1997 clashes in Cambodia

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1997 clashes in Cambodia
Date 5 July - August 1997
Location  Cambodia


Result Victory of Hun Sen. Co-premier Norodom Ranariddh, ousted, remains in exile.
CPP FUNCINPEC Cambodia Khmer Rouge (mostly in the Northern Provinces)[1]
Commanders and leaders
Hun Sen Norodom Ranariddh
Nhek Bun Chhay
Serei Kosal (in Battambang Province)
Ta Mok
Casualties and losses
Unknown Around 40 FUNCINPEC officials killed[2]
100 civilians killed (5-6 July)[3]

The 1997 clashes in Cambodia, also referred to as 1997 coup in Cambodia (especially by critics of Hun Sen), took place in Cambodia in July and August 1997. As a result, co-premier Hun Sen ousted the other co-premier Norodom Ranariddh. Tens of people were killed during the conflict.


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 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 1993 elections.

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 (ex-communist) 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 the strong-man Hun Sen, who refused to relinquish power.[4]

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

Factional fighting[edit]

In 1997, long tensions between the two governing parties broke into factional fighting between FUNCINPEC supporters of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and of Hun Sen, resulting in a number of casualties. This event was generally treated by the press, as well as by some scholars, as a "bloody coup by strongman Hun Sen",[5] without much serious and neutral investigation into its causes and its development.[6] Among the very few who attempted to look at evidence from both sides at the time were Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin,[7] and journalist Barry Wain, who wrote, "in circumstances that remain disputed, Mr. Hun Sen's military forces... defeated Prince Ranariddh's troops in Phnom Penh".[8]

Thomas Hammarberg, the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia, made it clear in his October 1997 report to the UN General Assembly: the events of July 5–6 were a "coup d'état."[4] In retrospect, 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;[7] the opposite sides accused each other of trying to integrate former Khmer Rouge fighters, who had been/were defecting.

Thus, Hun Sen alleged that Ranariddh had been planning a take-over with the help of Khmer Rouge fighters, supposedly smuggled into the capital (on the other hand, Hun Sen's army included a number of ex-Khmer Rouge fighters as well).[9]

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.[10] At the same time, military police aligned to CPP approached the residence of another FUNCINPEC general, Chao Sambath and demanded FUNCINPEC troops to surrender their weapons.[11] Nhek Bun Chhay responded by ordering FUNCINPEC troops to resist the advances made by CPP's troops and military police,[12] and heavy fighting broke out at the Taing Krassang military base and Phnom Penh International Airport, where most of FUNCINPEC troops were based in.[11]

Hun Sen quickly returned from his vacation at Vung Tau.[13] 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[14] and fled to O Smach in Oddar Meanchey Province.[15]

After the royalist resistance was crushed in Phnom Penh, there was indeed some joint resistance by FUCINPEC-Khmer Rouge forces in the Northern provinces, where the fighting against Hun Sen offensive lasted until August 1997.[1]

Following the seizure of power by Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh went into exile to Paris. Some FUNCINPEC leaders were forced to flee the country, many were shot and Ung Huot was elected as the new First Prime Minister.

FUNCINPEC leaders returned to Cambodia shortly before the 1998 National Assembly elections. In those 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 the senior partner.


  1. ^ a b "Cambodge: les royalistes assiégésAidés des Khmers rouges ils défendent leur - Libération". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  2. ^ Anatomy of a Crisis. Books.google.ee. 2000. p. 150. ISBN 9780824822385. Retrieved 2015-01-23. 
  3. ^ http://www.c-r.org/accord-article/between-war-and-peace-cambodia-1991-1998
  4. ^ a b "Cambodia: July 1997: Shock and Aftermath | Human Rights Watch". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  5. ^ ""Bloody coup" theory". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  6. ^ "Matthew Grainger, EU media guru says Ranariddh guilty". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  7. ^ a b Tony Kevin (21 May 1998). "U.S. Errs in Cambodia Policy, FEER" (PDF). Acic.info. Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  8. ^ "Dr. Michael Vickery, The July 1997 shootout". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  9. ^ "Cambodia: July 1997: Shock and Aftermath by Brad Adams". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  10. ^ Peou (2000), p. 299
  11. ^ a b Peou (2000), p. 300
  12. ^ Widyono (2008), p. 258
  13. ^ Mehta (2013), p. 255
  14. ^ Mehta (2013), p. 257-8
  15. ^ Widyono (2008), p. 254


  • 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 9814484601. 
  • 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 0742555534.