The Khmer People's National Liberation Front

The Khmer People's National Liberation Front

From its inception in October 1979, the right-wing, proWestern , former prime minister Son Sann, noted for his integrity and for his unyielding personality, led the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF). The organization was the strongest of the country's noncommunist resistance forces. Its key figures were formerly prominent in the administrations of Sihanouk and of republican leader Lon Nol. A number of displaced Cambodians sheltered in temporary camps on Thai soil near the Thai-Cambodian border backed the KPNLF, which had originated in the anti-Khmer Rouge movement of the 1960s. It controlled about 160,000 civilians confined at "Site 2," a camp in Thailand barely a kilometer from the Cambodian border. Most of the people in the camp were toughened survivors of the Pol Pot era, and they were therefore a potential pool from which to recruit armed rebels for the KPNLF.

In the 1984 to 1985 Vietnamese dry-season offensive, the KPNLF reportedly lost nearly a third of its 12,000 to 15,000 troops in battle and through desertions. This setback, which was blamed on Son Sann for his alleged meddling in military matters, aggravated the long-standing personality conflicts within the KPNLF. Some KPNLF members criticized Son Sann's alleged tendency toward being dictatorial and unbending, and they questioned his lukewarm attitude toward the idea of a unified military command that included Sihanouk's ANS. Criticism mounted after reports that some of the organization's field commanders were involved in the black market and in other forms of corruption. Charges of human rights violations in the KPNLF-run camps for displaced persons further fueled internal dissension.

In December 1985, a dissident faction, wanting to limit Son Sann's role to ceremonial duties, announced the formation of a Provisional Central Committee of Salvation, which would be the new executive body of the KPNLF. The new group asserted that it had seized power from Son Sann in order to put an end to the internal problems of the KPNLF. Key members of the group included two KPNLF vice presidents: General Sak Sutsakhan, formerly Lon Nol's chief of staff; and General Dien Del, commander in chief and chief of staff of the KPNLF armed forces. Other notables were Abdul Gaffar Peangmeth and Hing Kunthon, two executive committee members whom Son Sann had dismissed earlier, and Huy Kanthoul, a former prime minister.

Son Sann countered with the formation of a new military command committee under General Prum Vith. He said, however, that General Sak would remain as commander in chief of the Joint Military Command (that now included the ANS), which was launched in January 1986, reportedly as a concession to the dissident group. Under a compromise worked out through a third party, General Sak regained his control of the armed forces in March 1986. Son Sann, then seventy-four years old, withdrew a previous threat to resign as CGDK prime minister. By early 1987, unity in the KPNLF had been restored, and Son Sann retained his presidency, while General Sak remained in full control of the military.

In a major reshuffle of the military high command in March, General Sak placed his deputy, Dien Del, in charge of anticorruption measures. The need for sweeping internal reform already had become a pressing issue in January 1987, when morale was so low that several hundred KPNLF soldiers defected to Sihanouk's ANS.

National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful, Neutral, and Cooperative Cambodia

Sihanouk's political organization, the National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful, Neutral, and Cooperative Cambodia (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif--FUNCINPEC), emerged in 1987 as an increasingly popular resistance group, that drew support from a broad range of Cambodians. FUNCINPEC's indispensable asset was Sihanouk himself. He maintained residences in Pyongyang, in Mougins (located in southern France), and in Beijing. His son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was Sihanouk's sole authorized spokesman and was the head of FUNCINPEC's office in Bangkok. Among his confidants were Nhek Tioulong, a former cabinet minister under Sihanouk; Buor Hel, a cousin of Sihanouk's; and Chak Saroeun, FUNCINPEC secretary general. As vice president of the organization's Executive Committee and commander in chief of the ANS, former prime minister In Tam was also a key FUNCINPEC loyalist, but he resigned in March 1985 as the result of a feud with Prince Ranariddh.

FUNCINPEC had its share of internal problems. After In Tam's departure, Ranariddh, to the dismay of In Tam's supporters, became the ANS's temporary commander in chief. In January 1986, Sihanouk reshuffled the ANS high command, formally appointing his son commander in chief and, in addition, ANS chief of staff. Sihanouk also dismissed General Teap Ben, who had been chief of staff since 1981, for alleged embezzlement of refugee funds and for disloyalty; Tean Ben was relegated to the nominal post of deputy commander in chief of the Joint Military Command. In May 1986, Sihanouk, citing Ranariddh's heavy workload, was reported to be considering the appointment of General Toal Chay as the new ANS chief of staff. At the end of 1987, however, Sihanouk's son continued to hold the two key military posts.


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