Ending armed conflict in Cambodia


An October 1991 peace agreement formally ended the armed conflict in Cambodia after decades of devastation, war, and genocide.

The Communist Party of Kampuchea (commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge) seized power in Cambodia in 1975, as the lengthy conflict in neighbouring Vietnam was coming to an end. With Chinese backing, the new government embarked on an ambitious revolutionary programme which ultimately cost the lives of up to 2 million people (approximately 25 percent of the population).1 Furthermore, just days after Saigon was captured by Vietnamese communists, Khmer Rouge leaders launched a brutal invasion of southern Vietnam. The attack sparked a long and bloody war in which Vietnamese forces, with support from the Soviet Union, occupied Cambodia, removed the Khmer Rouge from office, and placed a sympathetic government in power in Phnom Penh.2 Between 1979 and 1989, a range of armed groups sponsored by the US fought the occupying Vietnamese forces (and each other) in a complex low-intensity armed conflict. The end of the Cold War led to a sharp decline in international interest in Cambodia. Vietnam began withdrawing its forces in 1989, leaving behind a Cambodian government in place to negotiate a formal end to the conflict.3

Efforts to end the armed conflict in Cambodia began in 1987, when the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement between the two main non-communist armed groups and the Vietnamese-backed government was explored during talks in France. This proposal was rejected by the Government of China as it excluded the Khmer Rouge and was also dismissed by the Government of the USA as it legitimised the Vietnamese-backed government.4 Further talks were held in Jakarta in July 1988 and February 1989, and although little progress was made in the Indonesian capital, the role of an international control mechanism for supervising the implementation of a future agreement was introduced to the peace process.5 With negotiations at a standstill, the UN Security Council proposed a framework for the resolution of the conflict in August 1989.6 The four Cambodian parties to the peace process agreed to the UN framework in April 1991, and held additional talks in Thailand, before signing the Framework for a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict in Paris on 23 October 1991.7 After decades of armed conflict, Cambodia was at peace.

1 David Chandler. “Cambodia’s Historical Legacy.” in Dylan Hendrickson, ed. Safeguarding Peace: Cambodia’s Constitutional Challenge. (London: Conciliation Resources, 1998) p.12

2 Stephen J. Morris. Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia.: Political Culture and the Causes of War. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999) pp.219-229

3 Simon Chesterman. You, The People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) pp.73-4

4 Chandler. “Cambodia’s Historical Legacy.” p.19

5 Elaine Sciolino. “Cambodia Peace Talks End With Positions Unchanged.” The New York Times. (1988) Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/29/world/cambodia-peace-talks-end-with-positions-unchanged.html (Accessed 29/11/2020)

6 Chandler. “Cambodia’s Historical Legacy.” p.19

7 Framework for a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict, 1991. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/cambodiaparisagreement91 (Accessed 01/11/2020)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict with foreign involvement

Type of Initiative

Mediation of a peace agreement

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The UN and the governments of France, Thailand, and Indonesia




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