A Troubled Affair

Retired King Norodom Sihanouk, who at 82 years old continues to follow the news and comment on the latest world developments through his Web site, has used events taking place in Iraq today to attack US policy toward Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s.

“All my life, I have fought against all forms of colonialism, imperialism, expansionism and neo-colonialism of which my Nation, Cam­bodia, was victim,” he wrote on his Web site on June 27. “Iraqi patriots of all (political) tendencies are asking foreign armed forces (US and others) to leave definitely and for good,” Norodom Sihanouk said.

On June 12, he vehemently denounced “Uncle Sam’s Systematic Democratization work that is resulting in the total destruction of this country and is plunging Iraqi people into a sea of misery and humiliation.”

For Cambodia, this democratization policy had amounted to the US, in the 1970s, supporting the Lon Nol regime and ignoring Cam­bodians’ agony during the Pol Pot era, and then in the 1980s, backing the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s legitimate representative to the UN, Norodom Sihanouk wrote.

When US presidential candidate John Kerry mentioned in June that he had gone on a special mission into Cambodia in 1969, the retired King started posting on his Web site his 1973 book “My War with the CIA,” chapter by chapter.

In the book’s introduction, Norodom Siha­nouk had written that enough evidence was available at the time “to prove the unceasing and determined intervention of the [US] in the internal affairs of my country, and par­ticularly the role of the [US] Central Intel­ligence Agency, in a series of plots which cul­min­ated in the military coup of 18 March 1970.”

Historians and writers have said domestic problems, rather than the CIA, were the major factors in the success of the Lon Nol coup that ousted then-Prince Sihanouk from pow­er.

Still, Milton Osborne wrote in his 1994 book “Siha­nouk, Prince of Light, Prince of Dark­ness” that while the CIA was not involved in the 1970 coup, other US agencies knew of the plot.

William Shawcross wrote in 1979 in The New York Times—shown on Norodom Sihanouk’s Web site on Sept 29—that he believed the CIA had not arranged the coup but had, in any case, directed its preparation.

Regarding the US military’s presence on Cambodian soil, Osborne wrote that Noro­dom Sihanouk had allowed US forces to pursue North Vietnamese soldiers across the Cambodian border in January 1968. How­ever, he added, “Washington twisted Siha­nouk’s readiness to accept the principle of hot pursuit to justify the intensive bombing of Cam­bodia between 1969 and 1973.”

In his Web site message for April 19, in which he called terrorism the world’s biggest problem, Norodom Sihanouk describes as ter­rorism the US bombing of Cambodia, which officially started in March 1969. The so-called Vietcong and North Vietnamese who were pursued and killed turned out to be Cam­bodian farmers, monks, teachers and students; and the bombing caused the destruction of Cam­bodian roads, pagodas, schools and plantations, Norodom Sihanouk wrote.

The war had moved into Cambodia well before that. A 1968 editorial from “The Sang­kum,” a Norodom Sihanouk publication, ac­cused the US of bombing a village in Kandal prov­ince.

In a 1968 interview with Look magazine, Norodom Sihanouk accused US troops of at­tacking a Cam­bodian post flying the Cam­bodian flag more than 8 km inside Cam­bodian borders, and killing three people. This is far from the concept of “hot pursuit,” he said in the interview, published on his Web site on April 15.

The disagreement be­tween the US and Cambodia arose in the 1950s and 1960s from Norodom Sihanouk’s determination to keep Cam­bodia out of the US-Viet­namese war, while trying to prevent Thailand and Viet­nam from grabbing portions of Cambodian territory.

This he tried to accomplish by declaring Cam­bodia neutral and building alliances across the political spectrum—France, China and even, at one point, with North Vietnam. “A formal alliance with North Vietnam was probably impossible to avoid,” said David Chandler in his 1983 book “A History of Cambodia.” “Had [Norodom Sihanouk] forbidden the Vietnamese forces to move across Cambodia, they would have done so anyway,” he said.

According to a 1960 report of the US Inter­national Cooperation Administration, aid to Cam­bodia was, in the early 1950s, managed from Saigon in the context of the US battle against the communist Vietnamese.

A US mission to Cam­bodia was set up in 1954 and, between 1955 and 1960, the US granted Cambodia $250 million for development and the military, the US report said.

Relations between the two countries were tense from the start. While in 1954 Norodom Sihanouk showed little sympathy to international communism, he “had made very clear his irritation with the unsubtle efforts of the [US] to have Cambodia join the Western camp of nations,” wrote Osborne.

Angered by the attempt of the US-backed Southeast Asia Treaty Org­anization to put Cambodia under its protection “without consulting anyone,” he adopted a policy of neutrality, Norodom Sihanouk said in his book.

Norodom Sihanouk still accepted US military aid, but turned to France to train his army, Os­borne said. The anti-aircraft artil­lery that the US had refused to give Prince Sihanouk to stop Thai and South Viet­namese planes from en­croaching Cambodian air space he obtained from the Soviet Union, said Norodom Sihanouk in a 1963 speech published on his Web site on April 11.

“Sihanouk’s efforts to keep Cam­­­bodia independent and to avoid the Vietnam War were prob­ably unrealistic,” wrote Chand­ler. “But what choices did he have? In the late 1950s, the [US] had made it clear that its own policies, as far as Cambodia was concerned, would always favor Thailand and South Viet­nam.”

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.