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Vietnam People’s Army and the revival of Cambodia (1979-1989)

40 years ago, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and the Military and people of Cambodia defeated the hostile group of Pol Pot - Ieng Sary and liberated the Land of Temples from the genocidal regime. The Victory on January 7th 1979 expresses the pure, faithful, wholehearted international unity between the two nations. The wholehearted support by the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts for the Cambodian Military and people in their national liberation cause and their process of national construction and development has become a noble symbol and contributed to bolstering the unity and traditional relations between the two countries.

Vietnamese volunteer soldiers were farewelled by the people of Phnom Penh on September 25th 1989 (photo: VNA)

After the victory in 1979, Cambodia was confronted with myriad difficulties and challenges. The remnants of the Pol Pot regime continued to be supported by the external forces and committed atrocities against the peoples of Cambodia and neighbouring countries. More than 1 year after fleeing to Cambodia’s border with Thailand, the Pol Pot forces provided the main divisions with new troops and weapons and deployed 1/3 of their troops to the key areas of 7 Western border provinces in a bid to construct “concave bases”, promote guerrilla warfare in 12 inland provinces, and cause difficulties for the Cambodian people’s national reconstruction. Meanwhile, the hostile forces abroad continued taking advantage of the issue on the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers to slander and interfere with Cambodia’s internal affairs.

Against that backdrop, on February 18th 1979, the Governments of Vietnam and Cambodia signed the Peace, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. According to the Treaty, a section of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts would continue standing shoulder to shoulder with the Cambodian Military and people in the national revival.

1. Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and Cambodia’s revolutionary armed forces hunted down the remnants of the Pol Pot regime. Between 1979 and 1982, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers in cooperation with Cambodia’s revolutionary armed forces continuously launched offensives destroying the remnants of the Pol Pot regime in the Western and Southwestern border and inside Cambodia. In the rainy season of 1980, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces inflicted heavy losses on 7 divisions of the enemy and forced 5 other divisions to flee to the border and hide in the Northern and Northwestern mountainous areas. In the dry season of 1981 and 1982, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces continued to launch attacks on many key positions, including the Pol Pot Central Office and various bases of the Pol Pot forces, annihilated a large number of the enemy troops, destroyed the enemy’s means of war and facilities. On the fronts of 479, 579, 779, and 979, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces basically eradicated the enemy’s dens and brought Cambodia’s revolutionary movement to a new height. Between 1983 and 1985, with our support, Cambodia’s armed forces by themselves protected and managed the capital city of Phnom Penh, the port of Kongpong Som, 4 provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Kongpong Cham, and Kandal, and a number of key areas, while basically controlling the Western borderline.

After defeating the remnants of the Pol Pot regime, at Cambodia’s request, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts cooperated with Cambodia’ Military and people in building a 600-km-long-plus defensive line in this country’s border with Thailand. In late 1987, the defensive line which was constructed by the fronts of 479, 579, and 979 was basically complete and helped opportunely detect, prevent, and push away the attacks by the remnants of the Pol Pot regime. Moreover, Vietnamese and Cambodian forces organized offensives against the enemy along the corridor and their concave bases in the North and Southeast of Kratie town. In April 1988, grounded on the situation in Vietnam, the region and Cambodia, Vietnam’s Politburo decided to accelerate the withdrawal of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts from Cambodia. From September 21st to September 26th, 1989, all Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts were withdrawn from Cambodia and successfully fulfilled their international duty in this country.

2. Helping Cambodia build the armed forces, consolidate the revolutionary government, restore the economy, and develop the country. In addition to fighting against the remnants of the Pol Pot regime, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts assisted Cambodia in building and consolidating the armed forces and revolutionary government, restoring the economy, and stabilizing the people’s life. We helped Cambodia build the three-category armed forces, including active divisions, brigades and regiments, specialized units, and many local, militia and self-defence, and police units to defend the revolutionary government. We also helped Cambodia build a system of central and local governments with about 130,000 staff members (in 1989), train all-level cadres, and organize trade unions, women’s unions, and youth unions in a bid to consolidate the revolutionary government and encourage the people to take part in the fight for national liberation, production development, and national reconstruction.

With the pure international spirit, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts overcome all difficulties and hardships to help Cambodia with the greatest enthusiasm in all fields from Central to local levels. We transported and provided food as famine relief for over 4 million Cambodian people and medicine, rice seeds, and essential supplies for the people, took care of their health, prevented epidemics, used military vehicles to bring hundreds of thousands of people back to their hometown to settle down, and helped local governments to encourage the people surmounting difficulties and promoting agricultural development in response to famine. Thanks to the wholehearted support from Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and experts, the people of Cambodia basically managed to overcome the famine, organize 107,606 teams of production, and plant 137,000 hectares of rice. In 1981 alone, Cambodia’s agricultural production achieved an increase of 9% compared with 1979. Moreover, over 1,000 fishing teams and cooperatives were restored with the yearly yield of over 6 tons. The industry produced a large quantity of goods and machines; 54 out of 65 handicrafts factories were restored. The wood exploitation and processing industry reached the annual yield of 50,000 cubic metres. Health and education made impressive progress; 80% of Cambodia’s communes had infirmaries while hundreds of thousands of schools were restored, upgraded, and constructed. The system of press agencies, libraries, and museums were consolidated and developed. 652 kilometres of railway and thousands of kilometres of road was repaired to facilitate the people’s travel.

3. The assessments of the support by Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts for the revival of Cambodia. For the sake of the revival of Cambodia, tens of thousands of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts shed their blood and sacrificed their life; many of our martyrs are lying in the forests across this country. Assessing Vietnam’s extremely great, pure support, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “without Vietnamese volunteer soldiers’ support, the armed forces and people of Cambodia could not liberate the country in such a rapid way. Without Vietnam’s support, we will die. Vietnamese volunteer soldiers’ sacrifice is the most humane and rightful support. That support must have been the international community’s primary duty to save a nation suffering the genocidal policy adopted by the Pol Pot regime”. President of the National Assembly of Cambodia Samdech Heng Samrin underlined: “the people of Cambodia will forever pay tribute to Vietnam’s support and remind our future generations about it as part of our history. Without the support from the Communist Party of Vietnam, the people of Cambodia would have no name in this world”.

Expressing their gratitude to the Party, State, Military, and people of Vietnam, leaders of the National Assembly and Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia stressed: “while the people of Cambodia were suffering from numerous miseries, many other countries worldwide, which proclaimed themselves protectors of justice, human rights, and right to freedom of speech, showed no consideration for Cambodia. Only Vietnam under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam voluntarily sent their descendants to liberate and save the Cambodian people amid danger”. They also believed that “without Vietnam’s support, there would be no Cambodia of today, absolutely no”.  Not only leaders and the people in Cambodia praised and honoured Vietnam’s great sacrifice and its wholehearted support, but many scholars and politicians around the globe also applauded Vietnam’s enormous contributions to Cambodia.

It is conluded that Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and military experts’ support for Cambodia’s overthrow of the Pol Pot - Ieng Sary regime and its national construction and development is a sound policy in accordance with the Vietnamese people’s tradition, morality, unity and compassion while expressing the clear-headed, clever leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam. That support has provided a prerequisite for Cambodia’s revival and future development.

Maj. Gen. Nguyen Hoang Nhien, Head of the Military History Institute of Vietnam

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