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Last updated : Nov 2009
Cambodia History
Cambodia History - TravelPuppy.com
Although there is evidence of habitation in parts of the country as far back as 4000BC, little is known about the early history of Cambodia. Indian and Chinese traders exchanged goods with people living on the coasts of present-day Cambodia in the early AD centuries. Early Chinese historians wrote about a kingdom known as ‘Funan’ that flourished between AD300–600. A dynasty founded by the Prince Jayavarman and a possible descendent from the rulers of Funan ruled settlements in the eastern part of the country between 790AD and the 11th century. Cambodia spread westwards during this period into some parts of Thailand.

The succeeding dynasty, that ruled during the 12th and the early 13th centuries, was based at the now well-known temple complex of Angkor Wat. Under King Suryavarman, the Cambodians spread their influence further into northern Thailand and southern Vietnam. Angkor came under military pressure from the Chinese to the north and the newly formed kingdoms of northern Thailand from the year 1220 onwards. Towards the closing of the 15th century, Angkor was deserted and fell into ruin. It has been unoccupied since, with the exception of a brief period in the early 16th century. Until the establishment of the French protectorate, Cambodia was shadowed by its more powerful Vietnamese andThai neighbours.

The French presence in Cambodia came about through its colonial involvement in Vietnam, and was primarily intended to forestall the possible British or Thai incursions alongside the Mekong River. The weakened ruling family in Cambodia at the time, headed by King Norodom, accepted French protection and control over its foreign and security policies. A brief attempt to regain Cambodia’s independence in 1880 failed, the French then absorbed Cambodia into what became French Indochina. It then became an Associated State of the French Union in 1949, gaining full independence in 1953

King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father, Norodom Suramarit in 1955, in order to enter politics. Using the title Prince Sihanouk, he founded the Popular Socialist Community, which held power from 1955 until 1966. Following the death of his father Prince Sihanouk became Head of State in 1960. The Vietnam war, and the enormous secret bombing campaign by the Americans against Vietnamese guerrilla bases in Cambodia, destabilised the Sihanouk government. In early 1970, 2 years after the bombing started, Prince Sihanouk was removed from power by a right-wing coup, which proclaimed a Khmer Republic by General Lon Nol. Khmer Rouge Communist guerrillas, and with the support of their Vietnamese counterparts, increased their military campaign against the government. The Communist regime gained full control in 1975.

The country was now in full control of the new Prime Minister Pol Pot, who had developed a unique ideology based on the teachings of Maoism and Medieval quasi-mysticism, rooted in the history of the Angkor state. Pol Pot began with the establishment of ‘Year Zero’ in 1975, under which Cambodia was to be reborn into a pure Communist state centred on basic agricultural production. The currency was abolished, intellectuals were purged, churches and temples were destroyed and tens of thousands of urban dwellers were driven into the countryside for ‘re-education’ and primitive agricultural labour. The result was a regime of horrific brutality, responsible for 1 of the worst genocides of the 20th century. It is estimated that 1 - 3rd of the population of Cambodia died during the 4 years of Khmer Rouge rule.

In 1978, the Vietnamese army- fed up with Khmer's excesses – invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Pol Pot's regime. By 1981 a new constitution was in place and in 1982, Phnom Penh, a ghost city under the Khmer Rouge, saw the return of up to 600,000 inhabitants from the countryside. For several years thereafter the Vietnamese-controlled government experienced ongoing armed opposition from an unlikely group of supporters of Prince Sihanouk, the KPNLF (Khmer Peoples’ National Liberation Front) and the Khmer Rouge, of which the latter were endorsed by China and were by far the most powerful. The coalition as a whole was eventually and collectively recognised as the legitimate government of Cambodia by the United Nations.

Cambodia drifted in a state of semi-chaos throughout the 1980s, until a United Nations-led effort started to stabilise the country. By 1991, a political settlement was reached, including all parties except for the now much diminished Khmer Rouge. Under the terms and conditions of the 1991 agreement, the UN provided a 16,000 soldier peacekeeping contingent and administrative support (known as the rubric of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, UNTAC). The operation was widely seen as a success and the apparent political stability allowed for a general election in 1993. The election provided a narrow victory for FUNCINPEC, the party led by Prince Sihanouk, who returned to Cambodia from exile to assume the presidency. Sihanouk's FUNCINPEC established a government of national unity with its main opponent, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Hun Sen.

The 2 parties argued continuously over policy, aid, development, commercial contracts and how to deal with the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen and the CPP then moved to extricate FUNCINPEC from the government. This move brought condemnation from the international community and led to the suspension of foreign aid as well as Cambodia’s application to join ASEAN. In 1998, the Cambodian People's Party gained a small majority at National Assembly elections and mindful of international reaction, chose to form a coalition with FUNCINPEC. The ASEAN group of countries relented and Cambodia is became a full member of the organisation. Cambodia finally seemed to have a government with international recognition. The two parties also agreed that an international tribunal would be established so that the Khmer Rouge rulers responsible for genocide would be brought to trial.