Who were the Cambodian National Unity Party? The Cambodian National Unity Party (Khmer: គណបក្សសាមគ្គីជាតិកម្ពុជា) were in essence the successor party to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea, and thus all parties and organizations that preceded it. They were set up as a means for the Khmer Rouge to take part of the UNTAC sponsored elections of 1993.
To read about UNTAC click here.
Origins of the Cambodian National Unity Party
The party can in some respects trace its roots to Khmer Isarrak movement which followed World War 2. The direct original successor of the party though is the Khmer Peoples Revolutionary Party, or which the Cambodian Peoples Party traces its lineage. In 1960 this was to become the Workers Party of Kampuchea, which Pol Pot took over in 1963.
Communist Party of Kampuchea
The party morphed into the Communist Party of Kampuchea in 1971 at the behest of the Chinese. It was the CPK that declared Democratic Kampuchea and ruled the short lived country.
After being overthrown they would remain as the Communist Party of Kampuchea until changing their name to the Party of Democratic Kampuchea in 1982, and officially at least espousing Democratic Socialism rather than extreme-communism/ultra-nationalism. The party was part of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.
Emergence of the Cambodian National Unity Party
Peace talks began in 1991, with a quasi-coaltion government that included the Khmer Rouge/Party of Democratic Kampuchea. Initially the Khmer Rouge decided to take part in these elections.
The country was now called the State of Cambodia, with the name “Kampuchea” being linked to both the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese sponsored government that followed, meaning a name change was in order. The Cambodian National Unity Party was formed on November 30th 1992, with the plan being to take part in the elections of 1993. For a while it existed in tandem with the Party of Democratic Kampuchea, before succeeding it. Its armed wing was still the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea.
Amazingly the leadership of the party was to remain almost unchanged throughout this whole period.
Refusal to take part in elections
Despite initially planning to take part in the elections of 1993 the Cambodian National Unity Party eventually refused to take part, retreating to the areas it still controlled, such as Pailin and Anlong Veng, from where it would eventually declare its own state within a state.
Not only did it not take part in elections, but after the UN’s failure to disarm went back almost immediately to armed conflict.
The last Khmer Rouge state
The Cambodian National Unity was eventually declared illegal, which led to the formation of the Provisional Government of National Union and National Salvation of Cambodia. This completely unrecognized state controlled about 6% of Cambodia at its height, technically under the governance of the Cambodian National Unity Party.
In August 1996, the party suffered a split when Ieng Sery left to the form the Democratic National Union Movement. In May 1997 Khieu Samphan also defected founding the short-lived Khmer National Solidarity Party. Leaving a rump party in Anlong Veng that consisted of Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and Son Sen and of course their supporters.
Leadership of the Cambodian National Unity Party
The Party was initially led by Khieu Samphan, considered the polite face of the Khmer Rouge and Son Sen, although the shadow of Pol Pot was never too far away. Following the defection of Khieu Samphan there was a 3 way power struggle that involved Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and Son Sen. Son Sen was to be murdered, Pol Pot was to be placed under house arrest and Ta Mok was to become the last paramount leader of the Khmer Rouge.
End of the party
Following the mass defections as part of the win-win policy of Hun Sen the Khmer Rouge were left as a rump organization. The provisional government and the Cambodian National Unity Party were eventually dissolved on June 22nd 1998. Ta Mok was to flee into the mountainous border with Thailand, but for all intents the CNUP and the Khmer Rouge were over.
Unlike in previous times there was to be no successor to the Cambodian National Unity Party, and no one has since claimed any kind of lineage to the Khmer Rouge. The ruling CPP stating their origins as 1951, but disavowing the 1960 formation of the Workers Party of Kampuchea.
Today there is no such thing as a communist party in Cambodia.