The Cambodian People Party claimed victory on January 7, 1979 over the Khmer Rouge. Many people said that it is not so.
An article published in Khmer Times on August 7, 2014 titled “Why Did Vietnam Overthrow the Khmer Rouge in 1978?” sheds additional light on this history.
The following excerpt of an interview with the German Historian Bernd Schaefer reveals a different picture of that historical chapter:
Why did Vietnam invade Cambodia in December 1978?
“From the East German files I have seen, from early 1978 on, the Vietnamese were committed to replace him, to get rid of Pol Pot, and to get a sympathetic government in Phnom Penh,” said Schaefer. “In Hanoi’s eyes, a government friendly to Vietnam was absolutely essential to the security of Vietnam.”
Through 1978, the Khmer Rouge continued to attack Vietnamese border towns, and the Vietnamese plotted the timing of a full scale invasion. They chose a time when China’s leadership was distracted.
The Vietnamese invaded on Dec. 25, 1978, right after a highly divisive Chinese Communist Party plenary session in Beijing. In addition to this distraction, China’s paramount leader of the time, Deng Xiaoping, was preparing to normalize China’s relations with the United States on Jan. 1, 1979, and to make a groundbreaking trip to the United States on Jan. 29. Hanoi seized this window. Its troops reached Phnom Penh in 13 days, on Jan. 7. The West was largely distracted with Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The article reveals Vietnam’s critical role in the overthrown of the Khmer Rouge regime and the significance of January 7th in its strategic thinking. Reinforcing the argument is the fact that the first Prime Minister in the new Government in Phnom Penh was Pen Sovann, a Viet Minh cadre, educated and trained in Hanoi since the Geneva Accords in 1954. A few years later, Pen Sovann, who had become less than friendly toward Vietnam, was sacked and jailed in Hanoi. His replacement, Chan Si, worked for a short time and died mysteriously. Hun Sen, his successor, “friendly to Vietnam”, remains in power after 30 years…
And Cambodia is paying the price, losing her pride and independence, not only to Communist Viet Nam, but also to Communist China.
For a brief moment, Cambodia had a chance for survival with the Paris Peace Agreements signed on October 23, 1991. Sadly, the accords were ignored, and Cambodia is once again a pawn in the Superpowers’ Chess Board, potentially becoming a battlefield in a new undeclared Cold War between the East and the West.
True Democracy and the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreements can still save Cambodia, but Hun Sen with his administrative apparatus, the security forces and the judicial power under his command, will not allow that to happen. Can peace loving people including scholars, journalists, and advocates get together to find ideas to help put Cambodia back on tract?
The Cambodian people suffered too much and too long, they deserve better.
- Khem Sovann