Created: 9/1/1970

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Intelligence Report

Thailand's Khmer Minority






Royal Thai Army training of Thai-Khmer recruits for possible service in support of the Lon Nolin Cambodia has focused attention on alarge but little known minority that occupies much of Thailand's frontier with Cambodia." There are indications, moreover, that the Thai Government is growing increasingly concerned about the ability of this traditionally peaceful and apoliticalto withstand propaganda emanating from Communist elements in Northeast Thailand or from across the border in Cambodia. This reportrief description of the Thai-Khmer community.

Note: This report was produced solely by CIA. It was prepared by the Office of Basic and Geographic Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of Current Intelligence.

* Foreign Minister Thanat Khonan, in an interview with the Bangkok Worldevealed that the Thai Government had, for the time being, decided against sending any Thai troops -- including Thai-Khmers -- in to Cambodia.


Numbers and Location

1. Although estimates of the Thai-Khmer pop ulation appearing in various US intelligence reports during the pastears range widely, owighealistic approximation would appear to lie. According to an American missionary who surveyed the population in 3uriran, Surin, and Sisaket, there were then morehmers in these provinces alone. Most of the Khmers live in Ubon Ratchathani, Sisaket, Surin, Buriram, Prachinburi, Chanthaburi, and Trat Provinces, which collectivelyerritorial arc along the full length of the Thailand-Cambodia border. Khmers reportedlyajority of the population of Buriran and Surinnd between one -fourth and one-third of the population of Sisaket. No information is available to indicate theof Khmers in the other provinces involved, where their numbers are considerably fewer. Total provincial population, according toensus, is as follows (the census does notreakdown by ethnic group):

Border Province Population Province

Ubon Ratchathani Sisaket Surin Buriram Prachinburi Chanthaburi Trat


ost Khmer villages lie well away from the generally rugged terrain of the border and arealong the railroad in Buriram, Surin, and

* The 'provincial capital of Surin ishmer city.



Sisaket. The border belt of territory lying south of the railroad in these provinces and extending someiles to the west of the border inChanthaburi, and Trat Provinces is more "purely" Khmerven though it is more sparsely populated and contains numerically fewer Khmershan the areas farther toward the interior (see

3. Small Khmer communities are also scattered outside the border provincesn Northeastas far north as Loei and in the central lowland within and around the cities of Bangkok, Rat Buri, Kanchanaburi, Chachoengsao, and Chon Buri. Thecommunities are reported to be comprised of the descendents of resettled Khmer prisoners-of-war. They were moved to specified settlements during World War II by the Royal Thai Governmenthich gave then land in return for their pledge to perform certain services, including military duty.

A. Buriram, Surin, Sisaket, and UbonProvinces are situated on the Khorat Plateau of Northeast Thailand, their southern boundaries alined along the Dangrek Ridge (Thiu Khao Phanom Dongrak). This ridge rises relatively gently from Thai territory on the north but drops precipitouslyeet to Cambodian territory on the south. Itarrier to the development of surface transportation between the two countries; no all-weather road crosses it.* Prachinburia natural lowland corridor between Thailand and Cambodia. It is crossedailroad and an all-weather road, both of which link the two Chanthaburi and Trat occupy Thailand's isolated southeastern salient, which is cut off from Cambodia by the rugged, heavily forested, and lightly peopled Cardamomes Mountains.

* The Khmers of the Khorat Plateau call their ethnic cousins across the border "Khmer tarn" (lower Cambodians) while the latter refer to the Thai-Khmers on the Khorat Plateau as either "Khmer dong" or "Khmereaning wild or mountain Cambodian.

*6 The rail link has been restoredfter having been closed duringears that Thailand-Cambodian diplomatic relations were severed.


Thai-Khmers occupy territory thatcenturies ago by their Khnerempire was for several hundred years thepower In auch of Southeast Asia. Thewhich flourished from the ninthncompassed territory inpresent-day Thailand and as far westwardTenasserin Coast. Froahhowever, Khner power waned,hethe Khmer lands succumbed to the onslaughtincreasingly powerful Siamese. By thecentury, Siam (now Thailand) had pushedsouthward beyond the edge of theand well to the east of the presentretained much of present-day UattambangReap Provinces in western Cambodia (seeuntil theh century when theya part of French Indo China. (Shetemporarily, with Japanese assistance,War II.) Although their Thai territorylost for some time, the Khmers haveThailand where they have been for manyan impoverished but peaceful minority.

Thai-Khmers were born into0 Thailand census, ersons, many of whom may havefrom Cambodia to escape theafter World War II. Others haveto escape the current imbroglio in According to RTG borderersons (excluding Governmenttroops, tourists, and villagers living inarea) moved from Casabodia into theprovincesrincipally Surin,Traturing theonths oftwo-thirds of them were Cambodianone-third Thai citizens, the latterto Thailand after unsuccessfulresettle in Cambodia prior to the SihanoukRTG reportedly expects to quicklyCambodian refugees.

Cultural Factors

7. There is little to distinguish the Khmers physically from their Thai neighbors- They are


about the same height and have generally similar facial traits; only the slightly darker complexion of the Khmers is distinctive. Nor is there much to set them apart culturally. Both espouse Theravada Buddhism and their passive life styles reflect that faith."

The extent of assimilation into Thaivaries geographically; it is least in the relatively "pure" Khmer areas near the border, where the Khmer cling to close-knit communities, and is greatest in the enclaves of the Northeast and the central lowland, well away from the Khmer Many of the Khmers living in such small, scattered enclave communities surrounded by Thais probably retainrace of their Khmer identity.

Language is the major distinguishingfeature. The Khmer language is spoken almost exclusively within the family and in the localalthough most Thai-Khmersarticularly the men and residents of the provincialave learned Thai and use itecond language. Young Thai-Khmers, who are generallyet-"ter education than did their elders, are likely to be more fluent in the Thai tongue.

RTG has used education as aenhance the assimilation of the country'sincluding the Khmer, and literacy inlanguage has been emphasized. in the Khmer strongholds are stillhowever, and few Thai-Khmersear education. ecent literacy study

Anoui people (called Soai by the Thai) are scattered among the Khmers and Thais in Buriram, Surin, and Sisaket Provinces (see) as well as across the borders in northern Cambodia and southwestern Laos- numbers retainrace of their Kui identity, having been assimilated into either Khmer or Thai society (one or the other,on proximity). Although the Kui language remains distinct, the people are otherwise closely related to the Khmers and, like them, inhabited this territory long before the arrival of the Siamese.


in rural areas of the Northeast revealed that in those villages where Khmer was the spoken language,ercent of the people were either totally or could not comprehend the lowest-level Thai language materials.

Thai-Khmers remain largely isolated

and ignored by both the Thai and the Cambodian Like their Thai neighbors, the Thai-Khmer peasants are engrossed in ekingiving from farming the generally infertile soils of their homesteads. They have little interest in politics outside the village, and there are no wel1-developed political ties with either country. Terrain barriers, such as the Dangrek Ridge and the Cardanomesand the cross-border language differencesthe development of political attachments with Phnom Penh.* After World War II, some Thai-Khmers sought the re-creationatural Khmer state through the annexation of the Thai border provinces to Cambodia. Otherwise, there has been little manifestation of Thai-Khmer desire to belongreater Khmer community.

An ambivalent attitude toward the RTC prevails among the Thai-Khmers. Most avow atominal loyalty to the King and Queen, whose pictures nay be found on the walls of many homes; nevertheless, the ihai-Khmers may talk about Bangkok as if it wereoreign country. Thegap between Bangkok and the Thai-Khmer country has been widenedaucity of newspapers and radios. Broadcasts from Bangkok, moreover, arehai dialect alien to Khmer ears.

RTG policy toward the Khmer minority may best be described as indifferent, particularly when compared to its efforts to accommodate the hill tribe minorities of northern Thailand. But, unlike the northern uplandersr the Vietnamese of the Northeasthe Khmers are an unusually stable

* Phnom Penh radio broadcasts reach into Thai territory. The Khmer dialect spoken in Thailand, however, is distinct from that of Phnom Penh, and Thai-Khmers reportedly have difficulty comprehending Cambodian-Khmer broadcasters.



minority. Although some Communist propaganda has been disseminated among them and thereew

Few such officials speakisability that causes confidence in the RTG to be weakened. Even Thai schoolteachers serving the Khaers are reported to sufferanguage handicap. Much of the RTG presence in theettled lands, moreover, is related to ailitary operations of the Royal Thai Army or the Border Patrol Police, and the Khmers undoubtedly are doubly suspicious of uniformed personnel. Educated Khcers must surely relate the poverty of their people to discriminatory policies of the RTG.

14. Although aost Thai-Khmers are sedentary and content to remain in their villages year round, many of the men seek employment outside the village during the dry season. Most of the* join their Thai neighbors from the Northeast in mass migrations to provincial capitals, to Bangkok, or to other large cities, where they seek employnent as day laborers or pedicab drivers." The communities of Khmer itinerants in these cities tend to be close-knit. Some Thai-Khmers living close to the border reportedly migrate to Cambodia, returning to their families with the onset of the monsoon rains in late May or early June to work in the ricefields. There is,floating" Khner eleaent in the border area, comprised of oxcart drivers who transport dried fish from the Tonle Sap intoin exchange for such commodities as home-woven textiles and salt. Villagers in the border area apparently cross the border freely.

Military Experience,

IS The Thai-Khmers,roup, have no strong military proclivities. Their history is

An increasing number of better educated Thai Khmer youths have been leaving their villages to establish permanent residence in th* Thai cities.


noteworthy for its peaceful although notfriendly relations with their neighbors. Some, however, have served in the Royal Thai Army and others with the Khmer Serei (Free Cambodia) movementa Thai- and South Vietnam-basedforce whose objective was the overthrow of the Sihanouk Government.*

Thailand assisted the Khmer Serei during thes and throughouts by training, and offering sanctuary to personnel. During the peak of its insurgentin thes, the Khmer Sereiseveral bases in Prachinburi, Buriram, and Surin Provinces in Thailand, from which ithit-and-run raids against Cambodian Army outposts in northwestern Cambodia. Although comprised mostly of Cambodian Khmers and Khmer Kroms (ethnic Khmers living in Southhe Khmer Serei reportedly recruited as many as several hundred Thai-Khmers. RTG militaryrecruiting for the Khmer Serei reportedly sought out Thai-Khmers who had lived in Cambodia. Recruiters often capitalized on'grievances that were directed against officials in the Sihanouk Government. reater incentive to recruitment, however, was the fact that the Khmer Serei movement offered the Thai-Khmers cover for such illicit activities as cattle rustling or timber smuggling. This attraction may still motivate Thai-Khmer personnel to volunteer to fight against Communist forces in Cambodia.

Reports in9 and0 (before the Sihanouk coup) indicatedumbei of Thai-Khmers, dissatisfied with conditions In Thailand (and often enticed by Cambodian Governmerere fleeing to Cambodia to bein Government-run camps in the provinces <

Serei units in Thailand apparently have been disbanded; the founder and leader. Son Ngocrominent figure in the struggle for Cam bodian independence, hasosition as Counselor in the Lor. Nol Government.


Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihcar (seeeportedly, many refugees were recruited forparamilitary training, apparently toounterforce to the Thailand-based Khmer Serei insurgents. Allegedly, trainees were told that the southern parts of the Thai provinces ofSurin. Sisaket, and Ubon Ratchathani belonged to Cambodia; they were further informed that they would become partorce fighting for the return of these lands. Many, however, disillusioned with conditions in the camps and the prospects of military life, to Thailand.

16. Cross-border ethnic ties would motivate few Thai-Khmers to fight in Cambodia. Recentinto Thai territory, however, especially those with relatives still in Cambodia, would certainly be more inclined to aid fellow Khmers than would Thai-Khmers who arc long established and without such ties. Fewer still would be motivated by political ideology. The promise of improved economic status would seem to be the inducement most likely to motivate impoverished Thai-Khmer peasants to volunteer for military service,

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