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Cambodia: A Pattern of Terror

3 minute read

Viet Cong-style terrorism? Not in Phnom-Penh, insisted the U.S. military aid director. “It’s much harder for them to commit sabotage here because they would have to get Cambodians to do it.” Not in Phnom-Penh, agreed a European ambassador. “It would be too costly for them. They would lose what little popularity they might have.”

For eight years in Viet Nam, the Viet Cong have systematically conducted a campaign of terrorism. Last year they killed an average 500 civilians a month. Though Cambodia’s war has become Viet Nam’s in miniature, most Western officials refused to believe that terrorism would play a part in it. Then last week, with a thunderous roar, nearly 100 lbs. of plastique exploded in Phnom-Penh’s U.S. embassy. Thick concrete walls were ripped open; floors and ceilings were ruptured. But the plastique went off at 6:35 a.m., 55 minutes before the first staff members arrived for work, and nobody was hurt.

The sabotage of the embassy was the latest in a series of bombings that until last week seemed unconnected. In October there were two injuries when a man tossed a hand grenade in the capital’s central market place Last month 23 people were killed and 29 wounded when two grenades were tossed in a Phnom-Penh cinema. A grenade on a crowded avenue, and plastique attacks on a bus and a locomotive followed. The attacks, which have killed at least 25 and injured 60, can no longer be regarded as isolated incidents. They represent a new phase in the war, said Premier Lon Nol. “This second phase becomes a test of morale, a ferocious battle of nerves.”

In hopes of throttling the terrorists, the Cambodian government ordered a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for foreigners, especially those who would be “susceptible to Communist propaganda.” By that, the government meant Chinese and Vietnamese residents. Indeed, a man of mixed Chinese-Vietnamese blood soon “confessed” to the embassy bombing.

In recent weeks, suspected supporters of the deposed Premier, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, were also arrested. A Sihanouk son, Prince Norodom Noradipo, and a daughter, Princess Norodom Botum Bopha, are among those held. From Peking, Sihanouk last week lamented the arrests in a cable to TIME Correspondent Robert Anson. Anson, who was captured by the Communists and held captive for 21 days, had sought Sihanouk’s help in locating other missing newsmen. Said the prince in a noncommital reply: “I understand the anguish and pain of mothers, wives and children. I myself am confronted with unhappy family problems; for example, my aged, ill mother is kept prisoner by the regime of Lon Nol, which has just arrested and unjustly imprisoned two of my children. War consists of such dramas, but I do not complain because I know that humanity is so made that no one can count on anyone.’

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