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The Japanese occupation of Cambodia was the period of Cambodian history during World War II when the Empire of Japan established its authority in Cambodia.

The Japanese occupation in Cambodia lasted between 1941 and 1945 and, in general, the Cambodian population escaped the brutalities inflicted on civilians by the Japanese occuppiers in other countries of Southeast Asia. Even though initially allowing the Vichy French Indochina colonial government to remain nominally in charge, in 1945 the Japanese authorities in Cambodia ended up establishing a pro-Tokyo puppet state.[1]


Historical background

The 1940 - 1941 Franco–Thai War left the French Indochinese colonial authorities in a position of weakness. The Vichy government signed an agreement with Japan to allow the Japanese military transit through French Indochina and to station troops in Northern Vietnam up to a limit of 25,000 men.[2]

Meanwhile the Thai government, strengthened by virtue of its treaty of friendship with Japan, took advantage of its position and invaded Cambodia's western provinces. Following this invasion, Tokyo hosted the signature of a treaty in March 1941 that compelled the French to relinquish the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap, as well as a narrow extension of land between the 15th parallel and the Dangrek Mountains[3] in Stung Treng Province.

After the Thai state —under the pro-Japanese leadership of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram— occupied those territories, Cambodia had lost almost half a million citizens and one-third of its former surface.[4]

Japanese occupation

In August 1941, the Japanese army entered Cambodia and established a garrison that numbered 8,000 troops. Despite their military presence, the Japanese authorities allowed Vichy French colonial officials to remain at their administrative posts.

On 20 July 1942, there was a major anti-French demonstration in Phnom Penh after a prominent monk, Hem Chieu, was arrested for allegedly preaching seditious sermons to the colonial militia. The French authorities arrested the demonstration's leader, Pach Chhoeun, and exiled him to Con Son, their prison island.[1] Pach Chhoen was a respected Cambodian intellectual, associated with the Institut Bouddhique and founder of Nagaravatta, the first overtly political newspaper in the Khmer language in 1936, along with Sim Var.[5] Another of the men behind Nagaravatta, Son Ngoc Thanh (a Paris-educated magistrate) was also blamed for the demonstration, which the French authorities suspected had been carried out with Japanese encouragement.


Pro-Tokyo puppet state

Flag of the short-lived Cambodian Pro-Japanese puppet state (March - October 1945)

In 1945 the Japanese made a coup de force that overthrew the French colonial administration and temporarily eliminated French control over Indochina. Their aim was to revive the flagging support of local populations for Tokyo's war effort by encouraging indigenous rulers to proclaim independence.

On 9 March 1945 young king Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed an independent State of Kampuchea. Shortly thereafter the Japanese government nominally ratified the independence of Cambodia and established a consulate in Phnom Penh.[6] Son Ngoc Thanh returned to Cambodia in May. He was initially appointed foreign minister and would become Prime Minister two months later.[7] The Cambodian puppet state of Japan lasted from March to October 1945.

The Japanese occupation of Cambodia ended with the official surrender of Japan in August 1945. After Allied military units entered Cambodia, the Japanese military forces present in the country were disarmed and repatriated. The French were able to reimpose the colonial administration in Phnom Penh in October the same year. After arresting Son Ngoc Thanh for collaboration with the Japanese, the French colonial authorities exiled him to France, where he lived in house-arrest. Some of his supporters went underground and escaped to Thai-controlled northwestern Cambodia, where they were eventually to join forces in a pro-independence group, the Khmer Issarak. This anti-French, politically heterogeneous nationalist movement was organized with Thai backing, but would later split into factions.[8]

See also



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