1997 Cambodian coup d'état

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(Redirected from 1997 clashes in Cambodia)
1997 armed clashes in Cambodia[2][3][4]
Date5 July – 7 September 1997
Result Co-premier Norodom Ranariddh is ousted by co-premier Hun Sen and exiled until 1998, Hun Sen begins consolidation of power
Cambodian People's Party FUNCINPEC Cambodia Khmer Rouge (mostly in the northern provinces)[1]
Commanders and leaders
Hun Sen
Ke Kim Yan
Norodom Ranariddh
Nhek Bun Chhay
Serei Kosal (in Battambang Province)
Cambodia Ta Mok
Casualties and losses
Unknown Around 40 party officials killed[5] Unknown
100 civilians killed (5–6 July)[6]
1+ Thai soldiers killed, 2+ soldiers injured[7]
First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen

The 1997 Cambodian coup d'état (Khmer: រដ្ឋប្រហារកម្ពុជាឆ្នាំ១៩៩៧, UNGEGN: Rôdthâbrâhar Kâmpŭchéa chhnăm 1997) took place in Cambodia from July to September 1997. As a result, co-premier Hun Sen ousted the other co-premier Norodom Ranariddh. At least 32 people were killed during the coup.[8]


After being embroiled in civil conflict from the late 1960s until the early 1990s, on March 16, 1992 the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), under UNSYG Special Representative Yasushi Akashi and Lt. General John Sanderson, arrived in Cambodia to begin implementation of the UN Settlement Plan, that was concluded as a result of the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. Free elections were held in 1993.

The Khmer Rouge or Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK), whose forces were never actually disarmed or demobilized, barred some people from participating in 1993 elections in the 10-15 percent of the country (holding six percent of the population) it then controlled. Altogether, over four million Cambodians (about 90% of eligible voters) participated in the May election.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh's royalist FUNCINPEC Party was the top vote recipient with 45.5% vote, followed by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (of Son Sann), respectively. Despite the victory, the FUNCINPEC had to enter into coalition talks with the Cambodian People's Party, led by Hun Sen, who refused to relinquish power.[8][9] After being in power since the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Hun and the CPP had largely maintained control of the state apparatus including the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in spite of losing the election.[10][11] Hun and his deputy Norodom Chakrapong also threatened a secessionist movement and claimed there would be a return to civil conflict if they were unable to maintain power.[12][13]

After talks, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen became First and Second Prime Ministers, respectively, in the Royal Cambodian Government.


In 1997, long tensions between the two governing parties led to violence between FUNCINPEC supporters of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and of Hun Sen, resulting in a number of casualties.[14]

In retrospect, the following issues have been identified as the causes of the violent events: the 'dual power' accorded by the 1993 power sharing formula allowed the CPP to retain control over power structures; while officially a ruling party, the FUNCINPEC concluded an alliance – National United Front – with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.[15] Hun Sen alleged that Ranariddh had been planning a take-over with the help of Khmer Rouge fighters, supposedly smuggled into the capital.[16]

On 5 July 1997, CPP troops led by General Ke Kim Yan surrounded a military garrison belonging to Nhek Bun Chhay in Kampong Speu Province. Ke Kim Yan attempted to coax Nhek Bun Chhay to disband his garrison, but failed.[17] At the same time, military police aligned to the CPP approached the residence of another FUNCINPEC general, Chao Sambath, and demanded FUNCINPEC troops surrender their weapons.[18] Nhek Bun Chhay responded by ordering FUNCINPEC troops to resist the advances made by the CPP's troops and military police,[19] and heavy fighting broke out at the Taing Krassang military base and Phnom Penh International Airport, where most of FUNCINPEC troops were based.[18]

Hun Sen quickly returned from his vacation at Vung Tau in Vietnam.[20] The following day, Hun Sen deployed his bodyguard units to the regular forces fighting FUNCINPEC troops. FUNCINPEC troops initiated two attempts to attack CPP troops, but were quickly repulsed by Hun Sen's bodyguards and regular troops, suffering heavy casualties in the process. FUNCINPEC troops subsequently retreated from their positions[21] and fled to O Smach in Oddar Meanchey Province.[22] Hun Sen declared Ranariddh ousted.[14]

After the royalist resistance was crushed in Phnom Penh, there was indeed some joint resistance by FUNCINPEC-Khmer Rouge forces in the Northern provinces, where the fighting against Hun Sen's offensive lasted until September 1997.[1][23] CPP forces carried out summary executions of FUNCINPEC ministers.[24] Between 41 and 60 people were executed in custody, and a United Nations report found a large number of incinerated bodies.[14]

Following the seizure of power by Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh went into exile in Paris. Other FUNCINPEC leaders were forced to flee the country, following the executions. With the FUNCINPEC-aligned forces now divided, the party ceased to have military power.[14] Ung Huot was elected as the new First Prime Minister.[14]


Thomas Hammarberg, the United Nations Special Representative on human rights in Cambodia, condemned the violence, and made it clear in his October 1997 report to the UN General Assembly: the events of July 5–6 were a "coup d'état."[9] The Cambodian People's Party rejected the characterization of the events as a coup.[8] The coup had a severe impact on the tourism industry in Cambodia during 1997.[25]

The United States cut aid to Cambodia in response.[26][27] ASEAN withdrew a previous invitation for Cambodia to join as a member as a result of the coup.[28][29] Its accession did not take place until 1999.[30] Amnesty International also condemned the summary executions in an open letter to Hun Sen.[24]

The CPP stated that they were committed to free and fair elections in 1998. However, the party had now established "politico-military domination".[14] FUNCINPEC leaders returned to Cambodia shortly before the 1998 general elections. The CPP received 41% of the vote, FUNCINPEC 32%, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) 13%. Many international observers judged the elections to have been seriously flawed, claiming political violence, intimidation, and lack of media access. The CPP and FUNCINPEC formed another coalition government, with CPP as the senior partner.[citation needed]

The coup is seen as a major turning point in the CPP and Hun Sen's consolidation of power into de facto one-party rule by 2018.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cambodge: les royalistes assiégésAidés des Khmers rouges ils défendent leur - Libération". Archived from the original on 2010-10-20. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  2. ^ Hul, Reaksmey (9 July 2015). "Opposition Marks Anniversary of 1997 Coup". Voice of America. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  3. ^ Willemnys, Alex (5 July 2017). "Making of a strongman: In July 1997, Hun Sen took full control of the country – and his party". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  4. ^ Hutt, David (28 June 2017). "Remembering the Cambodian Coup". The Diplomat. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  5. ^ Ayres, David M. (2000). Anatomy of a Crisis. p. 150. ISBN 9780824822385. Retrieved 2015-01-23.
  6. ^ David Ashley. "Between war and peace: Cambodia 1991-1998 | Conciliation Resources". C-r.org. Retrieved 2018-07-04.
  7. ^ AP Archive. "Thailand - Thai soldier killed in fighting." YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, Aug 28, 1997. Accessed Jul 21, 2015. [1]
  8. ^ a b c "A coup in Cambodia | Asia | The Economist". archive.is. 2020-12-07. Archived from the original on 2020-12-07. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  9. ^ a b "Cambodia: July 1997: Shock and Aftermath | Human Rights Watch". Archived from the original on 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  10. ^ Branigin, William (1993-06-11). "PHNOM PENH REJECTS RESULTS OF ELECTION". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  11. ^ "How strategic 'gift-giving' has sustained Hun Sen's 35-year grip on power". Southeast Asia Globe. 2020-02-04. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  12. ^ "What has gone wrong in Cambodia?". www.lowyinstitute.org. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  13. ^ "Cambodia's Dirty Dozen". Human Rights Watch. 2018-06-27. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Peou, Sorpong (1998). "Cambodia in 1997: Back to Square One?". Asian Survey. 38 (1): 69–74. doi:10.2307/2645469. ISSN 0004-4687. JSTOR 2645469.
  15. ^ Tony Kevin (21 May 1998). "U.S. Errs in Cambodia Policy, FEER" (PDF). Acic.info. Retrieved 2014-10-16.
  16. ^ "Cambodia: July 1997: Shock and Aftermath by Brad Adams". Archived from the original on 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  17. ^ Peou (2000), p. 299
  18. ^ a b Peou (2000), p. 300
  19. ^ Widyono (2008), p. 258
  20. ^ Mehta (2013), p. 255
  21. ^ Mehta (2013), p. 257-8
  22. ^ Widyono (2008), p. 254
  23. ^ Barber, Jason (12 September 1997). "War spills over border; O'Smach stalemated". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  24. ^ a b "Document - Cambodia: Open letter to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen from Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane | Amnesty International". 2014-03-16. Archived from the original on 2014-03-16. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  25. ^ Mydans, Seth (1997-08-17). "Cambodian Coup Leaves Tourist Sites Empty (Published 1997)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-17.
  26. ^ Erlanger, Steven (1997-07-16). "U.S. May Cut Back on Aid Until Cambodian Election (Published 1997)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  27. ^ Mydans, Seth (1997-07-20). "Coup Halts Lifeline to Cambodia Poor (Published 1997)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  28. ^ "CNN - ASEAN nations disagree on admitting Cambodia - December 15, 1998". CNN. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  29. ^ "Diplomatic pragmatism: ASEAN's response to the July 1997 coup | Conciliation Resources". www.c-r.org. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  30. ^ "Admission of Cambodia into ASEAN (30 April 1999)". 2011-05-11. Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  31. ^ Hutt, David. "Remembering the Cambodian Coup". thediplomat.com. Retrieved 2021-02-17.


  • Mehta, Harish C. & Julie B. (2013). Strongman: The Extraordinary Life of Hun Sen: The Extraordinary Life of Hun Sen. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. ISBN 978-9814484602.
  • Peou, Sorpong (2000). Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy?. National University of Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9813055391.
  • Widyono, Benny (2008). Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia. Lanham, Maryland, United States of America: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0742555532.