751G.02/2–1350: Telegram

The Officer in Charge at Saigon (Folsom) to the Secretary of State


110. [From Abbott.] In company Gullion I presented President’s message on recognition of Cambodia1 to King Norodom Sihanouk at his palace in Phnom-Penh February 10. We were met at airport by French and Cambodian officials’ guard of honor and military band. [Page 729] In city itself considerable interest had apparently been aroused since streets were massed with onlookers. The 26-year-old King appeared sincerely moved at US recognition. He launched into discussion of status his country within Indochina and vis-à-vis France as follows:

Principal theme that although France had in long-run taken proper steps, they did so only on too little and too late basis. He could understand that it was question of pride and face and he realized need for strong France but hoped US recognition and acceptance Cambodia into family of nations would accelerate progress toward real independence. He stated one of mistakes of France lay in giving too little leadership in security matters to local governments. Cambodians had, it is true, been given responsibility for security in the Angkor area by France who now criticized him because contraband trade thrived there whereas if French only knew it, there was three times as much contraband to use in areas controlled by them. Moreover when security measures were left up to him, order prevailed and people could travel in safety.

Completion of supplementary accords with France was being held up principally because of failure to agree on status of judiciary. Cambodians agreed on special status under law for French nationals and on mixed courts but insisted that all courts operate as part of Cambodian judicial apparatus and dispense justice in name of Kingdom of Cambodia and not in name of French Union. (Cambodian communications with French this subject being airpouched.)

King seemed as much worried re security of Cambodia from future Annamese or Siamese encroachments as concerning immediate internal situation.

Cambodia wished send representatives to UN” and to US at very early date. He himself looked forward to visiting US soon to express his gratification to President Truman personally. His remarks with respect to Cambodian representative abroad paralleled views expressed in memo given us before our visit by King’s representative in Saigon which is being transmitted by airpouch.

With reference to visit by king to US, I intend to explain to his representative in next few days that while visit would undoubtedly be welcome, he should await opportune time.

King looked forward to receiving US aid in some form. He believes stability could come in this part of world only if it were clearly realized on which side US strength and influence lay.

After interview with King Cambodia we talked with Commissaire de la République de Raymond who said chief difficulty was instilling energy and sense responsibility into easy-going Cambodians and that politics tended to be feudal in sense that people grouped around various leaders who in one way or another have achieved preeminence. He pointed out then leaders not of aristocratic origin so [Page 730] no hereditary aristocracy exists and that there are no real political parties with program and continuous policy. He added experiment of turning over complete military responsibility for Siamreap and Kampong-Thom provinces to Cambodians had been reasonably successful although not as much so as Cambodians claimed. Order had been maintained and been rounded up and area had become a center for contraband arms trade. Cambodians tend to take seriously non-violence part of their strict Buddhism and to depend on persuasion rather than force. Bandits under VM leadership not very amenable to persuasion. Chief problem at moment was smuggling of arms from Siam across these provinces as well as by sea in south. De Raymond not satisfied with Cambodian cooperation in stopping this although no evidence of official collusion by Cambodians. Opposite true in Siam.

Commissaire said land reform problem practically nonexistent as nearly all land owned by peasants. Prevalence of small holdings would require organization cooperatives if mechanization agriculture to be introduced. This would be difficult because of extreme individualism Cambodian peasant and absence any village or commercial organization to use as nucleus. Peasants suffered from usury of moneylenders but to less extent than in other countries Indochina. Inflation had not cancelled out advantage of usurers who were agile enough to keep their rates ahead of it.

From Abbott.

Sent Department 110, Department pass Paris 53.

  1. For text, see telegram 59 to Saigon, February 4, p. 720.