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Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training
“We would take everybody who wanted to go”
I had suggested to [CINCPAC Commander] Admiral Gayler that we should leave Phnom Penh not by fixed wing, because the airport was about 4-5 miles out of town, but from a football field very near to the embassy, in town, from where we would be extracted by helicopter. After a number of exchanges of cables and after the Admiral had come to Phnom Penh himself to survey the situation first hand, our view prevailed.
There was also a difference of views with Washington over who we at Embassy Phnom Penh were responsible for. Obviously, all official and non-official Americans were eligible for evacuation. In reply to a query about which Cambodians should we take out, Washington suggested Cambodians in the government, Cambodian military closely linked to the U.S., and all well-educated Cambodians who Washington felt (and rightly so) were a target for the Khmer Rouge once they came to power. Our mission took exception to that cable, pointing out that anybody who had been working for Americans, Cambodian or third-country national, whether he or she was illiterate or a Ph.D, was in danger.
The number of helicopters available was well beyond the number of people who showed up for evacuation. I think the helicopters were coming from Thailand and from U.S. aircraft carriers cruising off the coast of Cambodia. The job of the helicopters was to ferry all those who were leaving, not directly to Thailand but first on U.S. soil. That piece of U.S. soil was the American aircraft carriers on which we were to land.
I took the two flags and put them over my arm. I got some plastic so they would not get wet. Unkind newspaper people wrote that I had put the flags in a body bag for dead soldiers. On our way to the helicopters, I stopped at my residence where the American flag was flying, and I struck the colors. I took the flag, the third flag, and put it with the other two flags. I asked the Cambodian staff at my residence whether they wanted to go with me. Some of them had been sent to safety before. Those who were still at the residence on April 12 thought they could stay behind without fearing for their safety.
full https://adst.org/2013/04/operation-eagl ... hnom-penh/
By DENIS D. GRAY
PARIS (AP) — Twelve helicopters, bristling with guns and U.S. Marines, breached the morning horizon and began a daring descent toward Cambodia's besieged capital. Residents believed the Americans were rushing in to save them, but at the U.S. Embassy, in a bleeding city about to die, the ambassador wept.
Forty years later, John Gunther Dean recalls one of the most tragic days of his life — April 12, 1975, the day the United States "abandoned Cambodia and handed it over to the butcher."
"We'd accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise. That's the worst thing a country can do," he says in an interview in Paris. "And I cried because I knew what was going to happen."
Five days after the dramatic evacuation of Americans, the U.S.-backed government fell to communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They drove Phnom Penh's 2 million inhabitants into the countryside at gunpoint. Nearly 2 million Cambodians — one in every four — would die from executions, starvation and hideous torture.
Many foreigners present during the final months remain haunted to this day by Phnom Penh's death throes, by the heartbreaking loyalty of Cambodians who refused evacuation and by what Dean calls Washington's "indecent act."
I count myself among those foreigners, a reporter who covered the Cambodian War for The Associated Press and was whisked away along with Dean and 287 other Americans, Cambodians and third country nationals. I left behind more than a dozen Cambodian reporters and photographers — about the bravest, may I say the finest, colleagues I've ever known. Almost all would die.
The pullout, three weeks before the end of the Vietnam War, is largely forgotten, but for historians and political analysts, it was the first of what then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger termed "bug-outs."
"It was the first time Americans came anywhere close to losing a war. What worries me and many of us old guys who were there is that we are still seeing it happen," says Frank Snepp, a senior CIA officer in Saigon and author of "Decent Interval," which depicts the final years of the Vietnam War. After Cambodia and Vietnam came Laos; there would be other conflicts with messy endings, like Central America in the 1980s, Iraq and — potentially — Afghanistan.
Today, at 89, Dean and his French wife reside in an elegant Paris apartment graced by statues of Cambodian kings from the glory days of the Angkor Empire. A folded American flag lies across his knees, the same one he clutched under his arm in a plastic bag as he sped to the evacuation site. Captured by a photographer, it became one of the most memorable images of the Vietnam War era.
In the apartment's vestibule hangs a framed letter signed by President Gerald R. Ford and dated Aug. 14, 1975. It highlights that Dean was "given one of the most difficult assignments in the history of the Foreign Service and carried it out with distinction."
But Dean says: "I failed."
"I tried so hard," he adds. "I took as many people as I could, hundreds of them, I took them out, but I couldn't take the whole nation out."
The former ambassador to four other countries is highly critical of America's violation of Cambodian neutrality by armed incursions from neighboring Vietnam and a secret bombing campaign in the early 1970s.
The U.S. bombed communist Vietnamese sanctuaries and supply lines along the Vietnam-Cambodia border, keeping Cambodia's Lon Nol government propped up as an anti-communist enclave, but it provided World War II aircraft and few artillery pieces to Phnom Penh forces fighting the Khmer Rouge.
In his memoirs, Kissinger says the U.S. had no choice but to expand its efforts into the neighboring country which the North Vietnamese were using as a staging area and armory, and that anti-war sentiment prevented it from giving Cambodia more assistance.
Dean is bitter that Washington did not support his quest to persuade ousted Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk to return from exile and forge a coalition between the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol. It was Dean's "controlled solution."
"Ambassador Dean never had (President Richard) Nixon's or Kissinger's support because both of them wanted out of Indochina," Snepp says, though he, and some historians, doubt that Dean's plan could have worked.
By early 1975, the embassy's cables, most of them declassified in 2006, were becoming increasingly frantic.
Meeting me one day, a haggard Dean, who had lost 15 pounds, asked rhetorically: "Isn't there any sense of human decency left in us?"
The Khmer Rouge were tightening their stranglehold on the capital, shutting down its airport from which the embassy had flown out several hundred Cambodians. An April 6 cable from Dean said the Cambodian government and army "seem to be expecting us to produce some miracle to save them. You and I know there will be no such miracle."
Congress was cutting the aid lifeline to Phnom Penh. The American public had had enough of the war.
Among Cambodians in-the-know, some anti-American feeling was growing.
"We in Cambodia have been seduced and abandoned," Chhang Song, a former information minister, said one night in early 1975.
But among Phnom Penh residents I found only smiles — "Americans are our fathers," one vegetable vendor told me — along with a never-never-land mindset that things would turn out to be all right. Somehow.
The morning of the evacuation, Dean sat in his office one last time and read a letter from Prince Sirik Matak in which the respected former deputy prime minister declined evacuation and thus sealed his own death. It read: "I never believed for a moment that you have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you the Americans."
Dean today describes it as the "greatest accusation ever made by foreigners. It is wrenching, no?"
His embassy closed down at 9:45 a.m., the evacuees driven to a soccer field. The "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters were setting down. The Marines fanned out to form a security cordon, but fears of Cambodian reprisals proved unfounded.
Children and mothers scrambled over fences to watch. They cheered, clapped and waved. A Cambodian military policeman smartly saluted Alan Armstrong, the assistant defense attache. Disgusted and ashamed, Armstrong dropped his helmet and rifle, leaving them behind.
I tried to avoid looking into faces of the crowd. Always with me will be the children's little hands aflutter and their singsong "OK, Bye-bye, bye-bye."
Five days later we received a cable from Mean Leang, an ever-jovial, baby-faced AP reporter who had refused to seek safety. He wrote about the brutal entry of the Khmer Rouge into the city, its surrender and its gunpoint evacuation. "I alone in office, losing contact with our guys. I feel rather trembling," he messaged. "Do not know how to file our stories now ... maybe last cable today and forever."
Barry Broman, then a young diplomat, remembers a Cambodian woman who worked upcountry monitoring the war for the embassy who had also refused evacuation.
"One day she said, 'They are in the city,' and her contact said 'OK, time to go.' She refused. Later she reported, 'They are in the building,' and again refused to leave her post. Her last transmission was, 'They are in the room. Good-bye.' The line went dead."
EDITOR'S NOTE _ AP reporter Denis Gray, who covered the Cambodian War, was evacuated from Phnom Penh 40 years ago.
-- © Associated Press 2015-04-10
APRIL 17, 2015
Forty years ago this week, Cambodia was careening toward the end of a bloody war, poised on the verge of an unspeakable holocaust as the violent Khmer Rouge prepared to enter the nation's capital. For six weeks, David A. Andelman, now editor and publisher of World Policy Journal, then a correspondent for The New York Times, lived through the worst of times in the steaming capital, packed with 2 million refugees, pounded relentlessly by communist rockets. Here, he recalls the time he spent in this war-torn country in a story for the Khmer Times that will appear in expanded form in his forthcoming memoir.
By David A. Andelman
It was just before 2 pm on February 26, 1975 when the twin-engine Air Cambodge prop plane arrived over Pochentong Airport and began a series of downward spirals until we touched down. This “falling leaf” pattern was designed to thwart Khmer Rouge gunners targeting incoming flights. We taxied quickly to a three-sided enclosure of sandbags. The door opened, and there, waiting at the stairs was Sydney Schanberg.
“What are you standing there for?” he barked. “They’re shelling the airport. Run for it!” I looked up at the three-story terminal and realized that a wall of glass windows, was actually empty aluminum window frames. The glass had long ago been blown out. So I ran for it, hard on Schanberg’s heels. Welcome to Cambodia, to my first war. ......
https://worldpolicy.org/2015/04/17/phno ... rs-memory/
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/55804/capi ... vacuation/
The Final Hours of the Khmer Republic
Thursday, 16 April 2015; News by Chhang Song
Part of a flood of 2 million people out of Phnom Penh, Cambodians walk with their belongings on a road out of capital shortly after the Khmer Rouge ordered a total evacuation of the city. Photo: AFP/AKP
Forty years ago today, on April 17, 1975, Cambodia’s Khmer Republic government collapsed in Phnom Penh. Chhang Song, was President Lon Nol’s last Minister of Information. After years of research and interviews, he writes this never before published account of the final hours before the Khmer Rouge curtain dropped over Cambodia.
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – In early April, 1975, when I was with Prime Minister Long Boret and President Lon Nol in Bali, we discussed what should be done in the event of the fall of Phnom Penh.
We agreed the best plan would be to move government headquarters to the deep water seaport of Kampong Som (now Sihanoukville). From there, we would resistance against the communist Khmer Rouge.
The direction would be southwest along National Road 4, to Kampong Som. Evacuation would take place by road, jungle and airlift. The port city offered the point of greatest accessibility for supplies and a continuation of the struggle. A sea evacuation from Kampong Som would represent a final line of safety. Airfields at Kampong Som and on one of the nearby islands had been specially built for the purpose. There were even plans to relocate foreign embassies to the port city.
Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia’s northermost province, was added to the plan as another point of resistance and a rallying point for retreating government forces. Its location close to the Thai border offered advantages.
With no longer any assurance of outside assistance, journeys to these resistance sites appeared extremely hazardous on the evening of April 16, one day before the end.
The only remaining option was to fly the entire cabinet and the top military commander to Oddar Meanchey province. An ultra-secret plan was prepared.
Secret Plan: Flight to Oddar Meanchey
At 4 am on April 17, helicopters would pick up cabinet ministers and military commanders in front of Wat Botum, in an empty field south of the Royal Palace. Ministers and military commanders who had been in session all through the night, left military headquarters in the early hours of the morning for their final rendezvous at the pagoda, before leaving Phnom Penh.
At the pagoda, it was quiet. It was a quiet that was foreboding and threatening. For these men, accustomed to years of violent war, the quiet seemed abnormal. Thirty of the republic’s top civil and military leaders, their wives and children, were there.The men wore their khaki uniforms. The prime minister and Gen. Sutsakhan and their families were there.
Where Are the Helicopters?
The chimes at the pagoda struck four, then four and one-half, then five. The day began to break. No helicopters landed. Helicopters and airplanes flying high in the clouds, on support missions to the front line, were the only ones to be seen. The cabinet was left on the ground, to ponder its next step. Somebody had gotten his signals crossed.
Hope of evacuating the cabinet of the republic to Oddar Meanchey to continue the resistance was fading. “They are not coming,” somebody in the group said in a tired, resigned voice.
In the last days before the fall, some ministers spent their nights at military headquarters, the Etat-Major Général on Norodom Blvd, which now was used for cabinet meetings. They slept on sofas, desks, and even on the floor. Some kept a small amount of luggage with them, clothes and toiletries wrapped in linen sheets. There were, in effect, refugees.
After the aborted helicopter evacuation in front of Wat Botum, Prime Minister Boret and the cabinet returned to the military headquarters just before 6 am.
Deep anxiety, agony and intrigue were all present on that morning of April 17, 1975. After an evening of steady rocket fire, in the morning there was a death-like silence. Not a rocket, not a shot, nor an artillery shell could be heard.
Last Hope: Prince Sihanouk
At 6 am, Ung Bun Huor, president of the National Assembly, walked through the gate to the military headquarters. He looked cheerful enough considering the circumstances.
“Peace is at hand,” he said mimicking Henry Kissinger. “I believe we have been successful,” he added. He referred to a peace proposal the government offered the communist side just three days earlier.
At Kissinger’s urging, a message was sent to Prince Norodom Sihanouk in Beijing, via the Red Cross, officially inviting him to return to Cambodia and head a government of national reconciliation. The message stated that the republican army would surrender to him and welcome him back as head of state.
In Phnom Penh, at dawn on April 17, it was widely assumed that the lull in fighting must be the consequence of Prince Sihanouk’s acceptance of the offer and his orders to his men to cease fighting. Pacing up and down, Bun Hour related what he had seen that morning. Beginning at 5 am, he had driven around the city’s defense perimeter, feeling out the front lines. Before, they had been closing in dramatically on the capital. Now, all was quiet.
Peninsula Invaded Overnight
While this news was being received with a mixture of feelings, the telephone rang. Admiral Vong Sarendy, chief of the Cambodian Navy, answered the call. It was from his headquarters located on the tip of the Chroy Changvar Peninsula. There were suspicious movements directed toward the naval base, the caller reported. Boats could be seen coming from the opposite shore. Sarendy immediately requested permission to return to his headquarters to meet the enemy threat.
Thirty minutes passed. The lull in fighting was suddenly broken by the deafening noise of chattering machinegun fire in the distance. Once again the phone rang at the military headquarters. This time it was Admiral Sarendy himself. He had reached his own headquarters now and was reporting a ferocious attack launched by enemy forces against the naval base. They had crossed the river during the night and now occupied much of Chroy Changvar Peninsula.
Adm. Sarendy’s voice betrayed little emotion as he talked to his chief. But he was aware that the end was in sight. In the background, the sounds of machinegun fire and the explosion of rockets could be heard.
“They are all around us now,” he said simply. “They talked to me through our radio, directly. They demanded that we surrender and raise the white flag at once.”
Gen. Sutsakhan said: “We are in deep trouble. We are besieged. I am no longer in a position to give you orders. Do whatever you judge best. You are on your own.”
Gen. Sutsakhan spoke in a resigned tone. He wished his Chief of Naval Forces good luck and signed off. Prime Minister Boret listened to the grim report without saying a word. He left and jumped into a Land Rover and drove to the river’s edge.
Anarchy on Norodom
Along Norodom Blvd, in front of the prime minister’s house, soldiers and civilians, young and old, marched northward. They were cheering, jostling one another. Soldiers and sailors and airmen tore off their insignia and threw hats and scarves into the air. Jeeps loaded with civilians and students drove to and fro in a mad pace. Armored personnel cars paraded from Independence Monument to Wat Phnom. Soldiers tore the magazines from their tommy guns, shouting, “Peace! Peace!”
Prime Minister Boret returned to military headquarters and confirmed the communists’ final push against the Chroy Changvar naval base. He also told of his own tense moments earlier in the day.
“I just drove to the Royal Palace, then along the quay as far as the Lotus d’Or floating house. I was alone except for the very small escort,” he said. “Suddenly, men in black swarmed around my car. They stopped us, disarmed my guards and myself. Fortunately, they did not know who I was and they released me.”
Those present realized the significance of the incident: Khmer Rouge elements had swam across the river and were already in Phnom Penh.
Defense Minister Gen. Sutsakhan, who now acted as chairman of Cambodia’s supreme committee, the highest executive body of the republic, and Prime Minister Boret, both had the same question in their minds: “What happened to the message sent to Prince Sihanouk in Beijing offering a direct surrender to him?”
Sihanouk: Death to Cabinet Members
At that moment, acting Information Minister Thong Lim Huong walked into the room and handed Prime Minister Boret a cable. The prime minister read the cable. His lips tightened. He said nothing and handed it to Gen. Sak Sutsakhan. When the latter had read it, the prime minister turned to the others.
“Prince Sihanouk has refused our offer,” he said. “He states only that those still heading the government of the republic must be condemned to death.”
Prince Sihanouk had already condemned to death President Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, his cousin. These were the two principal architects of the 1970 coup which toppled him.
There was a profound mood of despair in the room. The other cabinet members were gripped by exasperation, confusion and frustration. They had not expected this reaction from Prince Sihanouk. One by one they departed, leaving the prime minister and his defense minister speechless. The prince’s reply was a devastating blow.
Naval Base Falls
At the Chroy Changvar naval base, the fight was virtually over. White flags were showing everywhere and resistance was crumbling. The black pajama-clad Khmer Rouge attackers entered the barracks.
“Put down your arms,” they ordered the remaining defenders. The attackers roamed through the base now at will. They entered every room, opened doors and examined the defenders’ foxholes.
The insurgents approached a door of a small office. It did not look imposing, but it belonged to Admiral Sarendy, the Chief of Naval Forces. As the insurgents entered his office, the admiral placed his pistol against his right temple, amd pulled the trigger.
Escape Helicopters at the Stadium
Two helicopters were waiting at Olympic Stadium, a five-minute ride from the prime minister’s house. Gen. Sutsakhan suggested the prime minister pack a few things and prepare to leave. He dispatched a guard to pick up his wife and children and drive them to the stadium and the waiting helicopters. Both then separated.
The dying peace initiative of the republic, the overture to Prince Sihanouk, was a last-ditch effort in the minds of the republic’s leaders to avert a bloodbath following the communist take-over. With Prince Sihanouk at the helm, there was hope for an orderly transfer of power. But now that the hope had been crushed, any hope for a peaceful settlement to the five-year Cambodian conflict had vanished.
Morale Plummeted after American Pullout
The rural population continued to pour into the cities, especially Phnom Penh, for protection. All major highways were cut and the Mekong River, once the lifeline for 80 percent of Phnom Penh’s vital foodstuffs, ammunition and petroleum products, had been cut since late January. Moreover, accessibility to the supplies was becoming more difficult in the face of the tightening enemy noose.
The morale of government troops had been hard hit by the American evacuation five days earlier. Frontline soldiers now were submitted to intense enemy propaganda, conducted with loudspeakers, two-way radio, leaflets and, of course, rumor. Weary, bloodied government soldiers fought both the enemy’s bullets and blandishments in the dying hours of the long struggle.
On April 14, at 10:30 am, a disgruntled pilot dropped four, 500-pound bombs on our military headquarters. They missed the main building where the cabinet was in full session. There was only minor damage. But, it demonstrated how low the morale of the troops had sunk.
Last Chance to Escape
The blades of the helicopter had been turning for what seemed to the anxious passengers an eternity. Gen. Sutsakhan was becoming more and more impatient. Where was the prime minister? It had required three, breath-taking trials for the pilots and mechanics, together with an exchange of batteries, to start the big bird’s engine. The passengers were crowded on the floor. The co-pilot’s seat was still empty – reserved for Long Boret, the last prime minister of the Government of the Khmer Republic.
Gen. Sak Sutsakhan’s trip to the stadium had been an ordeal. The once powerful military commander, in a chauffeur-driven limousine, made his way through the packed streets with difficulty. Every house, every office, was emptying its occupants into the streets. Soldiers were throwing down their weapons on the sidewalks. Students shouted: “Peace! Peace!”
It was now 8:30 am. The general had been on the helicopter waiting for Prime Minister Boret for 12 minutes. At that moment a black Mercedes came in sight. It was the Prime Minister. He was driving alone, still wearing his khaki uniform and a felt cap. As he reached the helicopter, he was helped up to the co-pilot’s seat.
The young prime minister appeared apologetic for the delay he had caused. His eyes met those of Madame Sutsakhan. He turned pale and his jaw went slack. He asked: “Where is my wife?” The General asked: “Didn’t you all leave together?”
Finally, a station wagon approached. Madame Long Boret, followed by her children and some 10 members of the family and their friends, all carrying heavy luggage, descended.
“I said to take only a few things, Mr. Prime Minister,” the general said softly, explaining the precarious situation. “It’s impossible for us to carry all these people and their luggage with us.”
The pilot of the escort gunship hovering overhead was now calling repeatedly to the pilot of the helicopter to take off at once.
“Alright, please go ahead,” the prime minister said, indicating he would take another helicopter with this wife and family. It was a fatal decision.
Security was breaking down. Crowds of people were attempting to break into the stadium. Columns of black pajama-clad insurgents could be seen moving towards them. The pilot of the evacuation helicopter lifted off quickly, then disappeared behind the stadium wall. No other plane or chopper would leave Phnom Penh that day.
Prime Minister Captured
The Prime Minister drove back to the Ministry of Information under escort. It was a different kind of escort this time. His Mercedes followed a Land Rover. Soon, a convoy of soldiers in black cotton pajamas surrounded them.
In the Land Rover sat a wiry man with gray hair. He was dressed in black pajamas and wore a checkered scarf about his neck. It was Cheng Sayum Born, a former colonel of the government forces who had broken out of military jail in 1970, where he was serving time for losing the government garrison of Kratie. He joined the Khmer Rouge and evolved into one of their most competent commanders, leading operations in the northwest sector.
Later that day, according to the most reliable available information, the Khmer Rouge victors placed Prime Minister Boret on a garbage truck and sent him to the Cité Sportif. There a Khmer Rouge soldier fired a single bullet through his kidney and left him to die a slow, agonizing death. His wife and children were executed by machine gun fire the same day.
From the lobby of his modern apart-hotel on Chroy Changvar peninsula, Chhang Song reflects how, 40 years ago, Khmer Rouge soldiers stormed a Khmer naval base at the southern tip of the peninsula, now the site of the new Sokha hotel and Residence. KT Photo: Jonathan Pannetier
Push for Phnom Penh
Thu, 7 January 2016
A Vietnamese tank rolls through the streets of Kbal Thnal, south of Phnom Penh, in January of 1979.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party expects a showing of more than 10,000 supporters today to mark the 37th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge regime’s toppling.
Backed by the Vietnamese army, the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation rolled into Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979, ousting the Pol Pot-led government, which fled to the western border and waged a protracted civil war.
The movement, which then formed the People’s Republic of Kampuchea government, contained the nucleus of the CPP – including Prime Minister HE, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and late Senate president Chea Sim – who have remained in power since.
Prime Minister HE yesterday took to Facebook to celebrate. ‘If there was no January 7, there would be . . . no peace negotiations between [King Norodom] Sihanouk and HE, and no Paris Peace Agreement,’ he wrote.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said HE would deliver a speech at an event at CPP headquarters.
Though celebrated by the ruling party, the January 7 capturing of Phnom Penh by the Front is also mired in controversy, with many opponents labelling it an ‘invasion’ by Vietnam.
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