It is most regrettable that in its continuous attempts to embarrass the Royal Government of Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily has now sought fit to compare the period of the rule of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk with the rule of Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen.
—Letter to the Editor—
In so doing, Michelle Vachon’s article “Ways of a Dictator” (September 17-18) has painted as black a picture as possible of His late Majesty’s rule over Cambodia during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (Popular Socialist Community) period from 1955 to 1970.
It should not be necessary to emphasize how different these two periods of Cambodian contemporary history are. During the Sangkum period, Cambodia confronted the challenges of the Cold War with a domestic communist-
inspired insurgency, threats to its borders by rapacious neighbors on the east and west and the war in Vietnam. Cambodia relied on foreign aid for its development.
Today’s Cambodia is at peace. There are no domestic insurgencies threatening the Royal Government nor are there threats to Cambodia’s territorial integrity. The country enjoys both substantial foreign investment as well as foreign aid for its development and national reconstruction, following years of civil strife and the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.
Ms. Vachon’s shallow article seems to suggest that the Democratic Party of the 1940s and 1950s was the perfect example of democratic principles. It was not so.
As Pol Pot’s biographer Philip Short has written, the Democratic Party was plagued by fractiousness and during the five years they had formed a government “the Democrats had shown themselves to be corrupt, feudalistic, incompetent and addicted to Byzantine factional squabbling which paralysed political life.”
Ms. Vachon seems to suggest that Ieu Koeus, the successor of Prince Youtevong, had been assassinated as part of what she refers to as Sihanouk’s “absolute and sometimes bloody control of the country.” Not so. The historical record shows that the assassination of Ieu Koeus in 1949 was organized by a member of the entourage of Prince Norodom Norindeth, president of the Liberal Party. Mr. Short has identified Yem Sambaur as the assassin of Ieu Koeus. Yem Sambaur was a close associate of Lon Nol and became foreign minister after the March 18, 1970, coup d’etat.
The purpose of the formation of the Sangkum was to seek national unity, which was threatened by continuous fights between the existing political parties, which were unable to work together for the higher interests of the nation. Indeed, the former French ambassador to Cambodia, Pierre Gorce, told me when I met him in Paris that the Cambodian political parties were “a pannier a crabs” (a basket of crabs) going in all directions who could not agree on anything. Pierre Gorce had been a senior official in the French colonial administration, so he had an intimate knowledge of the country and personalities.
The Sangkum was not a political party, but rather a national gathering, a kind of mass organization led by the charismatic authority of the former king, without the impediment of formal monarchical office. Its members were of all political tendencies gathered in a government of national union, which was capable of being identified neither with the left nor the right of the political spectrum, thus forging a national union which the late King felt was essential for the survival of an independent Cambodia.
In the environment of the Cold War, Sihanouk was able to instill a sense of nationhood and national unity and, more importantly, a sense of national destiny and purpose into an overwhelmingly rural population. Any fair-minded observer of Cambodia at the time would have realized that the policies Sihanouk followed were the only possible policies for his country.

Cambodia was a country that could not, certainly in the international sphere, control its own destiny—a country largely without resources and powerful friends, which had more or less to keep afloat in a region of the world that was in flames during the whole period of the successive wars in

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