Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The K5 Gamble: National Defence and Nation Building under the People's Republic of Kampuchea

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The K5 Gamble: National Defence and Nation Building under the People's Republic of Kampuchea

Article excerpt

The K5 Plan for the defence of the Cambodian--Thai border was the response of the People's Republic of Kampuchea and its Vietnamese mentors to the threat posed by the resistance forces, particularly the Khmer Rouge, to its efforts to rebuild the nation and consolidate its administration. The very real defence gains, however, were made at the cost of bitter popular resentment over the way those gains were made.

When the combined forces of the People's Army of Vietnam and the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation declared victory over the armed forces of Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge) on 7 January 1979, peace in Cambodia was still a distant goal. It soon became apparent that despite some heavy losses in the southeastern border regions, the Khmer Rouge had survived the massive Vietnamese-led military onslaught virtually intact and their 'defeat' was, in fact, a strategic withdrawal to the densely forested and largely inaccessible mountainous regions of northwestern Cambodia adjacent to the border with Thailand. The re-grouped Khmer Rouge fighting force remained at a fairly steady level of 30,000 to 35,000 troops throughout the decade of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). [1] Perched in their distant eyries, they loomed like a dark, predatory shadow over the new regime. The psychological warfare they so skilfully conducted was as threatening as their persistent sabotage of the provincial adminis trative system and their constant guerrilla activities.

In June 1982, the Khmer Rouge were granted international recognition through the formation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), an unlikely, unstable and highly volatile melange of the radical communist Democratic Kampuchea, the republican Kampuchean People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) and the royalist United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC). This formalisation of anti-Vietnamese resistance awarded the three groups generous financial, military and logistical support from China, the USA and other Western powers, as well as ASEAN member states. The CGDK was also granted the right to occupy Cambodia's seat in the UN General Assembly. By the beginning of 1984, the Vietnamese seemed to have lost patience with the PRK's inability and apparent unwillingness to confront the military threat posed by the CGDK. Vietnamese troops were becoming bogged down in Cambodia and their prolonged presence there was as unpopular at home as it wa s abroad. The radical measures they proposed to win a definitive peace were formulated in what became known as the K5 Plan.

In December 1984, General Le Duc Anh, one of the architects of the December 1978 invasion and commander of the Vietnamese 'volunteer forces' in Cambodia, outlined five key points which formed the strategic framework of Vietnamese military efforts towards the defence and consolidation of the Cambodian revolution:

* Indochina was a single theatre of operations so a threat to the independence of one of the three countries was a threat to all

* the success of the Cambodian revolution would be decided by the Cambodian people themselves

* the people at the base had to be mobilised according to the principle that strength in national defence required the combined strength of the entire population

* mastery had to be achieved on two fronts, on the Cambodia--Thailand border and in the interior of the country, and while both were important, the latter was decisive

* and, finally, building the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Armed Forces (KPRAF) was 'an urgent strategic demand of the Cambodian revolution' [2]

Five years after the establishment of the PRK, bases housing some 230,000 Cambodian civilians and several thousand resistance fighters controlled by the Khmer Rouge, KPNLF and FUNCINPEC (and at least one base for members of the movement known as FULRO [3]) stretched along the full length of the Thai--Cambodian border from the junction with Laos to the southernmost part of Thailand's Trat province. …

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