The Chargé at Phnom Penh (Montllor) to the Department of State
126. Sent priority Saigon 232, repeated information Department 126, Paris priority 102. Prime Minister Penn Nouth and Defense [Page 1364] Minister General Tioulong in hurriedly called briefing of diplomatic corps Phnom Penh presented most pessimistic picture of military situation as it has developed in last week. Meeting held afternoon April 21 attended by Thai Minister, British, Japanese and American Charges. Cambodian officials present were Prime Minister, Minister Defense, Foreign Minister Tep Phan, Information Minister Pho Proeung and Chief Protocol Monissara. General Tioulong stated military situation had deteriorated badly as Viet Minh increase pressure in all sectors. Deployment three battalions to critical northeast area at suggestion French command has completely denuded south and center of country. By concerted effort, Tioulong estimated Viet Minh could take over country in one week since royal army strength is spread so thin that it cannot halt major concentrated enemy effort. Phnom Penh is now defended by only two companies and six armored cars. French have told Cambodia not to rely on any substantial French assistance in troops since French command in south Vietnam has none to spare. Tioulong pointed out vulnerability of road between Kratie and Stung Treng (Route Nationale 31) to attack by Viet Minh battalions invading northeastern Cambodia. In event road is cut, Stung Treng will only be accessible by air, and several battalions would be isolated there.
Tioulong made plea for immediate material help from friendly countries. He said Cambodia has manpower and will to fight Communist invaders, but it lacks arms and material means.
Prime Minister Penn Nouth endorsed plea for arms, adding that all of his previous requests to visiting American legislators and statesmen, including Vice President Nixon, had been to no avail. He also mentioned that King’s request to Ambassador Heath for a few obsolete airplanes had gone unheeded. In light of this attitude, he did not understand how great powers expected Cambodia to hold out against invasion of foreign aggressor.
Cambodia, said Prime Minister, is on brink of disaster. Foreign military assistance given by France has always been predicated on containing Viet Minh within Cambodia, but never on crushing them. Now that two elite Viet Minh battalions have penetrated into Cambodia, and threaten Mekong valley, balance of power has shifted to Viet Minh, and in eyes of Prime Minister, fate of Cambodia could be settled in matter of days.
Penn Nouth revealed his government was planning new appeal to United Nations and asked representatives of US, Great Britain, Japan and Thailand to ask their governments to give Cambodia full support.1 Cambodia’s most urgent need was stated to be automatic weapons (automatic rifles and submachine guns) as well as liaison aircraft. [Page 1365] Financial assistance to mobilize an additional 10,000 men was also requested. Penn Nouth said such a contribution by US would not even be felt by America.
Prime Minister pointed out that, whether we like fact or not, Cambodians want to protect their own country, and refuse to take orders from French. This fact has existed since 1946 but France seems to refuse to accept it.
In an emotional ending that almost brought tears to his eyes, Prime Minister asked whether great powers that are leading fight against Communism will stand by as a small nation that only wants to live in peace with world is swallowed up by Communist tide. It would be cheaper and easier to help Cambodia defend itself now than try to wrest territory from Viet Minh hands later on.
General Tioulong openly asked that a MAAG officer visit Phnom Penh immediately to assess situation in light of gravity that it has taken for the free world.
Comment: Acting High Commissioner Gorce called on me morning April 22 and reassured me that situation was not as serious as Cambodians have been making it out. Gorce believes Cambodians can face present Viet Minh strength if they have will to fight. Unfortunately, Cambodian officer corps is in army for gain rather than as patriotic duty, and according to Gorce, this is what King found most disheartening in present emergency. It contributed to King’s decision to put Tioulong, a strong personality, in charge of army, with hope he may be able to instill some badly needed discipline.
Embassy has no information on proposed text of appeal to UN but Gorce has been instructed to tell Prime Minister that an appeal to Security Council at this time would not be in interest of allied powers.
French military attaché to High Commissioner calling this afternoon. I will report his assessment of military situation.