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The Japanese occupation of Cambodia was the period of Cambodian history during World War II when the Empire of Japan established its authority over Cambodia. The Japanese occupation in Cambodia lasted between 1941 and 1945 and, in general, the Cambodian population escaped the brutalities inflicted on civilians by the Japanese occupiers in other countries of Southeast Asia. Even though initially allowing the Vichy French Indochina colonial government to remain nominally in charge, in 1945 the Japanese authorities in Cambodia ended up establishing a pro-Tokyo puppet state.[1]

Historical background

The 1940 - 1941 Franco–Thai War left the French Indochinese colonial authorities in a position of weakness. The Vichy government signed an agreement with Japan to allow the Japanese military transit through French Indochina and to station troops in Northern Vietnam up to a limit of 25,000 men.[2]

Meanwhile the Thai government, under the pro-Japanese leadership of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, and strengthened by virtue of its treaty of friendship with Japan, took advantage of the weakened position of France, and invaded Cambodia's western provinces to which it had historic claims. Following this invasion, Tokyo hosted the signature of a treaty in March 1941 that formally compelled the French to relinquish the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap, Koh Kong as well as a narrow extension of land between the 15th parallel and the Dangrek Mountains[3] in Stung Treng Province. As a result, Cambodia had lost almost half a million citizens and one-third of its former surface area to Thailand.[4]

Japanese occupation

In August 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army entered the French protectorate of Cambodia and established a garrison that numbered 8,000 troops. Despite their military presence, the Japanese authorities allowed Vichy French colonial officials to remain at their administrative posts. On 20 July 1942, there was a major anti-French demonstration in Phnom Penh after a prominent monk, Hem Chieu, was arrested for allegedly preaching seditious sermons to the colonial militia. The French authorities arrested the demonstration's leader, Pach Chhoeun, and exiled him to the prison island of Con Son.[1] Pach Chhoen was a respected Cambodian intellectual, associated with the Institut Bouddhique and founder of Nagaravatta, the first overtly political newspaper in the Khmer language in 1936, along with Sim Var.[5] Another of the men behind Nagaravatta, Son Ngoc Thanh (a Paris-educated magistrate) was also blamed for the demonstration, which the French authorities suspected had been carried out with Japanese encouragement.

Collaborationist Kingdom of Kampuchea

In 1945, in the closing stages of World War II, Japan made a coup de force that temporarily eliminated French control over Indochina. The French colonial administrators were relieved of their positions, and French military forces were ordered to disarm. The aim was to revive the flagging support of local populations for Tokyo's war effort by encouraging indigenous rulers to proclaim independence. On 9 March 1945 young king Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed an independent Kingdom of Kampuchea, following a formal request by the Japanese. Shortly thereafter the Japanese government nominally ratified the independence of Cambodia and established a consulate in Phnom Penh.[6] On 13 March king Sihanouk changed the official name of the country in French from Cambodge to Kampuchea. The new government did away with the romanization of the Khmer language that the French colonial administration was beginning to enforce and officially reinstated the Khmer script. This measure taken by the short-lived governmental authority would be popular and long-lasting, for since then no government in Cambodia has tried to romanize the Khmer language again.[7]

Son Ngoc Thanh returned to Cambodia in May. He was initially appointed foreign minister and would become Prime Minister two months later.[8] The Cambodian puppet state of Japan lasted from March to October 1945. The Japanese occupation of Cambodia ended with the official surrender of Japan in August 1945. After Allied military units entered Cambodia, the Japanese military forces present in the country were disarmed and repatriated. The French were able to reimpose the colonial administration in Phnom Penh in October the same year. After arresting Son Ngoc Thanh for collaboration with the Japanese, the French colonial authorities exiled him to France, where he lived in house arrest. Some of his supporters went underground and escaped to Thai-controlled northwestern Cambodia, where they were eventually to join forces in a pro-independence group, the Khmer Issarak. This anti-French, politically heterogeneous nationalist movement was organized with Thai backing, but would later split into factions.[9]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Milton Osborne, Sihanouk, Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. Silkworm 1994
  2. Jean-Philippe Liardet, L'Indochine française pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale; Les accords de septembre 1940
  3. Jean-Philippe Liardet, L'Indochine française pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale; La guerre contre le Siam, 1940-41
  4. Cambodia, The Japanese Occupation, 1941-45
  5. Ian Harris, Buddhism and politics in twentieth-century Asia
  6. Keat Gin Ooi Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia
  7. David P. Chandler, A History of Cambodia, Silkworm 1993
  8. Cambodia, The Emergence of Nationalism
  9. Cambodia, Appendix B - Major Political and Military Organizations

External links

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