88. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State 0

133. Department Telegram 82.1 We have no evidence to indicate that Son Ngoc Thanh enjoys any popular support or sympathy in Cambodia. While he may have backing of few scattered individuals, loyalists [loyalties] of Khmer people as a whole, including security forces, are firmly commanded by Sihanouk. Prince’s enormous popularity and prestige are, if anything, increasing, and his image as the symbol and indispensable leader and protector of Khmer Nation is being constantly reinforced.

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In contrast, Thanh has become discredited in popular mind as agent of Cambodia’s historical enemies, Thailand and Vietnam. Any Thanhled campaign of armed dissidence would be linked with anti-Cambodian designs of neighbors and would rally nationalistic Cambodian people even more solidly behind Prince. Moreover, Cambodian belief that such campaign could not be launched without at least tacit approval of Western Powers, specifically US, could easily prompt Sihanouk to throw Cambodia into Communist camp in effort ward off what he is convinced is ultimate threat to survival of Khmer identity. There little doubt that if he reached such decision he could carry people with him.

For much same reason, assassination of Sihanouk by Thanh agents would produce serious anti-Western political repercussions. Popular feeling would be aroused against assassins and sponsors, and such situation obviously exploitable by Communists. Absence of any true successor to Sihanouk, in terms popular stature and appeal, could lead to political fragmentation from which Communists stand to benefit. Thanh himself could not hope supplant Sihanouk. Most likely immediate leadership would emerge from group of conservative (Old-Guard) leaders backed by throne and military, but even such leadership would be compelled recognize and to some extent yield to Leftist supported and stimulated popular resentment against West.

Important bear in mind that principal (though not immediate) threat to Sihanouk-centered Cambodian stability lies in increasing numbers of Western-educated intellectuals influenced by Communist doctrine and attracted to Communist techniques. Sihanouk has thus far been able to enforce their allegiance to him, no likely successor would be capable of exercising equally effective control.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.00/8–1862. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, and Taipei.
  2. In telegram 82, August 13, the Department informed the Embassy that it was disturbed at reports of Thai and South Vietnamese support of Son Ngoc Thanh’s plotting against Sihanouk. The Department concluded that Thanh had low-level contacts with Vietnamese, Thai, and Nationalist Chinese officials; that he was receiving limited funds from the Vietnamese and possibly the Thai; [text not declassified] and that Thanh had built up a small band of followers because of South Vietnamese support. (Ibid., 751H.00/8–1362)