When the Kingdom of Cambodia became the Khmer Republic

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Khmer Republic Cambodia

Modern Cambodia witnessed a series of important events in the 1970s, the most significant being the formal declaration of the Khmer Republic on October 9, 1970. The administration was forcefully acquired by General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak. In an organised coup against the then Country’s Chief of State, Norodom Sihanouk. After Sihanouk was ousted, the Kingdom of Cambodia was officially declared as a republic. The newly formed Khmer Republic had a brief existence which lasted up to April 17, 1975, when Khmer Rouge acquired Phnom Penh, thereby restoring the Kingdom of Cambodia, before naming itself as Democratic Kampuchea in January 1976. Let us learn more about the lesser-known facts about the history of the Khmer Republic.

What are we about to Explore?

  • Some Facts about the Khmer Republic
  • Reasons of Unpopularity of the Kingdom of Cambodia under the leadership of Norodom Sihanouk.
  • Details of how the Kingdom of Cambodia became the Khmer Republic
  • The Fall of the Khmer Republic
  • Briefing Up

Some Facts about the Khmer Republic

  • Date of official Declaration: October 9, 1970
  • Capital: Phnom Penh
  • First Prime Minister: General Lon Nol
  • Government: Unitary Semi-Presidential constitutional republic under a military dictatorship
  • Duration: 1970-1975
  • Fall of the Republic: April 17, 1975
  • Succeeded by: Democratic Kampuchea

Reasons of Unpopularity of the Kingdom of Cambodia under the leadership of Norodom Sihanouk

The coup organised by General Lon Nol against Norodom Sihanouk had the motive of ousting the latter from power and giving a new form to the Cambodian Government. The main reasons which led to the organisation of the coup were

  • The mute approach of Norodom Sihanouk towards the interference of North Vietnamese activities within the borders of Cambodia. General Lon Nol was upset as heavily armed communist outfits were trying to take hold of Eastern Cambodia.
  • Since Sihanouk was tolerant towards this interference, it had an indirect miserable effect on the economy of Cambodia. The policies designed by him were highly criticised and proved as a catalyst in his removal from power.

Let us Dive into Details- How the Kingdom of Cambodia became the Khmer Republic

  • The Politician Prince, Sisowath Sirik Matak and the exiled right-wing nationalist Son Ngoc Thanh came together to form an alliance against Norodom Sihanouk.
  • The alliance had the motive of ousting Prince Sihanouk who was tolerant towards Vietnamese activities. They planned to install a more US-friendly regime.
  • On March 12, 1970, when the Chief of State, Norodom Sihanouk was on a trip to France, the alliance led by General Lon Nol closed the port of Sihanoukville, from where weapons were smuggled to North Vietnam.
  • The General warned the NLF (National Liberation Front) forces of military action if they refused to withdraw from the Cambodian Borders before March 15, 1970.
  • It is believed that General Lon Nol was initially intended to exercise pressure on Sihanouk without ousting him from his position, in order to stop North Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia. But he was compelled by Prince Sisowath Matak to sign certain documents at gunpoint, directing Sihanouk’s removal from his position.
  • On March 18, 1970, Nordom Sihanouk was stripped of his power, triggering chaos in some of the provincial cities of Cambodia where people were demonstrating their support for Sihanouk. These demonstrations took place on March 28-29, 1970.
  • General Lon Nol’s forces suppressed these demonstrations brutally. Several hundred killings were reported.
  • General Lon Nol became the Head of the State on an emergency basis.
  • Immediately after the coup, the Cambodian Campaign was organised in April 1970, in which the Army of South Vietnam, backed by US forces, entered Eastern Cambodia to attack the North Vietnamese Army operating there.
  • The Communist forces which had escaped westward were designing an insurgency plan against General Lon Nol.
  • This action was brought into the notice of Alexander Haig ( the then US Secretary of State) by the General. Haig denied the assistance of American ground forces to the Cambodian army, and that a programme of aid would be given instead.
  • Sihanouk was condemned to death on October 9, 1970, and on the same date, The Kingdom of Cambodia officially became the Khmer Republic.

The Fall of the Khmer Republic

The Khmer Republic had a small period of existence between 1970-1975 due to several internal problems.

  • The Republic was plagued by political divisions right from the start. Even the leadership of General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak were under constant clash.
  • The Cambodians were frustrated because of the inefficient rule of the regime and the corruption which prevailed.
  • On October 16, 1971, the General ordered for the creation of a new Constitution.
  • In 1972, General Lon Nol managed to remove Sirik Matak from power.
  • By 1974 Lon Nol was ruling the Khmer Republic alone. The Communist Forces attacked once again the Capital Phnom Penh and captured the former Royal Capital of Oudong in March 1974.
  • Despite Oudong being restored, the Khmer Republic was under constant attack by the Communist Forces and the refugees who formed the major percentage of the population of the Republic.
  • The military suffered from lower morale, diseases and casualties.
  • General Lon Nol resigned and went into exile on April 1, 1975. The Khmer Republic faced its end when it was taken over by the Khmer Rouge (the members of the Communist Party of Cambodia.

Briefing Up

The Khmer Republic lasted till 1975 and was restored to the Kingdom of Cambodia by the Communist Forces. The members of the Communist Political Party acquired power and the Kingdom later came to be known as Democratic Khmer.

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