70. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State0

1458. Geneva for FECON. Deptel 1086.1

Before commenting specifically, as requested reference telegram, on actions which might be taken to encourage improved RKGGVN relations, particularly with respect border control problem, believe some background as viewed from Phnom Penh might be useful.
RKG does not accept GVN thesis that Cambodia provides transit facilities, training areas and safehaven significant scale to Viet Cong and that this is one of major causes for growing insecurity SVN (Embtel 1412).2 It does not consider there is serious problem of border control with GVN nor does it appear to believe cooperating with GVN or intensified border control measures adapted unilaterally (apart from those that may be required along northeast frontier as result Laos developments) would significantly add to Cambodian security (Embassy despatches 284, 288 and 374).3
I likewise believe that GVN thesis not valid for reasons indicated in paragraph 4 below. Although I cannot offer formal proof in support my position, proof in direct support of GVN thesis also appears lacking except for that supplied by GVN sources which as far as I am aware uncorroborated by non-GVN sources. I submit, therefore, that GVN claims may be grossly exaggerated in order provide excuse its inability more effectively cope with Viet Cong. Thus, while more effective border controls by RKG desirable, believe they not likely play very decisive role in achieving improved security conditions in SVN. This view shared by CHMAAG, ARMA, [less than line of source text not declassified] and, I understand, chief French military mission General Seta, who has served in Cambodia for almost ten years.
There are number of factors which support RKG contention that Cambodia not giving assistance, knowingly or unknowingly, to Viet Cong elements on any significant scale. First is Sihanouk’s detestation [Page 153] and fear of Vietnamese and in particular Viet Minh. While latter’s presence in Cambodia in 1953 could be rationalized Sihanouk deeply resented Viet [garble—Minh?] invasion 1954 after Cambodia had acceded to independence, a move which (according to Seta) he will never forgive. Despite his dislike of Diem, he has nothing to gain in cooperating with Viet Cong and indeed greatly concerned possibility Communist state on his border. Cambodian population itself remains hostile to Vietnamese, has likewise not forgotten experiences of 1953–1954 and is not likely give support to Viet Minh directed apparatus such as Viet Cong. Attitudes expressed by FARK officers also tend support belief they disposed react vigorously when alerted to any Vietnamese encroachment in Cambodia. (In conversation they take obvious pride and satisfaction in quick response to Hoa Hao incident in April 1960 and Takeo battalion headquarters has gory pictorial display of victims.)4 Apart from Cambodian attitude, area through which Viet Cong would have to transit Cambodia from Lao into SVN, very inhospitable, little food and water and difficult terrain. So long as Annamite Mountain chain and sea route from North Vietnam provide satisfactory corridor into SVN, little reason use Cambodia which risks creating political problems between North Vietnam and Cambodia.

I do not deny existence of some limited Viet Cong activity in Cambodia. Undoubtedly small groups of Viet Cong may transit Cambodia from time to time in guise of harmless peasants and Viet Cong couriers may feel more secure in transiting Cambodia than using corridor through SVN. Small Viet Cong groups likewise may find safehaven across frontier in Cambodia with collaboration of civilians and even military who may be susceptible to bribery. This more likely in areas such as Svay Rieng province where Vietnamese population particularly large. In addition, fund raising, propagandizing and even recruiting by Viet Cong undoubtedly taking place among Vietnamese minority population who for most part anti-Diem although not necessarily pro-Viet Minh. However we have yet to see convincing evidence that type and scale of such activities are responsible to any significant degree for growing insecurity SVN, and it not likely that new border control measures would succeed in curbing such activities to any appreciable degree.

We consider highly improbable recent GVN claim that force of 3,000 being secretly trained in Stung Treng and likewise seriously question [Page 154] accuracy of allegation that French here actively supporting anti-Diem elements.

Events in Laos are leading RKG to give increasing attention to border control problem along northeastern frontier in expectation of more active effort by Communists to infiltrate into Cambodia should Laos fall under Communist domination. Sihanouk acknowledged this concern to me recently (Embtel 1412), at same time expressing resentment over allegedly false GVN accusations that Cambodian territory utilized by Viet Cong. This concern doubtless explanation for proposal made at Geneva by Foreign Minister Tioulong May 22 that ICC be increased in strength and that fixed posts be created along Cambodia–Laos frontier. Appears evident that such a measure, while bringing some degree of reassurance to RKG, should also be helpful to GVN.
Improvement in RKGGVN relations has for past several years been common major objective of AmEmbassies Phnom Penh and Saigon since these relations closely intertwined with US–RKG relations and free world position in SEA. Some progress has been made but it necessarily slow since we working against deep seated enmity and distrust which have existed for centuries. RKG appears to accept principle for further conversations with GVN in attempt resolve outstanding problems following Tho–Tioulong meeting March 26 to discuss Khmer Krom problem.5 Due RKG present concentration on Laos and absence from Phnom Penh of all policymakers, these conversations not likely be resumed until after Geneva Conference. So long as Tioulong remains Foreign Minister and there is no new incident to re-envenom relations believe prospects for such conversations are favorable. Obviously settlement financial problems (Paris Accords)6 to which GVN holds key would help create atmosphere in which some form border control cooperation (short of hot pursuit) could be worked out. However believe important reiterate there no reason as yet to believe RKG considers that border cooperation would materially enhance RKG security. The more importance US and GVN appear attach to such cooperation the greater the quid pro quo RKG likely to seek. Until RKG feels own security directly or indirectly more threatened by possible Viet Cong domination of SVN than by suspected [Page 155] (and sometimes substantiated) GVN backing for anti-Sihanouk activities, spirit of cooperation will be lacking even though written agreements may exist.
Following are our specific suggestions on this problem:
We continue efforts to bring about resumption Tho–Tioulong discussions following Geneva conference. Because TioulongMau7 personal relations are on quite different basis than those between Tioulong and Tho, and because personal relations can be highly important in such negotiations, recommend we do not encourage TioulongMau discussion in Geneva.
Any US discussions with Cambodians on border control should be on basis new situation in Laos and not on basis GVN contentions re use of Cambodia by Viet Cong unless some significant and acceptable evidence to contrary can be produced.
US should take maximum advantage of Tioulong’s suggestion May 22 speech re increasing number ICC personnel and establishing fixed positions along Laos–Cambodian frontier. This is RKG proposal which has security implications for RKG and should also benefit SVN.
Pending further developments in Geneva conference we inclined discourage approach by Ambassador Harriman to Sihanouk unless replies from other addressees introduce some new element of which we unaware. However, informal discussions with Tioulong, but not Son Sann, on border problems, stressing enhanced importance of area cooperation for area security might be useful. Tioulong less emotional and more realistic than Sihanouk on question GVN relations and such discussions might create greater receptivity to idea of cooperation when RKGGVN conversations actually get under way. Our approach to Tioulong not likely make impression unless we able and willing support his proposal mentioned in (C) above.
We doubt French approach to Sihanouk would be productive. French here share our views re GVN allegations on use of Cambodia by Viet Cong.
Suggest carrot of additional MAP items not be proffered until Geneva outcome and RKG attitude toward border cooperation in light thereof somewhat clearer.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K/6–161. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Saigon, Bangkok, Geneva, Paris, and CINCPACPOLAD.
  2. In telegram 1086, May 29, also sent to Saigon as 1466, the Vietnam Task Force asked for suggestions as to what South Vietnam and Cambodia could realistically do to improve relations and how the United States could facilitate the process. (Ibid., 751K.5–MSP/5–2961)
  3. Dated May 13. (Ibid., 751J.00/5–1361)
  4. Despatch 284, March 20, concerns an unrelated matter; it was not found in Department of State files. Despatches 288 and 374, March 21 and May 31, contain information on South Vietnamese-Cambodian relations. (Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K31/3–2161 and 651H.51K3/5–3161)
  5. On April 1, 1960, FARK clashed with Hoa Hao forces operating in Cambodian territory. The Hoa Hao were a dissident Vietnamese sect generally in opposition to the Diem government, but the forces involved in the April 1 fight were secretly working for South Vietnamese intelligence in an effort to combat Viet Cong forces in Cambodia. (Telegram 3164 from Saigon, May 10, 1960; ibid., 651H.51K/5–1060)
  6. An account of these talks between South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho and Tioulong at Siemreap was transmitted in telegrams 1256 and 1258 from Phnom Penh, March 27 and 28. (Ibid., 651H.51K/3–2761 and 651H.51K/3–2861)
  7. The dispute between Cambodia and South Vietnam over the Paris Accords of 1954 revolved around the division of assets and liabilities of the old joint Bank of Issue of Indochina and the debt incurred by the Indochina Treasury for financing certain French military expeditions during 1945–1950. South Vietnam wanted France to assume at least part of this debt or have it reapportioned differently among the three Indochina successor states. Cambodia and the other signatories (Laos and France) of the Paris Accords claimed that the issue had been settled. (Despatch 307 from Saigon, January 20; ibid., 651H.51K/1–2061)
  8. Vu Van Mau, South Vietnamese Foreign Minister.