all photos copyright@kim gooi
Author’s note: Today Indochina and Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia are at peace and members of Asean. It wasn’t so, not so long ago, in the eighties.
At the height of the “Cold War”, just days apart from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Vietnam attacked Cambodia on Christmas day 1979 and by new year’s day they captured Phnom Penh. Beijing managed to pluck Prince Sihanouk and flown him to Beijing while the rest of the Khmer Rouge leadership under Pol Pot and their followers fled to the Thai border.
Thailand and the US who were campaigning all out to undermine Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia were shell-shocked. The victim they were ‘softening’ was now gobbled by another enemy – Vietnam from the Soviet block. The invasion of Cambodia had once again brought the Thai and Vietnamese armies, who had fought many wars over Cambodia in the past centuries, face to face for more clashes.
Thailand felt threatened by Vietnam’s army who had four years earlier defeated the most powerful American military might in the world. Thailand with China as the main backer of the KR rallied Asean, and the West to oppose Vietnam, and armed the Khmer resistance groups headed by the Khmer Rouge. As the Khmer resistance operating from the Thai border camps fought on, Vietnamese forces made more and more incursions into Thailand to destroy their bases. Clashes between the Thai military and the Vietnamese forces made headlines.
In 1980 at Nong Mak Moon, home of the KPNLF and Sihanoukist forces, the first big clash happened. A Thai spotter plane and military helicopter were shot down by Vietnamese gunners (SAM 7 missiles) towards the end of a day-long battle. Thai forces under Col Prajak declared success and victory in repelling Vietnamese incursion and showed a captured wounded Vietnamese soldier to newsmen. [I had the picture of the poor young soldier patched up in clean hospital bed surrounded by scores of newsmen..will post pic soon]
Jan 1985 Ampil: Vietnamese forces swept through KPNLF base under Gen Dien Del and captured it within a day. On 9th January, the Vietnamese commander came right up to the borderline to the delights of scores of newsmen and confront the lone Thai soldier.
Circa 1980s another Vietnamese incursion and heavy battle going on the Buriram border. Newsmen were prevented from going to the front-line, all excess were blocked. After protest newsmen were made to wait all day for the Thai commander to brief them. Commander said battle is over and we had successful repelled all Vietnamese forces. Reporters retorted how can we believe you if we cannot go to see. Commander said he can prove to us by showing the Vietnamese commandos he had captured. We were shocked when we were brought into his camp to view the POW s. When questioned why the POW s were in such conditions, the commander got angry and barked: “Take your photos and get out of here!”