen Trong Thuat, in a conversation with a Soviet diplomat, asserted that “the latest information makes it clear that the process of the NUFC’s (National United Front of Cambodia – D.M.) and personally Khieu Samphan’s ruling roles are now strengthening” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 66, file 782. Record of the Soviet embassy first secretary’s conversation with the deputy chief of the socialist countries department of the VWP Central Committee, Nguyen Trong Thuat, November 13 1973, p. 185.)
Now in January, 1978, the information about Khieu Samphan was completely different. The first deputy chief of the external relations department of the Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee, Nguyen Thanh Le, told the Soviet ambassador that “in 1971-1972 Khieu Samphan was an ordinary member of the party and only in 1975 became a candidate member of the Central Committee” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory, 75, file 1061. Record of the Soviet ambassador’s conversation with the first deputy chief of the external relations department of the Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee, Nguyen Thanh Le, January 14, 1978, p. 6.)
It is possible to explain this obvious inconsistency in two ways: either Hanoi really did not know Khieu Samphan’s actual place in the ruling hierarchy of the Cambodian Communist Party (he was always far from real leadership), or they knew but did not want to tell the Soviet side, wishing to put Moscow in contact not with the actual leaders, but with Khieu Samphan who was unable to make decisions. At least in 1973-1974, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sari were considered in Moscow as the most influential persons in the CPK, and Moscow officials tried several times to organize a meeting with him alone. Thus in April, 1974, the Soviet ambassador, in conversation with the deputy minister of foreign affairs of the DRV, Hoang Van Tien, “asked about the time of Khieu Samphan’s return to the DRV on his way to Cambodia. He said that he would like to meet with him” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 67, file 659. Record of the Soviet ambassador’s conversation with the Vietnamese deputy minister of foreign affairs, Hoang Van Tien. April 12, 1974, p. 59.)
In reply to this request, the chief of the USSR and East European countries department of the Vietnamese ministry of foreign affairs, Nguyen Huu Ngo, said that “in the morning of May 28, the protocol department of the ministry of foreign affairs, according to the request of the Soviet ambassador, has raised with Khieu Samphan the question of this meeting. In the afternoon, prime minister Pham Van Dong, in negotiations with the Cambodian delegation, has passed on fraternal greetings to Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sari from comrades Brezhnev, Podgorniy, and Kosygin, wishing them success in their struggle. The Soviet leaders asked Pham Van Dong about it during his recent visit to Moscow."
It is clear now that Khieu Samphan, even if he was very keen on going to such meeting, would not have been able to do so without the approval of Pol Pot himself or the Politbureau of the Central Committee. A breakthrough in relations between Moscow and the Khmer Rouge could take place only if key figures of the Khmer leadership were involved in this process. But the Vietnamese tried to do their best to prevent direct contact between Moscow and the CPK authorities, wishing to avoid a situation in which someone else would take over their monopoly of relations with the Khmer Rouge. Being aware that Moscow could inevitably become suspicious as to the genuineness of Hanoi’s intent to assist in establishing contacts between the CPSU and the CPK, Vietnamese officials constantly declared that “the VWP exerts every effort to assist in the promotion of relations between Cambodian and Soviet comrades” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 67, file 659. Record of conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the Chief of the Department of the USSR and East European countries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DRV, Ngyuen Huu Ngo. May 30, 1974. p. 85.)
It is widely believed that after 1973 relations between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese communists were gradually worsening until the beginning of the border war in April, 1977. The archival documents, which we possess, testify that the assumption is not correct and that their relations, after seriously cooling off in 1973, saw a marked improvement in 1974 up to the level of close cooperation.
In that year the CPK authorities seemed to have forgotten their accusations that the Vietnamese “have betrayed the interests of the Khmer people,” and they started to glorify again the combat friendship and solidarity of the liberation forces of Vietnam and Cambodia. In fact, Pol Pot was compelled to recognize that he had been somewhat hasty to come up with accusations against the Vietnamese, because in the beginning of 1974 it became obvious that due to considerable casualties in the 1973 military campaign the Khmer Rouge were not able to take Phnom Penh without serious military and technical aid.
In his search for material assistance and arms, Pol Pot originally addressed China; however, the latter was deaf to all entreaties (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062. Record of the conversation of Deputy minister of Foreign affairs of the SRV, Nguyen Co Thach, with German comrades while staying for rest in the GDR on 1-6 August, 1978. August 17, 1978, p. 72.) Beijing played its own game and expected certain changes in the correlation of forces in the Vietnamese leadership and in its political course, which would deepen Vietnamese cooperation with China and slow the growing influence of the USSR.
After receiving a refusal in Beijing, Pol Pot, who was frequently called “brother number one” in CPK documents, was compelled to soften his rhetoric and summon Hanoi for support once again. The archival documents testify to a softening of Khmer-Vietnamese relations. The political report of the Soviet embassy in the DRV for 1974 mentioned that while in the beginning of the year the Vietnamese friends in conversations with the Soviet diplomats referred to vast difficulties in cooperation with the Cambodian communists, at the end of the year they indicated an improvement of relations (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 67, file 655. The 1974 political report of the Soviet embassy in the DRV, p. 49). In March Pol Pot, in a letter sent to Le Duc Tho, a member of the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the VWP, went so far as to say that “sincerely and from the bottom of my heart I assure you that under any circumstances
I shall remain loyal to the policy of great friendship and great fraternal revolutionary solidarity between Kampuchea and Vietnam, in spite of any difficulties and obstacles” (On the history of the Vietnamese-Kampuchean Conflict, Hanoi 1979, p. 20).
No doubt in 1974, Pol Pot was playing an ingenious game with Hanoi with far-reaching purposes. He exuded gratitude and swore his allegiance, because he had no better chance of receiving military and other aid from Vietnam. In 1978, the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, Ngyuen Co Thach, told German communists that in 1974 Cambodians had asked for assistance for the purpose of taking Phnom Penh. “But the Chinese did not provide such aid, then Pol Pot had approached Vietnam”. The new call for assistance, as in 1970, did not come from Pol Pot himself, but from his deputy within the party, Nuon Chea (Record of conversation of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the SRV, Ngyuen Co Thach, with German comrades while staying for rest in the GDR in August 1-6, 1978. RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062, August 17, 1978, p. 72)
There is nothing strange about Pol Pot’s compelled appeal to Vietnam for assistance. The strange thing was why the Vietnamese leadership, which was fully informed of the special position of the Khmer Rouge leader concerning relations with Hanoi, did not undertake any action to change the power pattern within the top ranks of the Communist Party to their own benefit. Apparently, the position of Nuon Chea, as the main person on whom Hanoi leaders put their stakes, proved to be decisive at that moment. Nuon Chea was already closely cooperating with Pol Pot. It was obvious that he consistently and consciously deceived the Vietnamese principals concerning the real plans of the Khmer leadership, pointing out the inexpediency of any replacement of the Khmer leader. As a result, in 1974 Vietnam granted military aid with no strings attached. Pol Pot was not toppled. There were not even attempts to shatter his positions or strengthen the influence of opposition forces. It is possible that Hanoi simply did not want undesirable problems in its relations with Phnom Penh at the moment of preparation for its own decisive assault in the South.
There is no doubt that the apparent desire of the Khmer leadership’s majority to govern Cambodia independently and without external trusteeship, was obviously underestimated in Hanoi. Vietnamese leaders confessed to this blunder later. A member of the VWP Politbureau and a long-term Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ngyuen Co Thach, for instance, in his 1978 conversation with German communists, told them that “in 1975 Vietnam evaluated the situation in Cambodia incorrectly” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062. Record of the conversation of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the SRV, Ngyuen Co Thach, with German communists, while staying on rest in the GDR in August 1-6, 1978. August 17, 1978, p. 72).
Such an admission by an experienced Vietnamese minister was no wonder: 1975 became an obvious watershed in relations between Phnom Penh and Hanoi. After the seizure of Phnom Penh by the Khmer communists, and Saigon’s takeover by the Vietnamese, the situation in Indochina changed dramatically. North Vietnamese leaders successfully accomplished one of the main behests of Ho Chi Minh: they unified all Vietnam under the authority of Hanoi and came close to the realization of another item of his alleged will - formation of a federation of socialist states of Indochina under Vietnamese domination. But it came as a surprise that unlike the “Pathet Lao” and Kaysone Phomvihan, Pol Pot and the Khmer leadership categorically refused any form of “special relations” with Hanoi. Pol Pot’s visit to Hanoi in June 1975 was mainly a protocol event.
Pol Pot offered ritual phrases like “without the help and support of the VWP we could not achieve victory”; expressed gratitude to “brothers in North and South Vietnam”; took special note of the Vietnamese support in “the final major attack during the dry season of 1975, when we faced considerable difficulties” (V. Skvortsov. Kampuchea: Saving the freedom, ?oscow, 1980, p. 52). The Khmer leader did not mention the establishment of special relations with Vietnam as expected by the Vietnamese. Moreover, having returned to Phnom Penh, Pol Pot declared: “we have won total, definitive, and clean victory, meaning that we have won it without any foreign connection or involvement… we have waged our revolutionary struggle based on the principles of independence, sovereignty and self-reliance” (Ben Kiernan, ‘Pol Pot and the Kampuchean Communist Movement,’ in Kiernan and Boua, Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea 1942-1981, London, Zed, 1982 p. 233). Thereby the Khmer leader actually disavowed even the ritual words of gratitute for the Vietnamese people, which he had pronounced during his trip to Hanoi. In fact the only result of his trip was the agreement on holding a new summit in June, 1976. However, as Vietnamese sources testify, the meeting was never held (On the History of the Vietnamese-Kampuchean Conflict, Hanoi, 1979, p. 16).
In fact this Vietnamese does not say the whole truth. Such a meeting did take place in the first half of 1976. In 1978, the Chairman of the State Committee on Science and Technology of the SRV, Tran Quy Inh, told the Soviet ambassador about some details of the meeting. He said that during a personal meeting between Le Duan and Pol Pot in 1976, “Pol Pot spoke about friendship, while Le Duan called the regime existing in Democratic Kampuchea “slavery communism”. In the conversation with Pol Pot, the Vietnamese leader described the Cambodian revolution as “unique, having no analog” (Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with member of the Central Committee of the CPV, Chairman of Committee on Science and Technology of the SRV, Tran Quy Inh, March 24, 1978. RSAMH, Fund 5 inventory 75, file 1061, pp. 39-40.)
It appears from the archival documents that in the first half of 1976 Hanoi seriously expected positive changes in its relations with the Khmer Rouge. In February 1976, apparently on the eve of the summit, Xuan Thuy - one of the most prominent party leaders of Vietnam - told the Soviet ambassador that “the relations of Vietnam and Cambodia are slowly improving” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 69, file 2314. Conversations of the Soviet ambassador with Xuan Thuy, February 16, 1976 p. 16). A little later, in July 1976, in conversation with the Soviet ambassador, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DRV, Hoanh Van Loi, declared that the Vietnamese leadership “deems it necessary to have patience and work towards gradually strengthening its influence in Cambodia” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 69, file 2312. Conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DRV, Hoanh Van Loi, July 1976, p. 90).
Apparently the Vietnamese leaders considered the well-known Pol Pot interview, which he had given in 1976 to the deputy director-general of the Vietnamese Information Agency, Tran Thanh Xuan, as a proof of growing Vietnamese influence in Phnom Penh. Tran Thanh Xuan visited Cambodia at the head of a large delegation of Vietnamese journalists. In the interview Pol Pot said all the words which the Vietnamese had waited in vain to hear in June 1975. He said in particular, “we consider friendship and solidarity between the Kampuchean and Vietnamese revolutions, between Kampuchea and Vietnam a strategic question and a sacred feeling. Only when such friendship and solidarity are strong, can the revolution in our countries develop adequately. There is no other alternative. That is why, honoring these principles, we consider that both parties and we personally should aspire to maintain this combat solidarity and brotherhood in arms and make sure that they grow and strengthen day by day” (Nhan Dan. 29 VII, 1976).
It is quite obvious that only extremely serious circumstances could have made Pol Pot demonstrate anew this adherence to Vietnam. “Brother No 1” indeed experienced tough pressure inside the CPK from a group of party leaders, rather numerous and influential, especially on the regional level, who were opposed to breaking off relations with Vietnam. In September, 1976, due to their pressure, Pol Pot would even be temporarily removed from his post. To relieve this pressure and to gain time, he was simply compelled to make statements expected by his enemies. Surprisingly enough he managed to fool them again, to create the illusion of his surrender and readiness to go hand in hand with Vietnam. Even in March 1977, when the anti-Vietnamese campaign in Cambodia was rapidly escalating, Truong Chinh, member of the VWP Politbureau and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of the SRV, in a conversation with the Soviet ambassador, made the point that “Democratic Kampuchea is also generally building socialism, but the leaders of Kampuchea are not clear enough as to forms of socialist construction. There is no unity in the Kampuchean leadership and much depends on which line will win” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 73, file 1409. Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with Truong Chinh, March 15, 1977 p. 34).
There is no doubt that in 1976 in spite of some improvement in relations with Phnom Penh, Hanoi actually lost not only control (that had happened long before), but even sources of authentic information on the situation in the Khmer leadership. At least this fact was recognized by Vietnamese leaders. In July 1976, according to the Soviet ambassador’s information, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the SRV, Pham Vam Dong, “informed confidentially that the present situation in Cambodia is not clear enough to Hanoi, which has difficulties in following developments there”. Pham Van Dong also said that it was necessary to show patience and that reality itself should teach the Khmers some lessons” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 69, file 2314. Conversation of the Soviet ambassador with prime minister Pham Van Dong, July 13, 1976, p. 72). The Vietnamese leadership’s poor understanding of current political struggle in Cambodia could also be seen from the fact that back on November 16, 1976, Le Duan had told the Soviet ambassador that Pol Pot and Ieng Sari had been removed from power, that they were “bad people”. Le Duan added that “everything will be all right with Kampuchea which will be together with Vietnam sooner or later, there is no other way for the Khmers. We know how to work with them, when to be resolute or soft” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 69, file 2314. Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the VWP, Le Duan, November 16, 1976, p. 113).
In fact the report that Pol Pot and Ieng Sari had been removed from power, which was now in the hands of the "reliable" Nuon Chea, totally misinterpreted the situation in Phnom Penh by the middle of November 1976. Pol Pot’s opponents - such well-known Khmer communists long time connected with Vietnam, Keo Muni, Keo Meas and Nei Sarann - were already imprisoned and exposed to severe tortures. Agriculture Minister Non Suon and more than two hundred of his associates from various ministries, the army and the party apparatus had already been arrested by November 1 (Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot regime: Race, power and genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996, p. 335). While Le Duan was informing the Soviet ambassador that Pol Pot and Ieng Sari had been ousted, in reality they were firmly in power, wielding full authority in Phnom Penh.
Generally speaking, the circumstances of the coup attempt have until now been insufficiently investigated. It is known that in September 1976, under pressure from the anti-Pol Pot opposition (Non Suon was one of the leaders and an old Vietnamese protegé , Pol Pot was compelled to declare his temporary resignation from the post of prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea due to ‘health reasons.’ The second-ranking person in the party hierarchy, Nuon Chea, was appointed acting prime minister (Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p. 331). At the same time “Tung Krohom” (Red Flag) magazine, an official organ of the Communist Youth League of Kampuchea, ran an article affirming “that the CPK was founded in 1951” when it was assisted by the VWP (On the History of the Vietnamese-Kampuchean Conflict, Hanoi, 1979, p. . Such a statement contradicted Pol Pot’s directives claiming that the CPK emerged in 1960 and had not received any help from the VWP. In September 1976 a regular air route between Hanoi and Vientiane was also established. A natural rubber consignment was sold to Singapore and attempts were made to accept humanitarian and medical aid from the U.N. and some American firms. All these events testified to a weakening of the radical group’s positions, to an obvious change of the political line and to a certain modification of the Cambodian authorities’ attitude toward the Vietnam and the VWP.
A turnaround in Phnom Penh like this encouraged the Vietnamese leadership, which advised its Soviet friends that “the situation in Cambodia is not clear, but it is easier to work with Nuon Chea, than with Pol Pot and Ieng Sari” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 69, file 2314, p. 88. October 15, 1976. Conversation of the Soviet ambassador with Ngyuen Duy Trinh). Soviet friends in their turn had sent the new Khmer leadership an important sign: at the October 1976 Plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU, L.I. Brezhnev suddenly declared that “the path of independent development was opened among other countries before Democratic Kampuchea (“Pravda”, October 26, 1976).
However, the hopes for stability or positive changes in Cambodia soon dimmed, as Hanoi did not make any appreciable attempts to support Pol Pot’s opponents. It is difficult to determine the reason for such passivity. Was it because the Vietnamese considered the changes irreversible, or were they afraid to compromise “their people” in Phnom Penh, or did they not quite clearly realize how to help them, or did they not have actual possibilities to provide such help ? In any case the attempt at Pol Pot’s removal from power ended extremely pitiably for Hanoi: thousands of “brother number one’s” opponents were imprisoned and executed, and the winner having regained his power, could now openly conduct his anti-Vietnamese policy.
The “cat and mouse” game between Pol Pot and Hanoi ended after the Vietnamese Deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Hoang Van Loi’s confidential visit to Phnom Penh in February 1977. Pol Pot declined his proposal of a summit of Vietnamese and Cambodian leaders (Chanda, Brother Enemy, New York, 1986, p. 186). After the obvious failure of this visit, Hanoi, apparently, was finally convinced that it was impossible to come to terms with the Cambodian leadership. Gone were the hopes that Nuon Chea could change the situation for the benefit of Vietnam. At least during the Soviet ambassador’s meeting with the deputy minister of Foreign affairs of the SRV, Hoang Bich Son, on December 31, 1977, the Vietnamese representative said that “during the war with the United States, Nuon Chea’s attitude towards Vietnam was positive and now in his personal contacts with Vietnamese leaders he is to a certain extent sympathetic to Vietnam, but the current situation in Kampuchea makes such people unable to do anything” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1061. Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs of the SRV, Hoang Bich Son. December 31, 1977. p. 10).
Vietnam’s decision to take a tougher stand on relations with Democratic Kampuchea was also motivated by the endless border war, started by the Khmer Rouge in the spring of 1977, and the appearance of Chinese military personnel backing the Khmer Rouge training and arming their troops, building roads and military bases. Among such bases was an Air Force base at Kampong Chhnang, which made it possible for military planes to reach the South Vietnamese capital Hochiminh City (Saigon) in half an hour’s time. The situation developed in such a manner that Hanoi had to think of the real threat to its national security rather than about an Indochinese federation. New circumstances required new approaches. In this connection the following information received by Soviet ambassador from his Hungarian colleague in Vietnam deserves attention. “As a Hungarian journalist was informed, on September 30, 1977, the Politbureau of the CPV met in Saigon for an extraordinary session, under Le Duan’s chairmanship, to discuss when topublish information on the Kampuchean reactionary forces’ aggression" (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 73, file 1407. Hungarian ambassador’s information on Vietnamese-Cambodian relations. November 1, 1977. p. 99.) The very term “Kampuchean reactionary forces” meant a radical turnaround of the Vietnamese policy. Hanoi had a new plan of operations to deal with situation in Cambodia.
The first element of this plan was the change in Vietnam’s border war strategy. While the year 1977 had seen the Vietnamese troops mainly defending, now they dealt a powerful direct blow against Cambodian territory which came as a surprise to the Khmer Rouge. In December-January 1977-1978, Vietnamese troops destroyed Cambodian units and pursued Khmer Rouge combatants. For different reasons the Vietnamese did not occupy the country, but quickly withdrew their forces. (Bulgarian news agency correspondent I.
Gaitanjiev was told that “the Vietnamese troops were deployed some 35 kilometers away from Phnom Penh but occupation of all Kampuchea was politically impossible” (RSAMH, Fund 5 inventories 75, file 1062. Record of the conversation of the Soviet embassy minister in Beijing with the BNA correspondent I. Gaitanjiev, Beijing, April 4, 1978 p. 23). This successful invasion made it possible for Hanoi to make a detailed appraisal of the situation in Cambodia and the mood of the majority of its population. When the Vietnamese forces entered Khmer territory, the local population, as a high-ranking Vietnamese diplomat informed the Soviet ambassador, “met the Vietnamese well” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1061, Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the chief of the consular department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vu Hoang, February, 1978, p.15-16). Moreover, when the Vietnamese troops withdrew from Cambodian territory, thousands fled following them to Vietnam (Chanda, Brother Enemy, New York, 1986, p. 213).
At that time, Hanoi considered only two ways of solving the Cambodian problem. According to the chief of the consular department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vu Hoang, “one option is a victory for “healthy” forces inside Democratic Kampuchea; another – is compelling Pol Pot to negotiate in a worsening situation” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file1061. Record of the conversation of the Soviet ambassador with the chief of the consular department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vu Hoang. February, 1978, p. 15-16).
As we see, Hanoi put its stakes either on a coup d’etat and a victory of “healthy forces,” or on the capitulation of Pol Pot and his acceptance of all Vietnamese conditions. But its leaders miscalculated. Attempts to organize Pol Pot’s overthrow by a mutiny of the Eastern Zone military forces ended in a complete disaster for the anti-Pol Pot rebels in June 1978. Thereby the first option could be discarded. The second one appeared equally unrealistic, as the Chinese aid to the Khmer Rouge sharply increased in 1978 and eased the difficulties experienced by the regime.
It appeared that the Vietnamese leadership did not limit itself to the two scenarios for Cambodia introduced by Vu Hoang to the Soviet ambassador. They had the third choice: deposition of the Pol Pot regime by a massive military invasion and the introduction of a new administration in Phnom Penh controlled by Hanoi. So in the middle of February 1978, Vietnamese party leaders Le Duan and Le Duc Tho met with, firstly, a small group of Khmer communists remaining in Vietnam, who had regrouped there in 1954 (most of the other regroupees had returned to Cambodia in the beginning of the 1970s, and were soon killed in repressions), and, secondly, with former Khmer Rouge who had sought refuge in Vietnam from Pol Pot’s repressions. The purpose of these meetings was to form an anti-Pol Pot movement and political leadership. It would include Vietnamese army major Pen Sovan, a Khmer who had lived in Vietnam for 24 years, and the former Khmer Rouge Hun Sen, who had escaped to Vietnam only in June 1977. At that time “a chain of secret camps” for guerrilla army induction and training appeared in South Vietnam” (Chanda, Brother Enemy, New York, 1986, pp. 217-21 . Former American military bases in Xuan Loc and Long Chau were the main camps. In April 1978 the first brigade of the anti-Pol Pot army was secretly administered an oath; later some other brigades manned at batallion level or below, were formed on the territory of Vietnam.
Provision of proper diplomatic background for the operation to overthrow Pol Pot was considered of utmost importance. In June 1978, the Politbureau of the VWP Central Committee took a decision on the expediency of a trip by Le Duan to Moscow. A Soviet diplomat reported in June 1978 that “according to the Vietnamese the trip should have a confidential status. Le Trong Tan, deputy chief of the Joint Staff, will accompany Le Duan” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062, Record of a Soviet diplomat’s conversation with the member of the Politbureau of the VWP Central Committee, minister of foreign affairs of the SRV, Ngyuen Duy Trinh, June 15, 1978, p. 35).
By securing initially informal, and after the conclusion of the friendship and cooperation treaty between the USSR and the SRV, official support from Moscow, the Vietnamese began to talk quite clearly that “the forthcoming dry season can be effectively used for powerful attacks on the Phnom Penh regime” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062. Record of conversation of a Soviet diplomat with Nguyen Ngoc Tinh – deputy chief of South East Asian communist parties sector of the CPV Central Committee’s foreign relations department. October 20, 1978. p. 1). An interesting thing was that the Vietnamese firmly assured Soviet representatives, who were concerned about the Chinese response to the prospective invasion, that “China will not have time to dispatch large military units to Phnom Penh to rescue the Kampuchean regime”. (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062. Record of the conversation of the Soviet diplomat with Nguyen Ngoc Tinh, deputy chief of the communist parties sector of the CPV Central Committee’s foreign relations department. October 20, 1978, p. 109).
Generally speaking, on the eve of the invasion, the Vietnamese rather explicitly and frankly told their Soviet allies what they knew about the situation in Khmer headship. In October 1978, according to a high-ranking Vietnamese party official “responsible for Cambodia”, Hanoi still believed that “there were two prominent party figures in Phnom Penh, who sympathized with Vietnam - Nuon Chea and the former first secretary of the Eastern Zone, So Phim”.
Friends were aware, a Soviet diplomat reported, that “Nuon Chea opposes Pol Pot’s regime; he deeply sympathizes with the CPV, but fearing reprisals, he can not speak his mind”. Trying to save Nuon Chea from reprisals, the Vietnamese had severed all their contacts with him. They knew nothing about So Phim’s fate but believed that he had escaped and hidden in the jungles. According to the CPV Central Commitee’s opinion, CPK Politbureau members Nuon Chea and So Phim were widely known political figures in Kampuchea who “under favorable circumstances could become leaders of bona fide revolutionary forces in this country” (RSAMH, Fund 5, inventory 75, file 1062, p. 108, October 20, 1978. Record of conversation of a Soviet diplomat with Ngyuen Ngoc Tinh – deputy chief of the Southeast Asia Communist parties sector of the CPV Central Commitee’s Foreign relations department).
True enough, if So Phim and Nuon Chea had joined forces to head the resistance, the expulsion of Pol Pot from Phnom Penh and a transition of power to more moderate and pro-Vietnamese forces would not have been accompanied by such fierce fighting and destruction as that of 1979. Both leaders controlled a significant part of the military and party apparatus and could have promptly taken main regions of the country under their control. Nevertheless, Vietnamese hopes that these figures would head an uprising against Pol Pot turned out to be groundless: So Phim perished during the revolt in June 1978, while Nuon Chea, as it is known, turned out to be one of the most devoted followers of Pol Pot - he did not defect to the Vietnamese side. Moreover, the situation around Nuon Chea until these days generally remains extremely vague. It is difficult to understand why until the end of 1978 it was believed in Hanoi that Nuon Chea was “their man” in spite of the fact that all previous experience should have proved quite the contrary. Was Hanoi unaware of his permanent siding with Pol Pot, his demands that “the Vietnamese minority should not be allowed to reside in Kampuchea”, his extreme cruelty, as well as of the fact that, “in comparison with Nuon Chea, people considered Pol Pot a paragon of kindness” ? (Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p. 5 .
Either he skillfully deceived the Vietnamese, explaining his cruelty and anti-Vietnamese activity by the constraints under which he acted, or the Vietnamese were fooling themselves, failing to believe that a veteran communist who had once worked side by side with them in a united Indochina Communist Party and who was totally obliged to Hanoi, could become a traitor. By the way, the Vietnamese were deceived not only by Nuon Chea. Other veterans of the ICP, such as Ta Mok and So Phim were also bitterly anti-Vietnamese.
In this connection Hanoi, preparing the invasion and establishing a new Cambodian power, was compelled to rely on little-known figures from the mid-level Khmer Rouge echelon such as Heng Samrin, Chea Sim, and Hun Sen, complemented by characters absolutely trustworthy after living for many years in Vietnam, like Pen Sovan and Keo Chenda. These two groups formed the core of the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK), founded in December 1978, and the Peoples’s Revolutionary Party, reconstructed a little later, at the beginning of January 1979. In this case former Khmer Rouge assumed control over the UFNSK, whose Central Committee was headed by Heng Samrin, while longtime Khmer residents of Vietnam took the key posts in the PRPK, where Pen Sovan was put at the head of the party construction commission, later transformed into the PRPK Central Committee.
As we see, Hanoi learned proper lessons from the mistakes it committed in respect of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and decided not to put “all its eggs in one basket” anymore. Phnom Penh’s seizure by the Vietnamese forces on January 7, 1979 and the declaration of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea meant that it was all over for the Khmer Rouge as a ruling political organization in the country. Remnants of the Khmer Rouge entrenched themselves in the border areas adjacent to Thailand, conducting protracted guerrilla war. But they never managed to restore their former might and influence. Political power in Cambodia was transferred to the PRPK, reconstructed by the Vietnamese. As to the history of relations between that organization with the VCP, and the attitudes of Vietnamese leaders to Hun Sen, who became prime minister in 1985 and was nicknamed “the man with plenty of guts” – that is a subject for another study.
* An earlier version of this paper appeared in the Russian journal Vostok ('Orient'), no. 3, August 2000. This English translation has been made possible through the support of Ben Kiernan and Yale University.
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