Thankfully there are few nations with the genocidal recent history of Cambodia, a nation that, since independence in 1953, has seen a cycle of war and destruction on a horrific scale. That was finally brought to an end in late 1991 with the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements. Nowadays Cambodia is still a de-facto dictatorship and incredibly corrupt, but at least the violence that saw millions murdered has not returned. Against this backdrop aviation is unimportant, however a pair of Tu-134s were operated in Cambodia and assisted in the ongoing peace process.
The history of Cambodia since independence from the French is complicated to say the least, and not something that can be done justice in this post. However suffice to say it had complicated relationships with its neighbour Vietnam, which were only made a lot more complicated by the Vietnam War. The US supported Khmer Republic, itself installed in a 1970 military coup, was defeated on April 17, 1975 by forces loyal to the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), known more commonly as the Khmer Rouge, âand backed by the Vietnamese Communists.
The resulting insanity of the Khmer Rouge period from 1975-1978 led to the death of around a quarter of the population (some 2-3 million people) in a brutal genocide in the renamed Democratic Kampuchea (a name with an incredibly dark irony to it). The Khmer Rouge's rein of tyranny was finally brought to an end by those who installed them in the first place - the Vietnamese, who tired of the Khmer Rouge's border raiding and massacres of ethnic Vietnamese. In late 1978 Vietnam invaded the country creating 'The People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK)' led by the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Army, which was basically a pawn of the Vietnamese Army.
In such a sordid mess it is impossible to see good on either side really, however the nation continued as a pawn of the Cold War and the new Kampuchean state was supported by Vietnam and its ally the Soviet Union. Meanwhile the USA and West supported the UN recognised government-in-exile - itself a motley collection of Khmer Rouge, Royalists and a Khmer People's National Liberation Front.
The PRK despite being Communist and backed by Vietnam was a vast improvement on the impossibly crazy Khmer Rouge, but thanks to the Khmer Rouge the country was in ruins and facing famine. Cities had literally been emptied of people forced into agricultural communes or just plain slaughtered. There were no âpolice, no schools, no books, no hospitals, no post and telecommunications, no legal system and no broadcasting networks, either for television or radio, whether state-owned or private.
Civil war raged in this period between Vietnamese Soviet-backed forces and insurgent groups backed by the Chinese. The West tended towards siding with the rebels despite their blood-stained past. Gradually Vietnam began to disengage in the face of international isolation and gradual Soviet preoccupation with its own internal problems.
During this period there was hardly the need for civil aviation however any equipment that was going to be used was obviously going to come from the Soviet Union. The 1988 Airlines world fleet directory doesn't list a single Kampuchean registered aircraft but it seems that around this time a pair of Tupolev Tu-134s were active with what was called Kampuchea Airlines.
Both aircraft were Tu-134AKs - the VIP version of the standard Tu-134. These aircraft were never called this and always had Tu-134A or Tu-134A-3 written on them, seemingly not for security reasons but just because the factory was lazy! The first aircraft was a new 1986 build radar-nosed aircraft delivered new in December 1986. It was registered XU-102 and was apparently the last Tu-134 built as a passenger or VIP frame.
The second aircraft was a 1977 ex-Aeroflot Tu-134AK with the glazed nose. It had been CCCP-65065 but was re-registered XU-101 in 1988 when it joined the Kampuchea Airlines 'fleet'.
Both aircraft were, unsurprisingly, not used for passenger flights and operated instead for the Kampuchean government. They were used to fly delegates between Phnom Penh and Hanoi and Bangkok for peace negotiations.
These negotiations successfully culminated in the Paris Peace Agreements signed on October 23, 1991. By this time Kampuchea had regained the name of Cambodia, however the state airline continued to be called Kampuchea Airlines. The postwar situation initially involved UN control of the state and led to elections and restoration of the monarchy.
Both Tu-134s operated in basic Aeroflot colours with titles in the Khmer language and a flag on the tail. However, in 1992 XU-102 was repainted into a smart new scheme featuring a triple blue/green cheatline, and tail logo with a bird super-imposed on the sun.
With Cambodia now welcomed back into the international community and the collapse of the Soviet Union the Tu-134s were not destined to stay in country much longer. Both were sold to Nizhny Novgorod Airlines in August 1995.
By this time Kampuchea Airlines had already leased a SABENA 737-200 for 4 months at the end of 1992 and from October 1994 a Thai Airways 737-200. Judging by the image above they also leased the ex-Western and Delta 737-247 registered as N470TA. At least four Antonov An-24s were also in service at various times and seemingly also ATR-72s and later a BAE-146.
It is a little unclear what happened to this version of Kampuchea Airlines although it looks likely it either morphed into, or its assets were taken over by, Royal Air Cambodge. Certainly this 737-200 HS-TBA was the same frame leased by Kampuchea Airlines:
Royal Air Cambodge had been reformed in 1994 (it had been the original flag carrier in the 1960s) and backed by Malaysia Airlines would be the primary airline until its collapse in October 2001. It flew mainly 737-400s and ATR-72s.
There would be a second Kampuchea Airlines operational from 1997 until 2004, although I'm not sure it was related to the first or not. It flew Lockheed Tristars, often leased from Orient Thai, and even flew a pair of 757s, one on lease from MyTravel Airways. Cambodia has since the late 90s had a variety of small airlines that have come and gone on a regular basis but unsurprisingly none of them have operated Russian equipment.
Komissarov, D. Tupolev Tu-134 - The USSR's Short-range Jet Airliner. Aerofax
âDemocratic Kampuchea and other pages on Cambodian history. Wikipedia.
Kampuchea Airlines. RZJets.net
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: