Cambodia Table of Contents

The establishment of the tripartite Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) in June 1982 was a significant achievement for the resistance groups, which had quarreled bitterly throughout the negotiations that led to unity. Following its founding, the CGDK became the center of the antiVietnamese cause, served as the country's lawful spokesman in international forums, and demonstrated a credible capacity for bringing the Cambodian conflict to a political and military stalemate. In the late 1980s, this stalemate renewed multilateral interest in a settlement of the Cambodian question.

Origins of the Coalition

In the aftermath of the 1978 Vietnamese invasion, many Cambodians clamored for national unity, but only a few responded to the Khmer Rouge's appeal for unity under the PDFGNUK. Their reluctance to rally behind the Khmer Rouge was understandable because they envisioned a new Cambodia that was neither ruled by the Khmer Rouge nor controlled by the Vietnamese. Many Cambodians believed that an essential condition of any movement aimed at restoring national freedom should be opposition to the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese. Sihanouk and Son Sann were both uneasy about reconciliation with the Khmer Rouge. Still, Cambodian solidarity against Hanoi would be fragile at best without the participation of the Khmer Rouge, the strongest of all the resistance groups.

Then in January 1979, Sihanouk, charged by the Democratic Kampuchea leadership with presenting Cambodia's case before the United Nations, broke with his sponsors and demanded that the Khmer Rouge be expelled from the United Nations for their mass murders. And in early 1980, he deplored ASEAN's continued recognition of Democratic Kampuchea, criticized China's military aid to the Khmer Rouge, and accused Thai authorities of closing their eyes to Chinese arm shipments through Thailand to Khmer Rouge rebels. In June 1980, Sihanouk, frustrated, announced his permanent retirement from all political activities.

Meanwhile, Son Sann, who had been indirectly in touch with Pol Pot since November 1979, announced in January 1980 that he would form an anti-Vietnamese united front with the Khmer Rouge if the group's leaders agreed to step down and to relinquish their power to his new organization. He also raised the possibility of forming his own provisional government to rival the Khmer Rouge. Cooperation with Sihanouk seemed unlikely.

Khieu Samphan, president of the State Presidium of the defunct regime of Democratic Kampuchea, proposed that Son Sann join forces with the Khmer Rouge on a common political platform. In 1979 and in 1980, the Khmer Rouge reportedly came under pressure from China to forge a united front under Sihanouk or Son Sann. The ASEAN countries also urged the Khmer Rouge to put its blood-stained image behind it and to mend its political fences with the noncommunist resistance groups. The United Nations informed the Khmer Rouge that a new mode of behavior would be necessary if its deposed regime were to retain its seat in the organization.

The united front idea got off to a slow start in 1981. In February Sihanouk, reversing his retirement from politics, indicated his willingness to lead the front if China and the Khmer Rouge supported his preconditions of Chinese military and financial assistance to all Cambodian resistance factions, not just the Khmer Rouge, and of the disarming of all resistance groups after the Vietnamese disengagement from Cambodia. The disarming was essential, he asserted, to prevent the Khmer Rouge from inaugurating a new round of terror and a new civil war. As a safeguard, Sihanouk also wanted an international peace-keeping force after the Vietnamese departure, an internationally guaranteed neutralization of Cambodia, and a trusteeship under which the country would be a ward of the United Nations for five to ten years. Furthermore, he requested that the country's official name be Cambodia instead of Democratic Kampuchea. The name change was a bid to undermine the legal status of the Pol Pot regime as de jure representative of Democratic Kampuchea because the latter designation had been that of the Khmer Rouge exclusively.

Son Sann was indifferent to Sihanouk's willingness to lead the front. Khieu Samphan, on the other hand, was conciliatory and stated that the KCP would be disbanded if necessary. He acknowledged at the same time that Democratic Kampuchea had blundered by trying to develop the country "much too fast," adding that this haste had "affected the health of people" and had cost the lives of nearly 1 million Cambodians. He also blamed Vietnam's "special warfare of genocide" for the deaths of "2.5 million" Cambodians. In addition, he claimed that a new Cambodia would not be socialist, would honor private property, and would cooperate on a "large-scale" with the West. He even said that Democratic Kampuchea was ready to join ASEAN as a member "at any time."

Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan held their first exploratory unity talks in Pyongyang on March 10 and 11, 1981, without Son Sann, who claimed that neither of the two spoke for the Cambodian people. The talks foundered because Khieu Samphan objected to Sihanouk's demand that all resistance factions be disarmed in the future.

Sihanouk sought to enlist the cooperation of Son Sann, especially in securing arms from China and from the United States. Sihanouk realized, however, that China would not back his 2,000- strong force unless he collaborated with the Khmer Rouge on its terms. Then in April, Sihanouk said he was willing to drop his demand for the disarmament of Khmer Rouge forces in exchange for Chinese aid to the ANS.

Son Sann reacted cautiously to the Sihanouk-Khieu Samphan talks, distrusting collaboration with the Khmer Rouge at least until after the KPNLF's military strength matched that of the communist faction. However, he left open the possibility of future cooperation, citing a KPNLF-Khmer Rouge cease-fire accord in early 1980. Son Sann also disclosed that he had ignored Sihanouk's four attempts at tactical cooperation since 1979.

By August 1981, unity talks seemed to have collapsed because of unacceptable preconditions advanced by the KPNLF and by the Khmer Rouge. Son Sann was adamant that Khmer Rouge leaders "most compromised" by their atrocities be exiled to China and that the proposed united front be led by the KPNLF. Meanwhile, Khieu Samphan urged his rivals not to undermine the autonomy of the Khmer Rouge or to undo the legal status of Democratic Kampuchea.

The three leaders broke their deadlock, with encouragement from ASEAN, and held their first summit in Singapore from September 2 to 4. They reached a four-point accord that included the creation of "a coalition government of Democratic Kampuchea"; the establishment of an ad hoc committee to draw up a blueprint for the coalition government; an expression of support for the resolution of the first International Conference on Kampuchea (held in New York, July 13 to July 17, 1981) as well as for other relevant UN General Assembly resolutions on Cambodia; and an appeal for international support of their common cause. They also decided not to air their internal differences publicly "during the whole period of the agreement" and not to attack one another in the battlefield. Most observers regarded the agreement as a breakthrough that would enable the Khmer Rouge regime to hold onto its seat in the United Nations and that would enhance the prospect of increased access to foreign military assistance for the KPNLF and FUNCINPEC.

At a joint press conference on September 4, all sides sought to paper over their differences. Son Sann muted his demand for the removal of the Khmer Rouge leadership, and Khieu Samphan portrayed Democratic Kampuchea in a new, moderate light, maintaining that it would respect individual rights and private ownership of property. Sihanouk noted that the three resistance groups would maintain their separate military units, but under a joint general staff and a military council that soon would be established.

But in a separate press interview the following day, Sihanouk provided a glimpse of those differences that persisted among the resistance leaders. He revealed his reluctance to join what he called "war-mongering" leaders, possibly alluding to Khieu Samphan or to Son Sann. Sihanouk held out little hope for a military solution to the unrest in Cambodia and emphasized that China, the Soviet Union, and the United States would have to lend assistance if the crisis were to be solved peacefully. Sihanouk also struck a prophetic note, saying that Cambodians must not only reach "an honorable compromise" with the Vietnamese, but that should also work out a comprehensive reconciliation among themselves and should include the Vietnamese-installed puppet regime in Phnom Penh.

Between September 13 and November 14, 1981, the ad hoc committee established under the accord met nine times in Bangkok and agreed on principles of equal power sharing among the three factions, on decision making by consensus, and on use of Democratic Kampuchea's legal framework as the basis for the proposed coalition government. To no one's surprise, these principles were subject to conflicting self-serving interpretations. Sihanouk and Son Sann feared that the Khmer Rouge group would somehow exploit the coalition scheme at their expense. Their fear was well-founded in that Khieu Samphan wanted the coalition government to be an integral part of Democratic Kampuchea. In an apparent effort to offset the perceived Khmer Rouge advantage, Son Sann resurrected his demand that Khmer Rouge leaders be excluded from the coalition government and that the KPNLF be guaranteed control of a majority of key ministerial posts. The Khmer Rouge called Son Sann's demands "unreasonable." By mid-November, Son Sann had announced his dissociation from the coalition scheme.

On November 22 and 23, Singapore intervened, with backing from Thailand and the other ASEAN countries, and proposed the formation of "a loose coalition government" in which Democratic Kampuchea would become one of three equal partners of the alliance, not the all-important constitutional anchor for the tripartite government. Sihanouk praised the Singapore formula as "a much better deal" for the noncommunist groups. The Khmer Rouge rejected the formula, asserted that the loose coalition arrangement would not have any legal status as "the Democratic Kampuchean Government," and, on December 7, criticized Sihanouk and Son Sann for attempting to "isolate and weaken" the Khmer Rouge, which was the only force both fighting and stalemating the Vietnamese.

In February 1982, Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan met in Beijing without Son Sann to clarify several ambiguities. One notable result of the meeting was a shift in the Khmer Rouge insistence on constitutional linkage between Democratic Kampuchea and the proposed coalition government. In what was described as "another concession," Khieu Samphan elaborated the position that his side would not attempt to integrate the other resistance groups into "the Democratic Kampuchean institutions." He emphasized, however, that the others must accept and defend the "legal status" of Democratic Kampuchea as a UN member state. Sihanouk asked Son Sann to resolve his differences with Khieu Samphan and to join the coalition. By May, Son Sann had softened his anti-Khmer Rouge posture and had expressed readiness to cooperate with the others under a Thai-proposed plan that would have Sihanouk as head of state, Son Sann as prime minister, and Khieu Samphan as deputy prime minister. In talks with Khieu Samphan in mid-June, Son Sann agreed on the principle of tripartite rule.

Coalition Structure

The three leaders finally signed an agreement on the longsought coalition on June 22, 1982, in Kuala Lumpur. Sihanouk pledged to be "a loyal partner" and to respect the accord; Son Sann praised the CGDK as "an authentic and legal government"; and Khieu Samphan voiced hope that the CGDK would last a long time, even after the eventual Vietnamese departure. The three signed the coalition agreement without identifying their organizations because Son Sann had refused to recognize Sihanouk's FUNCINPEC.

The June agreement failed to mitigate substantially suspicion of the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk and Son Sann, for instance, refused to allow CGDK headquarters to be located on Khmer Rouge-controlled territory. Within only a few days of the signing, Sihanouk proposed--at the urging of Singapore and Malaysia--that the two noncommunist groups merge in an effort to improve their standing vis--vis the Khmer Rouge. But Son Sann, wanting to maintain a separate identity, rejected the idea. In addition, Sihanouk had planned to announce, in Bangkok on July 12, that the agreement had been signed, but the Voice of Democratic Kampuchea--the Khmer Rouge's clandestine radio station, aired the text of the accord on July 11 and upstaged Sihanouk. Animosity between Sihanouk and Khieu Samphan grew because of the incident.

The purpose of the CGDK, as stated in the June accord, was "to mobilize all efforts in the common struggle to liberate Kampuchea from the Vietnamese aggressors" and "to bring about the implementation of the declaration of the International Conference on Kampuchea and other relevant UN General Assembly resolutions." After the Vietnamese withdrawal, the Cambodians were to determine their own future through a general, free, and secret election under UN supervision.

The CGDK was to function within the "legitimacy and framework of the State of Democratic Kampuchea," and its three partners were to share power equally and to make decisions by consensus. Each partner would have a certain degree of freedom and would maintain organizational and political autonomy. The autonomy would be needed should the CGDK prove unworkable, in which case the right to represent Cambodia would revert to the Khmer Rouge "in order to ensure the continuity of the state of Democratic Kampuchea" as a member of the United Nations.

The coalition's top governing body was the "inner cabinet," formally called the Council of Ministers. The threemember inner cabinet consisted of Sihanouk as president of Democratic Kampuchea, Khieu Samphan as vice president in charge of foreign affairs, and Son Sann as prime minister. The cabinet was to meet regularly inside Cambodia--to demonstrate the viability of the CGDK--for the purposes of discussing domestic and foreign policy matters and of resolving differences within the coalition. Below the inner cabinet were six coordinating committees, each with one representative from each of the coalition's three factions. The six committees, or ministries, were in charge of economy and finance; national defense; culture and education; public health and social affairs; military affairs, and press and information affairs.

In the late 1980s, the CGDK claimed to have held an inner cabinet session inside Cambodia at least once a year since its formation. According to unconfirmed reports, much of the time in these sessions was devoted to charges made by Sihanouk that Khmer Rouge soldiers had attacked his troops. The Khmer Rouge denied the charges, blaming "Vietnamese agents" for such incidents if, indeed, they had occurred at all.

In 1987 Sihanouk engaged in considerable maneuvering as he sought to restore some momentum to the search for a negotiated solution to the situation in Cambodia. Adopting the tactic of temporary abdication of responsibility that he had employed before in his long political career, he began a one-year leave of absence from his duties as president of the CGDK in May 1987. Sihanouk cited several reasons for his decision. The first was his displeasure with continued Khmer Rouge attacks on his troops and the human rights violations by the Khmer Rouge and by the KPNLF against displaced persons in refugee camps controlled by these groups. The second reason was the alleged "duplicity" of unnamed foreign governments, which, Sihanouk said, were exploiting Cambodia as a pawn in their power struggle. He also claimed that an unidentified foreign sponsor-- probably an allusion to China--was deliberately holding back "the rebirth of Sihanoukism" for the benefit of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, Sihanouk added that he was leaving to explore the prospect of reconciliation with leaders of Hanoi and Phnom Penh. Sihanouk's temporary dissociation from the CGDK, some observers believed, would free him from the burden of consulting with Son Sann and Khieu Samphan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress