Today the podcast looks at the first half of the Cambodian Civil War, the phase of the Second Indochina War in Cambodia, from 1970 to 1972. Also, if you like educational podcasts besides this one, you won’t want to miss a conference coming up on June 27, 2020! Details about that are given at the end of this episode.
This episode is dedicated to Torsten J., and Russell I., for making donations to the podcast. I never know when donations will come in, but they are always appreciated. Where I live, summer is about to begin, so thank you for starting the season on a positive note. Also, I am getting ready to take part in the 2020 Intelligent Speech Conference, eleven days from the time I record this. Listen to the end of the episode to hear more about that. May your summer be a happy, healthy and prosperous one, wherever you happen to be. And now let’s begin the show.
Episode 92: The Second Indochina War, Part 19
or, The Cambodian Civil War
Greetings, dear listeners, and as I have been saying lately, I hope you’re all safe, happy and healthy! If you’re listening to this sometime after 2020, you should be all right, unless the year you are in has found a way to act even crazier than 2020. At the point when I am recording this, I think I will remember 2020 as the strangest year of my life. And I’m not young; I have already seen quite a bit of wild stuff pass under the bridge. So far in this year, we have had a war scare with Iran, Australia on fire, the Trump impeachment, the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, rumors that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was dead, the Corona virus pandemic, the quarantine and economic crash caused by the pandemic, murder hornets, riots in American cities, and where I live, an out-of-season freeze. What next, will a monster like Godzilla come out of the sea? Or will aliens come out of the sky and show themselves, proving once and for all that UFOs are real? If only we could bring back the guy who used to do the ShamWow commercials; then every two weeks he would say, “But wait! There’s more!” If you are in the future and have access to a time machine, take my advice: DO NOT go to 2020!
But I’m not recording this to tell you about my troubles. I’m here to give you your latest installment of Southeast Asian history, which for the previous eighteen episodes meant I was talking about the Second Indochina War. If you’re American, you remember that conflict as the Vietnam War, or if you’re Vietnamese, you remember it as the American War. In the latest episode, I set the stage for the phase of the war in Cambodia, by covering Cambodian history from 1953 to 1970. You can call that both a catchup episode and a table-setting episode. We saw the King and head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, play a balancing act to keep the country neutral, and to keep the right-wing and left-wing factions from becoming too strong. If you want to compare Sihanouk with a juggler, in the 1950s and early 60s he managed to keep all the balls in the air, but afterwards his balancing act failed. In a left-leaning moment, he allowed the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong into the country; then, when the communists became a threat to him, he invited the Americans in, and looked the other way when they began bombing raids. Because of these flip-flops, he managed to alienate both the political Right and the Left. That led to the so-called 1970 Coup, where the National Assembly voted on March 18 to remove Sihanouk as head of state. In place of the monarchy came a right-wing government, which renamed Cambodia the Khmer Republic. Lon Nol, the former commander of the armed forces and Sihanouk’s most recent prime minister, became the new Number One person in charge. I broke off the episode there, just before the Cambodian war began.
Podcast footnote: I was wrong when I said last time that the National Assembly voted unanimously to get rid of Sihanouk. One of my sources, the Time-Life book “Fighting For Time,” by Samuel Lipsman and Edward Doyle, said that the vote was 86-3. With a lopsided result like that, though, the vote might as well have been unanimous. End footnote.
Finally, I introduced the Cambodian communist movement, which was only a small group of revolutionaries until 1970. Like the Pathet Lao in Laos, they initially tended to follow the lead of North Vietnam, but in the 1960s the Soviet Union and Red China were not getting along anymore, so when a second generation of Cambodian communists appeared, led by the mysterious Pol Pot, they distrusted both the Soviets and the Vietnamese, and aligned themselves with the Chinese instead. By the end of the 1960s they had been given a name by Sihanouk which everyone would use from here on – the Khmer Rouge, or “Red Khmers.” Sihanouk opposed them at first, but after he was ousted from power he fled to China, where he was persuaded to join the Khmer Rouge as its symbolic leader.
All right, the stage is set for the war. If you want more details, go back to Episode 91 and listen to it again. Or if you haven’t listened to Episode 91 yet, listen to it anyway, and then come back here. I prefer to start stories from the beginning.
All right, you’re back. Good. Now we can resume the narrative. Roll-em, boys!
Initially, opinions on Sihanouk and his ouster depended on whether a Cambodian lived in the country or in the city. We noted in the previous episode that Cambodia’s peasants still saw him as a god-king, like Jayavarman VII and the other ancient kings of Angkor, while those people in the cities, who had enjoyed a modern education, knew that other countries had different governments, and thus didn’t think Sihanouk was so great. As a result, the urban population approved of the 1970 coup. So did the military, because they wanted a share of the money and equipment the Americans were dumping on Thailand and South Vietnam. The peasants, however, demanded that Sihanouk be reinstated.
From China, Sihanouk made a public appeal on March 23 for Cambodians to revolt against the government. This sparked some demonstrations and riots. The worst unrest happened in the city of Kampong Cham, where the governor’s palace was stormed and several officials, including two National Assembly deputies, were killed by the crowd. Lon Nol sent his youngest brother, Lon Nil, to Kampong Cham to monitor the situation, because Lon Nil owned some rubber plantations around there. But shortly after he left the local airport, Lon Nil was attacked by a mob of workers from a rubber plantation, and beaten to death in the town marketplace. But that wasn’t all they did to Lon Nil; the mob also tore out his liver, took it to a Chinese restaurant, and had it cooked, sliced and served to them, and they ate it.
<Ewww! That’s disgusting!>
Next, around 40,000 peasants began to march on the capital; they were dispersed, with many casualties, by units of the armed forces. At this point, the Cambodian army had 30,000 poorly-equipped men, so Lon Nol called for 10,000 volunteers to enlist. The response was enthusiastic; soon the military was swamped with more than 70,000 recruits.
Now we have some new acronyms to learn, that were coined at the beginning of the war. These are confusing, so I won’t expect you to get them all right, the first time you hear them. The Cambodian government troops were renamed the Khmer National Armed Forces. In French this is Forces Armées Nationales Khmères, and the initials are F-A-N-K, or FANK.
On the other side, Sihanouk first called his government-in-exile the National United Front of Kampuchea. In French this is Front uni national du Kampuchéa, and the initials are F-U-N-K, or FUNK. Sihanouk felt Lon Nol had betrayed him, and said, quote, "I had chosen not to be with either the Americans or the communists, because I considered that there were two dangers, American imperialism and Asian communism. It was Lon Nol who obliged me to choose between them." Unquote.
The North Vietnamese premier, Pham Van Dong, flew to Beijing when he heard that Sihanouk was there, and he did most of the persuading to make Sihanouk join the communists. Pol Pot was also visiting Beijing at the time, but he and Sihanouk did not meet each other. On May 5, the coalition Sihanouk led was given a new name: GRUNK, G-R-U-N-K. This stands for the Gouvernement royal d’union nationale du Kampuchéa, Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea in English. So there are the acronyms for you. FANK for Lon Nol’s army, and either FUNK or GRUNK for Sihanouk’s government. Got that?
Sihanouk appointed one of his most loyal supporters, Penn Nouth, to be his new prime minister. All the other posts in the coalition government went to the Khmer Rouge. I mentioned a few key members of the Khmer Rouge in the previous episode, and here are the positions they got. Khieu Samphan became deputy prime minister, minister of defense, and commander in chief of the GRUNK armed forces, though the actual military operations were directed by Pol Pot. Hu Nim became minister of information, and Hou Yuon got several responsibilities as minister of the interior, communal reforms, and cooperatives. Ieng Sary handled diplomacy, so you can call him the foreign minister if you like. Pol Pot took no official position; he would remain invisible to everyone outside the Khmer Rouge. After this, the communists who weren’t in Cambodia returned. As for Sihanouk, during the Cambodian Civil War the prince was only in Cambodia once; in early 1973 he visited the quote-unquote "liberated areas" of the country, including Angkor Wat. The rest of the time, he stayed in either Beijing, China, or Pyongyang, North Korea.
For the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk was most useful as a recruiter. His call for a revolt against the Lon Nol government motivated many peasants to join the Khmer Rouge. So did widespread bombardment by American planes, and Sihanouk’s field trip to Cambodia. Between 1970 and 1973, the size of the Khmer Rouge force grew from 6,000 to 50,000 regular troops. There were also twice as many irregular fighters, waging a guerrilla war against the government.
As you can see from the numbers I quoted, the government started out with an advantage, and for the whole war, the government had more soldiers than the Khmer Rouge did. But bigger is not always better, and the government army, FANK, was always outclassed in training and leadership.
All the way to the end, they had too many recruits to train. Indeed, the United States trained 86 of the battalions for them, approximately 43,000 men, in South Vietnam; that program ended in 1973, when the Vietnam cease-fire agreement ended active American involvement in the war. And the FANK troops faced not only the Khmer Rouge but also PAVN, the army of North Vietnam, and the NLF, better known as the Viet Cong; all three of those opponents were tough and rigidly indoctrinated. To compound the problems of FANK, families followed their soldier-Dads into battle zones, and pre-teen children were enlisted. Finally, the officers leading FANK were corrupt, incompetent, and had little military experience. Many of the soldiers, and even some entire units, existed only on paper. Commanding officers got in the habit of exaggerating the number of the troops they had, so they could pocket the pay of the non-existent troops. Also, the sale of arms and ammunition on the black market (or to the enemy) was commonplace, and as with South Vietnam, much of the aid sent from the United States was stolen. Thus, while individual soldiers and some government units fought bravely, they were always at a disadvantage. Near the end of the war, in 1974 and 1975, FANK claimed to have 250,000 men, but the real number was probably 180,000, due to desertions and payroll padding by the officers.
At the war’s onset, the Khmer Rouge were based in Ratanakiri and Stung Treng, the two provinces in the northeast corner of the country. Their remote location meant that government control over those provinces was always weak, and because they were on the border of both Vietnam and Laos, the North Vietnamese had access. Seventeen to twenty-one minority tribes live here; some are related to the Khmers, and others are descended from the Chams, the people from the ancient kingdom of Champa, in present-day central Vietnam. City-dwelling Cambodians collectively call the tribes Khmer Loeu, meaning upland Khmers. Even today, the tribes keep to themselves; they have no political unit larger than the village, and are underrepresented in the Cambodian government. Pol Pot had lived in this area since 1963, and he was inspired by the primitive lifestyle of the Khmer Loeu; no modern state or organized religion bothered them. Because of that, his ultimate goal would be to make sure all Cambodians lived the same way as the Khmer Loeu did; we will see in a future episode how that turned out!
It was the North Vietnamese who made the first military move. The Number Two man in the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea, went to the North Vietnamese and asked for help in fighting Cambodia’s new government. The North Vietnamese did not want a pro-US Cambodia threatening them, and they trusted Nuon Chea more than the other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, so they negotiated the terms of North Vietnamese intervention with him. The North Vietnamese invasion was launched on March 29, 1970. Their main goal was to protect the military camps they already had in Cambodia, along the South Vietnamese border. For that reason, they also moved the camps from border areas to locations deep in Cambodian territory. The Viet Cong headquarters was moved as well. In previous episodes I mentioned that one of the American objectives in Vietnam was to capture the Viet Cong headquarters, which was called the Central Office for South Vietnam, or COSVN. The Americans failed to even locate the COSVN, because the Viet Cong had moved their headquarters to Cambodia for safekeeping. Now when the communist offensive captured Kratié, a provincial capital in eastern Cambodia, the Viet Cong established a new command center there.
One consequence of the North Vietnamese invasion was that the Cambodian people turned against the 400,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in the country. Lon Nol thought he could use the Vietnamese as hostages against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong activities, and the military began to round them up for the detention camps. But now that the locations of the detainees were known, Khmer civilians, with the aid of soldiers, came and killed the Vietnamese. On April 15, 800 Vietnamese men were executed at the village of Churi Changwar, and their bodies were dumped into the Mekong, where they floated into South Vietnam. One of the most disturbing parts of the affair was that no Cambodians – not even the Buddhist clergy – denounced the killings. Lon Nol issued an apology to the South Vietnamese government, while explaining that the massacre was likely to happen under any circumstances. Quote: "It was difficult to distinguish between Vietnamese citizens who were Viet Cong and those who were not. So it is quite normal that the reaction of Cambodian troops, who feel themselves betrayed, is difficult to control." End quote.
Of course, with communists openly on the offensive in Cambodia, it wouldn’t be long before the Americans got involved as well. To make sure US intervention would happen, Lon Nol requested military aid from the United States on April 14. On April 29, 1970, nearly 59,000 South Vietnamese soldiers crossed the border into Cambodia. They were joined two days later, on May 1, by 50,000 American soldiers. Their goals were to defeat the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in Cambodia, which then numbered 40,000, and capture or destroy their bases near the border, including COSVN, the Viet Cong headquarters. The Allies were also thinking of the “Vietnamization” program, in which the Americans were turning the responsibilities of fighting the war over to ARVN, the South Vietnamese army; success here would make the case that Vietnamization was working. During the next three months, the US Army and ARVN conducted thirteen major operations. Together they captured and destroyed large amounts of enemy supplies, but the communists had already moved most of their materiel to their new campsites in Cambodia’s interior. And again, they did not find the Viet Cong headquarters. What’s more, they did not prevent the overrunning of Cambodian army positions by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units. Nor were there any big battles, because the North Vietnamese evaded their opponents.
Speaking of which, by the end of June 1970, three months after the North Vietnamese invasion began, the communists had swept FANK from the entire northeastern third of the country. In other areas, important cities like Kampong Cham had been isolated, and North Vietnamese forces got within fifteen miles of Phnom Penh, the national capital, before they were turned back. After they took an area, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong would turn it over to the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile in the south and southwest, the Khmer Rouge were able to capture some parts of the countryside by themselves. Later on, when the Khmer Rouge no longer got along with any Vietnamese faction, they would be reluctant to admit they had help at this stage, but it is clear that without North Vietnamese and Viet Cong assistance, the war would have dragged on much longer than it did.
We saw in Episodes 89 and 91 that American bombing missions had been carried out over Cambodia since the spring of 1969. However, they had been limited to targets within 30 miles of the South Vietnamese border. Since the enemy wasn’t camped in that zone anymore, the original operation, Operation Menu, was ended, and on May 19, Operation Freedom Deal took its place. Now targets anywhere in the eastern half of Cambodia were fair game, and the operation would continue until August 1973.
Eventually the Americans and South Vietnamese declared their joint campaign a success, and the Americans withdrew from Cambodia by July 22. However, the South Vietnamese stayed behind, to help Cambodian government forces. South Vietnamese casualties were 809 dead, 3,486 wounded, while American casualties were 338 dead, 1,525 wounded. Communist casualties were reported at 12,354 dead, 1,177 captured, but these figures were disputed by the CIA, who claimed that the total included dead civilians as well as combatants. As with the firefights in Vietnam, the Americans proclaimed victory because there were more casualties on the other side, and because of all the supplies they captured. US President Richard Nixon called the campaign, quote, "the most successful military operation of the entire war." Unquote. General Creighton Abrams, the commander of American forces in Vietnam, agreed, saying that the incursion had bought time for the pacification of the South Vietnamese countryside. As he put it, now US and ARVN forces would not have to worry about any attack from Cambodia during 1971 and 1972, and a “decent interval" had been obtained for the final American withdrawal from Vietnam. However, one South Vietnamese brigadier general, Tran Dinh Tho, was more skeptical. After the war he wrote, quote, "Despite its spectacular results…it must be recognized that the Cambodian incursion proved, in the long run, to pose little more than a temporary disruption of North Vietnam’s march toward domination of all of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam." End quote.
The end result of the Cambodian incursion was a tactical victory for the United States and South Vietnam, but a strategic victory for North Vietnam and its allies. While the communists had lost some firefights, their losses in men and supplies could be replaced, and in the long run their plans had not been disrupted – only the timeline had been set back. With the Americans on the way out, there would be another day for their opponents. Over in the United States, the Cambodian incursion led to a new round of social unrest, with events like the Kent State massacre. Opponents of the war said the United States was going the wrong way, spreading the war to another country instead of getting out of Vietnam. Expect to hear more about the protests in the next episode.
The North Vietnamese advance slowed down in July 1970, and halted in August; this was the rainy season on the Southeast Asian mainland, after all. At this point, the government army command had a plan of their own. If they could take back large areas of rice-growing land, it would be a big morale-booster for the army. The operation was named Operation Chenla; later it would be called Operation Chenla I because a second operation like it was launched later. Long-time listeners will remember that Chenla was the name of the first Khmer state, that existed from 550 to 795 A.D.; we covered it in Episode 7 of this podcast. For this operation, FANK committed a dozen infantry battalions, supported by armor and artillery; there would also be limited ground and air support from ARVN and the South Vietnamese Air Force.
Operation Chenla I began in late August. Government forces first converged on Route 6, catching the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong by surprise; by early September, they had driven the enemy away from both the road and the rice paddies around Kampong Cham. Then, while resettling refugees and raising a local militia to defend the retaken area, they set out to clear Route 7, between the towns of Skoun and Kampong Thom. However, they could not keep the liberated stretch of Route 6 open for long, and counter-attacks by the North Vietnamese 9th Division along Route 7, in the last months of 1970, meant that the only community recovered there was the village of Tang Kauk.
Operation Chenla I had to be called off because on the night of January 21 and 22, 1971, about a hundred North Vietnamese commandos sneaked through the defense perimeter surrounding Phnom Penh’s airport, Pochentong Airbase. They succeeded in destroying almost all of the Khmer Republic’s air force on the ground, including all the MIG fighters. Other raids at the same time were made on the naval base at Phnom Penh, and on several villages near the capital. Lon Nol responded by extending the current “State of Emergency” for another six months, and recalled some Cambodian Army units from Tang Kauk to protect Phnom Penh. On February 8, Lon Nol, who wasn’t in very good health to begin with, suffered a serious stroke and was flown to a hospital in Hawaii. He spent the next two months recuperating abroad, while Prince Sirik Matak ran the show as acting prime minister. Even after he returned, Lon Nol was often seen in a wheelchair.
Podcast footnote: Lon Nol is the only head of state I can think of whose name is a palindrome. Whether you spell Lon Nol forward or backward, the name looks the same. End footnote.
When Lon Nol returned to Phnom Penh on April 12, 1971, he had another plan to take the offensive against the enemy. Called Operation Chenla II, it would reopen Route 6 and secure the road between Kampong Cham and the isolated garrison at Kampong Thom. By summer, the Cambodian army numbered more than 100,000 men, and generous US aid had replaced the destroyed planes of the air force with up-to-date aircraft. This time ten infantry battalions were organized into three brigade groups, again supported by armor and artillery and the US Air Force; they were going against two North Vietnamese divisions believed to be in central Cambodia.
Operation Chenla II was launched on August 20, 1971, and again the communists were taken by surprise. Over the next fifteen days, all of Route 6 was reopened. But during the rest of September and early October, as the FANK units tried to consolidate their new gains, they came under attack from enemy guerrilla units. The men grew tired, and casualties were heavy; that caused morale to slip. Moreover, they could not find any large North Vietnamese or Viet Cong forces, to engage in a set-piece battle. Lon Nol decided they had been destroyed by US air raids, so on October 25 he declared that the first phase of Operation Chenla II was completed, and it had been a big success. Next he proclaimed two days of celebration, which included beer and opium for the troops. Afterwards the plan was to carry out the second phase of Chenla II: pacification of the civilian population. However, the troops were now too drunk or too stoned to worry about the civilians, who like the enemy forces, were nowhere to be found.
When the North Vietnamese evacuated the area around Route 6, they took the local civilians with them. They struck back on the night of October 26-27, while the government-proclaimed holiday was going on. Sappers blew up the main bridge connecting Route 6 with Phnom Penh, making it impossible for FANK forces to retreat in that direction, or to be reinforced from there. And the rest of the 9th PAVN Division launched an all-out assault on Route 6 from a rubber plantation, catching the FANK troops quite unprepared. The FANK units were cut to pieces, and their command post at Rumlong fell on November 13. After that, the other government army outposts were taken one by one. With the capture of the last one on December 3, Operation Chenla II came to an end. No doubt about it, Chenla II was a decisive communist victory. A general on the government side, Sak Sutsakhan, said this about the casualties. Quote: “There was never an exact count, but the estimate was on the order of ten battalions of personnel and equipment lost plus the equipment of an additional ten battalions.” Unquote. On the other side, Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan boasted, quote, “Of about 20,000 Lon Nol troops thrown into this operation, we killed, wounded or captured over 12,000. Not a single battalion escaped without severe losses.” Unquote. For the rest of the war, the Cambodian government concentrated its efforts on defending the cities and the lower Mekong River
Over the course of 1972, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong pulled out of Cambodia. Their troops were more needed back in Vietnam, because of campaigns like the 1972 spring offensive. The South Vietnamese withdrew for the same reason; they needed to defend themselves from North Vietnamese attacks. Thus, from 1973 onward, the Khmer Rouge fought on their own.
So what ideas did the Lon Nol regime have for 1972, besides defense? They decided to take back Cambodia’s most important national symbol, Angkor Wat, which the Communists had captured in June 1970. This complex, covering 72 acres, had been undergoing restoration work, led by a French archaeologist, at the time of the capture. During the next year and a half, there had been a few stray shell hits, and the communists chiseled off some of the temple carvings and sold them on foreign art markets, to finance their other activities, but otherwise both sides had left the ruins alone. But then in January 1972 the French archaeologist was expelled, and his Cambodian workers were arrested; 20 were executed, quote, “for providing information to the Central Intelligence Agency.” Unquote.
Operation Angkor Chey, meaning “Operation Angkor Victory,” got started on January 29, 1972, with skirmishes on the road between the ruins and Siem Reap, the nearest town. Advancing slowly, government units reached the dikes and moat marking the boundary of the Angkor Wat temple, but then on February 21, their advance stalled. Another attempt was made in May, after FANK received intelligence that the Khmer Rouge units in the Angkor ruins were leaving. During the night of May 17-18, Angkor Chey troops slipped in and after a brief firefight, captured the Phnom Bakheng temple, but when they approached Angkor Wat the following night, communist cross-fire decimated them, and heavy fire from trenches and concrete bunkers forced them back. Cambodian and American planes dropped napalm and high explosives as close as 600 feet from the grand temple, taking out two former tourist hotels about half a mile to the south, but the end result of the fighting was another stalemate.
By now attention had shifted to the other side of the country, to the stretch of the Mekong River between Phnom Penh and the South Vietnamese border, and to Route 5, the main road in the same area. Prey Veng, the capital of the province in the area, and Neak Luong, a ferry-crossing town, were both shelled on March 20. This was followed by a bombardment of Phnom Penh itself, and more attacks on Prey Veng and Neak Luong that took place all through April. Five FANK battalions were hastily pulled out of a US training camp in South Vietnam to hold onto the Mekong corridor, which now provided the only access to Phnom Penh by land or water that did not go through communist-controlled areas. On the coast, where the Cambodian-South Vietnamese border meets the sea, FANK and ARVN forces defended the town of Kampong Trach, but the 1st North Vietnamese Division managed to take it on April 30; that gave the communists a Cambodian seaport.
Podcast footnote: During the war, refugees crowded into Phnom Penh, until the capital’s population tripled, going from half a million in 1965 to one and a half million near the war’s end in 1975. Incredibly, for most of the war, life in Phnom Penh went on as usual. Even luxury goods remained available for those who could afford them. End footnote.
Meanwhile in the capital, political reforms were the order of the day. In March 1972 the National Assembly was renamed the Constituent Assembly, and on April 30 it approved a revised constitution. On June 4 came a round of ballot box stuffing that was called an election, and Lon Nol, who previously held the positions of prime minister and defense minister, was elected president with 55 percent of the vote. Lon Nol’s political party, the Socio-Republican Party, won all the seats in the Constituent Assembly as well. Seeing these results and the political factionalism that followed, General Sutsakhan stated, quote: "The seeds of democratization, which had been thrown into the wind with such goodwill by the Khmer leaders, returned for the Khmer Republic nothing but a poor harvest." Unquote. One example of the factionalism involved Prince Sirik Matak; other senior members of the government didn’t want to work alongside a member of the royal family. During the rest of the year, the prince’s power was gradually undermined by Lon Nol’s brother, Lon Non; he resigned after Lon Non organized a series of demonstrations against him, and he was kept under effective house arrest for several months after that.
Podcast footnote: I mentioned earlier that the Khmer Republic had a problem with corruption for all of its existence. Lon Non was the most corrupt of its leaders, and the way he gathered both money and power reminds me of Ngo Dinh Nhu, the brother of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. If you don’t remember Nhu, go listen to Episode 73 of this podcast again. End footnote.
June saw two more rocket attacks launched on Phnom Penh, and two elite FANK battalions near Neak Luong were ambushed on June 25; of the 600 troops attacked in the ambush, only thirteen made it back to friendly lines. In response, Operation Sorya I, a joint FANK-ARVN action, was launched on July 4. Here the objectives were to clear Route 1, the highway running between Phnom Penh and Saigon, and to seize Kampong Trabek, a town on Route 1. They succeeded in taking Kampong Trabek on July 24, but on August 6, elements of two North Vietnamese divisions struck in that area. Leading this drive were tanks, the first time North Vietnamese tanks had been used in Cambodia; they severed Route 1 and isolated five battalions on it.
FANK and ARVN followed up Operation Sorya I with Operation Sorya II, to rescue the trapped battalions and to finish clearing Route 1. This got underway on August 11, and ARVN units reached the battalions ten days later. But the highway remained cut off to the east, and the communists retook Kampong Trabek on September 8, even though reinforcements arrived from Phnom Penh, led by the president’s brother, Lon Non. October 7 saw 100 or so North Vietnamese commandos take advantage of a Buddhist festival to sneak into the capital and wreak havok, destroying a bridge and wrecking seven armored personnel carriers with plastic explosive, among other things. There was a six-hour firefight when government forces caught up with them, which damaged the nearby French Embassy. After it was over, FANK admitted 23 of its own dead to the enemy’s 83.
We are up to the end of 1972, and have run out of time for today. I think I will cover the Cambodian events of 1973 and 1974 in the same episode that covers events in Vietnam in those years. When cease-fire agreements were signed for Vietnam and Laos, the Khmer Rouge controlled between 50 and 60 percent of Cambodian territory. What happens now? Will the cease-fires inspire the Cambodian factions to make peace, too? We will get to that eventually, but first we should go back to Vietnam and see what was happening there, while the Cambodian Civil War was raging. Join me for that!
And while you’re at it, consider making a donation to the podcast, if you can afford to do so. You can make a one-time donation through Paypal, or a small monthly donation through Patreon. Go to the page on Blubrry.com hosting this episode, and there you will find links to both Paypal and Patreon. If you make a Paypal donation, your first name will be added to the Podcast Hall of Fame page, next to Torsten and Russell. I am thinking of putting all three links, to Paypal, Patreon and the Hall of Fame page, on the podcast’s Facebook page, for those who haven’t seen them yet. And if you cannot afford to send a donation, you can still help the podcast, by writing a review, liking the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page on Facebook, and by telling your family and friends about the show. Again, thank you in advance for your support.
Finally, I want to reach out once more and tell you about the Intelligent Speech Conference, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 27, 2020, a little more than a week and a half after I uploaded this episode. It will be a virtual conference, so you don’t have to travel in real life; just have a broadband Internet connection available. Here from 10 AM to 6 PM Eastern Time in the US, you will meet 40 podcasters who are doing educational podcasts. Currently I am scheduled to give a presentation between 3:15 and 3:55 PM Eastern Time; that’s 7:15 to 7:55 PM Universal Time if you are outside the United States. To hear us all, the admission will only cost ten US dollars if you get your ticket before June 19, after which the cost increases to fifteen US dollars. Tune in to hear all of us, and here is the trailer one more time:
<Play Roifield’s trailer>
Like I say at the end of each episode, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!