This Day In History: Communist Forces Isolate Phom Penh In Cambodia (1970)

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On this day in June 1970, the combined Communist forces of Vietnam and Cambodia succeeded in isolating the capital of Cambodia from the rest of the country and effectively. This was to have a major impact on the strategic situation in Cambodia and while it did not lead to a Communist victory, it was to play a major role in their eventual victory in the country. In particular, it was to pave the way for the victory of the Cambodian communists in 1975.

The war in Vietnam destabilized the entire region of South East Asia. It also destabilized the neighbours of Vietnam, chiefly Cambodia and Laos. Cambodia in particularly was gradually drawn into the conflict between communists and American forces. The country was officially a kingdom, ruled by a limited monarchy. The King of Cambodia was to rule in consultation with the elected government in Phnom Penh. Many Cambodians were very happy with this arrangement but many people opposed this form of government. Cambodia’s Communists, the Khmer Rogue, bitterly opposed what they saw as a feudal system.

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Viet Cong guerrillas with a captured American Airman (1970)

They began a guerrilla campaign against the royal government in the late 1960s. The situation in Cambodia was greatly complicated by the fact that the North Vietnamese used trails in the Cambodian jungle to support the communists in South Vietnam. This led the Americans to bomb Cambodia and even led them to invade the country in 1970, to destroy the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units in Cambodia.

Despite the American intervention the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese began to take more territory in Cambodia. This led to a military coup in Phnom Penh. The combined communists forces launched a major offensive in the late spring of 1970. They easily swept based the weak Cambodian army, who offered only limited resistance, despite support from the US military.

North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units took several strategic positions and  almost completely cut-off Phnom Penh. The  main fighting took place in and around Kompong Thom, this town is approximately 100 miles, to the  north of Phnom Penh. They had the support of local communist sympathizers. On this day, the Communists were able to cut Cambodia’s last working railway and seized tonnes of food supplies. This meant that Cambodia’s capital was isolated from the rest of the country.

The Cambodian military government became dependent on the Americans. The US air force supplied the city and the army by a massive airlift. The city would have experienced food shortages without the US efforts.

The massive American efforts  to save the city from Communist until 1975. In that year, Saigon fell to the Vietnamese and the Americans began to reduce their commitment to Cambodia. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took the city and instituted a reign of terror which led to the death of at least one million people.

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