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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia 1994 - the news in review

Cambodia 1994 - the news in review


The year begins with public hopes - but private skepticism - about how successful peace negotiations between the two-month-old Royal Government and the Khmer Rouge will be. Government forces gear up to fight and weaken the rebels "to bolster (the government's) leverage during peace negotiations". First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh says the KR refuses to recognize the Royal Government but insist at the same time they should be part of it - thereby failing "a simple test of sincerity". The KR say: "What we get depends on fighting" - and they increase attacks in the northwest using the Thai border. "They are unbeatable if they keep coming through Thailand," says a senior UN military official. Long-time KR leader Ieng Sary is stripped of power.

Worried human rights groups meet over hard-line draft press laws. The draft goes to the Council of Ministers but is returned later amid critical debate.

Cambodian fishermen are accused by Laos of using grenades to fish, killing scores of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the process.


Buddhist spiritual leader Maha Ghosananda is nominated for the 1994 Nobel Peace prize. Ghosananda says he intends leading a peace march to Pailin - armed with trees to replant land stripped by gem mining and logging. Ghosananda had previously led two other Cambodian peace marches, the second on the eve of last year's elections.

Former secret police chief Sin Song visits the United States and is invited to a breakfast function attended by President Bill Clinton - a bit of an embarrassment for some US politicians. Sin Song cruises back to Cambodia and begins thinking how else he can capture the headlines (see July).

The army captures northern Khmer Rouge stronghold Anglong Veng after attacks throughout January. One-legged rebel commander Ta Mok flees without his wooden leg. Fifty government troops and 135 KR are killed. Nineteen days later Ta Mok comes back for his missing leg and Anglong Veng is back in rebel hands.

The Bassac Theater in Phnom Penh burns down and with it "the heart of a nation's culture," says Culture Minister Nouth Narang. Famous Khmer architect Vann Molyvan, who built the Bassac, "paced up and down watching the fire, too upset to talk," wrote the Post. Workers using a blow torch on the roof are blamed.

An over-loaded ferry sinks on the Mekong drowning 44 people.

Japanese company Campex strikes Cambodia's first oil and gas reserves, 155km south of Sihanoukville.


The government again prepares for new offensives against the KR and in late March take their key trading town of Pailin. Twenty thousand rebel fighters and civilians flee to Thailand as 5,000 government soldiers, with tanks and artillery support, take over. KR radio is interrupted for the first time. "If they want (Pailin) they can have it. But they can't keep it for long," says a KR official. Military analysts say that counter-attacks from surrounding mountains will make Pailin very difficult to hold - and they are right. Pailin falls within the month back to the rebels.

More than 1,300 families are left homeless after fire sweeps through a shanty village along the banks of the Tonle Sap. Five people including two children are killed. There are urgent calls for Phnom Penh to buy up-to-date fire fighting equipment.

International donors pledge another $777 million in aid to Cambodia, $490 million to be spent in 1994.


King Sihanouk says he intends holding peace talks with Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan and Prime Ministers Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen but is not optimistic about the outcome. The King also says Chinese doctors have almost cured his spinal bone marrow cancer.

American aid worker Melissa Himes is kidnapped.

Dominic Chappell, 25, Kellie Wilkinson, 24 and Tina Dominy, 22 are forced at gun point from their taxi 100km northeast of Sihanoukville and taken. The British and Australian embassies issue warnings to nationals not to travel out of town.

Robbers steal $180,000 in cash and jewelry from the Pochentong International Airport duty free shop.

Maha Ghosananda's peace march begins. He will press ahead to Pailin despite heavy fighting.


The government reels: Pailin and Anglong Veng fallen; Western hostages missing; aid workers evacuated from the provinces and the Khmer Rouge likely to escalate fighting.

King Sihanouk's peace talks collapse because Khieu Samphan says Phnom Penh is neither safe nor neutral. In an alternative venue in Korea, the KR refuse to negotiate a cease-fire. The King also appeals for the hostages to be released.

The heaviest fighting around Battambang since 1989 forces 40,000 civilians and most foreign aid workers to leave.

More than 550 peace marchers vow to continue their Dhammayietra but not to Pailin as planned. Two marchers are killed and four wounded when they are caught in a crossfire between KR guerrillas and government troops 68km north of Battambang. The march ends at Angkor Wat.

Himes is released after 41 days.


King Sihanouk talks of re-taking power in Cambodia - "If the situation is one of anarchy I will be obliged to intervene." Prince Ranariddh predicts more fighting following the collapse of peace talks.

The first Royal Plowing Ceremony in 25 years is held in Phnom Penh. The ceremony, marking the beginning of the rice planting season, is usually presided over by the King, who cannot attend this year. The ceremony ends with predictions of bountiful crops of rice, corn and beans; they, however, are astray (see December).

The Prum Bayon newspaper funded by Phnom Penh university students is ordered to close for using "insulting language and printing articles that jeopardized national security".


The attempted coup - though some say the events were more an "internal CPP matter". Alleged coup leader Prince Chakrapong is arrested at a hotel room and allowed to flee in exile to Malaysia. Another leader, Sin Song, is put under house arrest, but in September escapes. Sin Sen, promoted to Secretary of State for the Interior just two days before, is also nabbed boarding a flight to Malaysia. Morning News editor Ngoun Noun is arrested after running an article implicating Interior Minister Sar Kheng in the coup.

Hun Sen writes an open letter criticizing King Sihanouk's plans to resume control as unconstitutional. The King announces that he will wash his hands of politics, saying reconciliation between the Khmer Rouge and the government is impossible.

The National Assembly passes a controversial law outlawing the Khmer Rouge.

The government signs over responsibility for logging deals with Thailand from the Ministry of Finance to the military. Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh says he wasn't told about it and is "quite surprised".

Circumstantial evidence suggests Western hostages Wilkinson, Chappell and Dominy are dead. Some blame the KR; others say it was more probably bandits.

Three more Westerners are taken by Khmer Rouge soldiers led by Colonel Chhouk Rin from the train to Kompong Som. The hostages - David Wilson, Mark Slater and Jean Michael Braquet - become household names around the world as overseas journalists flock to Cambodia.


United Nations and human rights organizations report allegations of a secret prison, used by the army to torture and execute, in Battambang. The government denies the reports.

KR General Noun Paet demands $50,000 each for Wilson, Braquet and Slater but his bosses ask for an end to Western military aid. Government soldiers surround Paet's long-time hideout in Phnom Vour.

Cambodia's southern and western provinces are hit by huge flooding. 142,000 are made homeless and damage is put at $200 million. Many rice crops are ruined.

A $1 billion Chinese proposal to build a 200,000-strong "new Hong Kong" city in Kandal near Phnom Penh is dumped.

A United Nations report says Cambodia's efforts to improve human development is succeeding.

Plans to reform the army are announced, a precursor to increased Western military aid.


Non Chan, editor of the Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth), is gunned down near Wat Phnom by three men on a motorbike. He is taken bleeding to Calmette Hospital but dies soon after. The killing, deplored by human rights groups, comes amid a general crackdown against government critics. Two men are arrested but have - to date - yet to come to trial after their "confessions" were thrown out by a judge.

Evidence emerges that mobile phone calls are routinely tapped by the government.

Hun Sen says his place as CPP leader is safe and hints at an impending Cabinet reshuffle.

The five-year-old daughter of United Nations Human Rights officer Luis Oliveros is shot in the thigh and dumped outside the National Museum after attackers abducted her inside her father's car.

Medical students demonstrate after learning of their exam results, claiming teachers sold answers to some students and failed the rest.

Five groups are poised to bid for a planned $500 million casino on Naga Island off the Sihanoukville coast.

Police crackdown on the infamous Toul Kork brothels in Phnom Penh.


Cambodia's first ever public opinion poll rates the government as "good" or "very good". More than half the correspondents give the same rating to Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Sam Rainsy is the most popular politician; Energy Minister Pou Sothirak the least.

Rainsy is sacked and Foreign Minister Prince Sirivudh resign in Cabinet reshuffle.

Oung Sopharap, 17, becomes Miss Cambodia 1994 but says she won't travel alone overseas for the sake of her modesty.

Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces record another 40,000 IDPs in renewed fighting, adding to the 50,000 already displaced during fighting in April.

Princess Lyda Sisowath, one of the few members of the Royal family to survive the Khmer Rouge rule, dies of cancer aged 49.

News late in the month confirms that hostages Wilson, Braquet and Slater have been executed by the Khmer Rouge.

Tiger Breweries, with $50 million, becomes the first big Cambodian investor since the passing of the investment law.


Western embassies are angered by the treatment given to Colonel Rin, the hostages' abductor, after he defects and leads the taking of Paet's Phnom Vour hideout. Embassies warn that the taking of more Western hostages is likely. News emerges that Paet was paid at least some of the $150,000 he was asking for to release the hostages.

Coup co-leader Sin Sen is sentenced to 18 years jail. Prince Chakrapong and Sin Song - later arrested in Thailand - are sentenced to 20 years apiece in absentia.

Former Australian ambassador John Holloway, now a governmental advisor, has a secret diplomatic cable leaked to the Australian press. The cable is critical of the Cambodian leadership and military.

Raffles signs to develop the Royal Hotel, and later will also get the Grand.

ASEAN gives Cambodia the nod for observer status, and say there is no reason why full membership cannot soon be granted.

The hard-line Press Law is approved by the Council of Ministers and raises fierce debate and criticism - again.

Texan evangelist Mike Evans breezes into Phnom Penh promising miracles. He delivers two near riots instead. "He stays, he dies," predicts a policeman. Evans scuttles off to Thailand.


The rice crop lies in ruin after first flooding, then drought affects more than 500,000 hectares or more than one third of the Kingdom's paddies. The World Food Program asks for a doubling of food aid.

Draft laws giving wide powers to hire and fire judges to the Justice Minister are criticized but overwhelmingly passed by the National Assembly.

Queen Monineath visits Cambodia.

The resurrected Water Festival is an unqualified success. Hundreds of thousands of spectators watch the festival both in the capital and in Angkor Wat.

Khmer Rouge General Paet leads rebel troops towards his former home of Phnom Vour but they are routed by government soldiers.

Kompong Cham journalist Chan Dara is shot and killed. Colonel Sat Soeun, fingered by Dara's newspaper for alleged logging racketeering, is arrested.

Khmer Rouge defections continue.

Malaysian interests win the Naga Island casino tender - the single biggest investment in Cambodia.

The army claims the KR have been routed in the south.

New regulations passed in Phnom Penh that all moto passengers must ride sidesaddle.



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