Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Terribly Obscure Wars K, The Kampuchean Civil War of 1978-1997

It's fair to say that everyone knows about Cambodia and the Killing Fields but I am thinking that the vast majority like me know little or nothing about the period of time post the Khmer Rouge and the continued misery of the people of Kampuchea or Cambodia as it was finally renamed again.

One year prior to the Kampuchean Civil War breaking out the Khmer Rouge had broken off diplomatic relations with Vietnam after a year of boarder clashes between the two countries. The Vietnam Government reacted by stepping up the clashes and encouraging Kampuchean Rebels to overthrow Pol Pot and his regime. This increased the number of internal attacks and in 1978 a Vietnamese army 200,000 strong invaded Kampuchea  occupying the capital of Phnom Penh on 9th January the following year.Hun Sen a dissident Khmer Rouge leader became president of the Vietnamese sponsored Government but the Khmer Rouge continued armed resistance in the countryside with attacks on supply lines and outposts but refusing to be drawn into pitched battles. The Khmer Rouge received a political boost when the Governments of the US and China recognised Pol Pot as being the legitimate leader of Kampuchea (the British Government also recognised his rite to rule a little latter). Such was the dislike of Soviet backed Vietnamese influence the leaders (and by default the people) of these countries preferred a man and party that had killed 20% of their own people over anyone selected by the Vietnamese.

By 1982 the three main anti government forces united their efforts to oust the Vietnamese troops from their country. Meanwhile Prince Norodom Sihanouk formed a Government in exile which as a coalition included Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and shockingly the United Nations recognised this exiled government, warts and all.

By 1984 things were getting difficult for the Vietnamese troops in Kampuchea and was forced to launch major attacks on the guerilla  camps along the Thai boarder. By this stage ironically the Vietnamese were now relying on Soviet aid to hold onto what little of Kampuchea they controlled and as that support dried up the Vietnamese finally withdrew their troops in 1989.

Over the next two years the area of control shrank until only the capital and a few towns close by were now held by Hun Sen but infighting between the three major opposing forces kept any one side having the ability to break the stalemate and take control.

Hun Sen a great political survivor then offered to share control with all three parties but through various under the table deals and manoeuvres Hun Shen and the leaders in Phnom Phnom continued to be the real leaders and the three factions continued to wage the guerilla war on and off but now not against each other.

This status quo continued for another year before a UN controlled operation was put in place to bring order to the country. Whilst it had some success the refusal of the Khmer Rouge to disarm, the Government's resistance to handing over day to day running of the country and the UN's own overly difficult organisation made this only a partial success.

Even so in 1993 open elections were held with 90% of those allowed to vote did indeed vote with an overwhelming victory for the Royalist political faction led by Prince Sihanouk. This of course was not the end of matters, the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) and Hun Sen refused to recognise the result and typical of the UN it failed to enforce the result. Instead Prince Sihanouk formed a coalition with the CPP with Hun Sen being the Second Prime minister. Given that the CPP controlled the Army, Police Force and the Justice System the recently elected Prince Sihanouk actually had almost no power at all. Of course the UN was quick to recognise the coalition and ignore yet another failing of theirs. 

By the mid 90's at least the Khmer Rouge had collapsed proving the various governments that had poured so much money into it as being wrong on every level and by 1998 Pol Pot was dead. However Hun Shen the year before had staged a coup against the rest of the coalition and taking over the country in the usual brutal way of killing anyone who was in opposition and the odd supporter just to be sure.

1998 not only saw the back of Pol Pot but also by Kampuchean standards a fair election which Hun Sen won (not sure anyone in their right mind would try hard to win him!)  and with it an end to the Civil War.

This one is a difficult war to wargame, but for once not for the lack of figures. I imagine many a player will quote moralistic reasons for not taking up arms to fight battles (really it's skirmish only) and who can blame them, it's still fairly recent and it's so hard to get past that period of slaughter!

However putting that to one side it gives the NVA owner another string to his bow, and even the Viet Kong figures can be brought into play as members of the three factions in the jungle. Of course many of the Khmer Rouge would also be uniformed and can be armed with British or American weapons for a nice twist. As by far most of the actions are small in nature and often in the form of raids you can have a lot of fun coming up with scenarios with a wide variety of actions. It would also work as a campaign with up to four players all trying to get one over on all the other players.


  1. A dark period in history, mostly due to the lack of intervention by the West; a fascinating post Ian.

  2. I hate to says but inour 20mm cold war game i play the Khmer Rouge.Well somebody has to be the Villians.Also are games are based around the Indian Penisula.One of the battles we are going to be playing is Khmer Rouge s. Gurkhas.I think this one is going to brutal.

  3. @ Michael, your right, given the thumping the USA took in Vietnam I suppose no nation let alone the UN wanted to get involved plus the full extent of the horror only came out at a later date though they must have known some of what was happening.

    @ Ken, interesting, would be good to see those sometime. That game should be nasty, don't fancy the KR chances ;-)