Cambodia's Never-Ending Civil War

September 22, 1989

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After 10 years of occupation, Vietnamese troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Cambodia before the end of this month. But what lies in store for Cambodia is a far cry from a peaceful transition to self-government. A bloody civil war seems inevitable, and when it is over, the murderous Khmer Rouge could return to power—helped, however unwillingly, by the United States.

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When the month-long Cambodia peace talks broke up in failure in Paris on Aug. 30, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas tried to sound a hopeful note by looking forward to future talks, “We need time so the spirit of reconciliation can overcome the spirit of confrontation,” Dumas said. “But for Cambodia the hour of peace will come.” Unfortunately, before Cambodia's hour of peace does arrive, there will probably be a bloody civil war.

The immediate trigger for renewed warfare comes on Sept. 27, the date by which Vietnam says it will have withdrawn all its troops from Cambodia. The Vietnamese forces have occupied but also stabilized Cambodia for the past 10 years; their absence is likely to be the signal for stepped-up combat between the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh and the various Cambodian resistance factions.

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Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific