Cambodian–Vietnamese War: Wikis


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Cambodia-Vietnamese War
Part of Third Indochina War, Indochina Wars, Cold War
H 4 ill 639759 cambodia-phnom penh-1979-61.jpg
Vietnamese-led forces entering Phnom Penh in 1979.
Date May 1975 – December 1989
Large scale fighting durated between December 25, 1978 and January 7, 1979
(invasion of Democratic Kampuchea by Vietnamese forces until the fall of Phnom Penh).
Full scale fighting between China and Vietnam lasted between February 17 and March 16, 1979.
Location Cambodia, Southern Vietnam, eastern Thailand
Result Vietnamese military victory
Vietnam Vietnam
Cambodia Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation
Cambodia Democratic Kampuchea
Vietnam Văn Tiến Dũng Cambodia Pol Pot
150,000+ Vietnamese regulars, supported by around 20,000 KNUFNS 23 divisions with 90,000+
vast amounts consisting of poorly equipped paramilitary forces
Casualties and losses
10.000 killed
~20.000 wounded [1]
~90,000 killed and wounded. 56.000 captured(1988)
History of Cambodia
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Early history of Cambodia
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Chenla (550 AD – 802 AD)
Khmer Empire (802 AD – 1431 AD)
Charktomok (1437 AD – 1525 AD)
Lovek (1525 – 1593)
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Loss of Mekong Delta to Việt Nam
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Coup of 1970
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Việt Nam War Incursion of 1970
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The Cambodian–Vietnamese War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh biên giới Việt Nam–Campuchia) was a series of conflicts between the two countries, culminating in the establishment of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and the subsequent invasion led by the Vietnam People's Army, which resulted in the removal of the Khmer Rouge regime from power and the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Despite the ensuing occupation of Cambodia, this war ended the Cambodian genocide from 1975-1979 under the rule of Pol Pot.

The conflict, apart from highlighting the traditional animosities between Vietnam and Cambodia, also revealed how deeply the Sino-Soviet split had broken open the communist movement of the time. The Communist Party of Vietnam had sided with (after a period of ambivalence) the Soviet Union whereas the Communist Party of Kampuchea had aligned itself with the People's Republic of China.



During the First Indochina War, when Vietnam and Cambodia allied against the French, Vietnamese forces had made great use of Cambodian territory in transporting weapons, supplies, and troops. This relationship lasted through the Vietnam War, and even after the war, people from both countries commonly crossed the border unhindered.

Even before the Vietnam War had ended, the relationship between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam was strained. Clashes between Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces began as early as 1974. The Khmer Rouge demanded that the Mekong Delta area be returned to Cambodia, and that all Vietnamese leave the area. The Vietnamese refused these demands since the Mekong Delta had been Vietnamese territory for nearly three centuries. In retaliation, thousands of Vietnamese were either executed or forced out of Cambodia, and villages along the border were attacked. This led to further escalation of the conflict and ultimately to the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia.

Hostilities in border areas

The hostilities between Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge's Democratic Kampuchea began shortly after the fall of Saigon. On May 1, 1975, a team of Khmer Rouge soldiers raided Phu Quoc Island against little or no Vietnamese resistance, and then executed more than five hundred Vietnamese civilians on Tho Chu Island. Angered by the Khmer Rouge's aggression, Hanoi launched a counter-attack that resulted in the liberation of those islands by Vietnamese forces. The battle over Phu Quoc was a cause of concern for the newly-established Socialist Republic of Vietnam as the country was challenged by a new enemy at a time when relations with the People's Republic of China began to deteriorate due to Vietnam's ideological alignment with the Soviet Union. That concern was further strengthened by the presence of Chinese advisors to Pol Pot's regime and increasing shipments of military hardware to Kampuchea's armed forces.

Following the raids on Phu Quoc and Tho Chu Islands the Khmer Rouge conducted two major incursions into Vietnam. The first attack occurred in April 1977, when regular units of the Khmer Rouge army advanced 10 kilometres (6 mi) into Vietnam, occupying some parts of An Giang Province where it massacred a large number of Vietnamese civilians. The second attack was in September of the same year. This time they were able to advance 150 kilometres (93 mi) into Vietnam. In retaliation, six divisions of the Vietnam People's Army invaded Cambodia on December 31, 1977. The Vietnamese army advanced as far as Neak Luong and later withdrew, taking with them some key Khmer Rouge figures, including future Prime Minister Hun Sen. The invasion was intended only as a "warning" to the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese offered a diplomatic solution to the border conflict that would require the establishment of a demilitarized zone along the border, but the offer was rejected by Pol Pot and fighting resumed.

Meanwhile, as the fighting continued to rage in the border areas between Vietnam and Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge leadership began to purge members of its own party, as well as military commanders who escaped from Vietnamese forces after the short offensive in September 1977. Undeterred by earlier defeats the Khmer Rouge launched another major offensive into Vietnam using two regular divisions. Once again the Khmer Rouge was able to occupy some townships in Vietnam, conducting clearing operations that included the massacre of civilians. In one notable event the town of Ba Chuc was raided by the Khmer Rouge forces; by the time it was over most of Ba Chuc's inhabitants were brutally slaughtered leaving only two survivors.

Invasion of Cambodia

Hanoi was now resolved to remove the threat of the Khmer Rouge permanently. The Vietnamese assembled a force of 10 divisions along the border with Kampuchea, with strong armour and air support they advanced into Khmer Rouge-held territory on December 25, 1978. The Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS or KNUFNS), created with assistance from Hanoi, also went along with the military operation.

The Khmer Rouge had prepared a force of 70,000 to resist the invasion, but was not able to prevent the Vietnamese from advancing to Phnom Penh, which was captured on January 7, 1979. The Khmer Rouge switched to a guerrilla campaign and began to attack the long and exposed line of communication of the Vietnamese forces. The Vietnamese used the pretext that none of their own troops were actually fighting but only supporting the KUFNS in their struggle against the brutal Khmer Rouge. The reality was that Vietnam had over 150,000 troops in Cambodia, while the KUFNS force numbered only 20,000.

The invasion led to the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) by KUFNS members assisted by Vietnamese advisors. The new state was quickly denounced by the Khmer Rouge and China as a "puppet government". For the remainder of the occupation, the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge were locked in a bloody guerrilla war. Vietnamese forces held the cities while the Khmer Rouge controlled some rural areas, especially along the Thai border.

The Khmer Rouge could survive due to Chinese military assistance (in 1979, e.g. they possessed a 'Radio Democratic Kampuchea' based in South China)[1] and the deliverance of it by Thailand.


The 1979 Vietnamese attack on Cambodia was followed by massive amounts of Chinese troop deployments along the vast China-Vietnamese border. On the dawn of February 17, 1979, the People's Liberation Army moved into Vietnamese territory, at which point the Cambodian capital already had been captured by the Vietnamese and the Pol Pot regime toppled (see below), reportedly accusing the Vietnamese government of "revisionist" ideologies and the mistreatment of ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam. The Chinese, determined to 'teach a lesson' to the Vietnamese, kept moving into the north of Vietnam, reportedly advancing towards Hanoi at a high speed though not on good terms with their supply lines. The Chinese army captured Cao Bang on March 2 and Lang Son on March 4. The following day, however, the Beijing regime announced that it would not participate in further action moving more deeply into Vietnam, apparently after meeting fierce and unexpected harsh resistance by the well trained and experienced Vietnamese forces, supplied with American technology left behind earlier.

With the direct Chinese support lost after Vietnamese recapitulation, the Khmer Rouge established itself in refugee camps along the Thai border. The Western world and ASEAN countries provided assistance to the Khmer Rouge, especially since 1982, when the KR joined hands with the royalist resistance movement of prince Sihanouk and the anticommunist KPNLF (see Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea).

Order of battle


Socialist Republic of Vietnam

  • 2nd Division
  • 4th Division
  • 5th Division
  • 7th Division
  • 8th Division
  • 9th Division
  • 302nd Division
  • 309th Division
  • 330th Division
  • 339th Division
  • 126th Marine Brigade
  • 950th Marine Brigade

Air support were provided by the Vietnam People's Air Force 901st Air Group.

Democratic Kampuchea

  • 164th Division
  • 170th Division
  • 290th Division
  • 310th Division
  • 450th Division
  • 502nd Division
  • 703rd Division
  • 801st Division
  • 920th Division
  • 106th Division

See also


  1. ^ Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia. Interviews and talks with Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Hamburg 1985. p. 40.
  • Vannal, Huy (2003)The Khmer Rouge Division 703: From Victory to Self-Destruction. Documentation Centre of Cambodia

External links


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