Cambodia Brief History

When one hears Cambodia mentioned, one will inevitably think of the horrific abuses the Cambodian civilian population was subjected to by the “Khmer Rouge” in the 1970s. During this terrible period, perhaps up to two million people were killed. The US bombings in connection with the Vietnam War also claimed the lives of many innocent people. It is really a miracle that the people of Cambodia are so friendly and open to us Westerners who come to visit.

During the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, no tourists visited Cambodia despite the country having one of the world’s biggest attractions, the Angkor Vat area. Here are magnificent ruins of buildings that reflect the country’s heyday from the 12th century to the early 15th century. According to a2zgov, the majority of Cambodia’s visitors now come here, a visit you will never forget. Nor do we forget the visit to Toul Sleng, the Khmer Rouge’s torture center in the capital Phnom Penh, or the visit to the “Killing Fields”, where torture victims were cold-bloodedly murdered and buried in mass graves.

Cambodia history in brief

Older history

Although the region has been inhabited for millennia, there is no documented history until the time shortly after the birth of Christ. Then came the Khmer Empire of Funan, which was crossed by trade routes and influenced mainly by Indian religion, politics and culture. Funanriket fell in the 700s. In the ninth century, the Angkor Empire emerged, which became the Khmer culture’s high culture. The leaders of Angkor developed defense, police and justice systems and founded the city of Siem Reap. It was surrounded by an advanced irrigation system that greatly increased rice production.

The Angkor Empire reached its peak in the 12th century, when the temple of Angkor Vat was built and King Jayavarman VII, the Khmer Rouge’s first Buddhist leader, introduced a state welfare system. At the end of the 13th century, the empire began to decline. In the 15th century, Siem Reap and other cities were plundered by Thai conquerors and Angkor fell.

Until the end of the 19th century, Cambodia was increasingly forced to submit to its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. Vietnam cut off Cambodia from the coast in the late 17th century by conquering the Mekong Delta. To avoid being completely colonized, Cambodia sought support from Thailand, which instead led to Thailand gaining almost full control over the country. Cambodia then turned to France and in 1863 succeeded in reaching an agreement on protection, which led to Cambodia being reduced to a heavily taxed, rice-producing colony.

Some important years in the modern history of Cambodia


Only in connection with the Japanese occupation during World War II did an independence movement develop in the country. When the Japanese were about to lose the war, Cambodia was declared an independent country with the young Norodom Sihanouk as king. However, the freedom lasted only a few months until the return of the French, who in Laos
In the late 1940s, the French colonial power used Cambodia as a base for its war against the guerrillas in Vietnam, which pushed for increased demands for independence.


The pressure for independence led King Sihanouk to start negotiations with France and on November 9 the country was able to declare independence


King Sihanouk handed over the throne to his father Norodom Suramarit in order to work politically,


King Sihanouk regained the throne when his father died. He founded the mass movement Folkliga socialistamfundet which came to totally dominate the country.
His years in power gave the citizens certain fundamental rights but were characterized above all by the king’s balance between different political extremes. While defending monarchy and traditions, Sihanouk raised taxes, nationalized foreign trade and banks, and brought in left-wing supporters in the government, including several future Khmer Rouge leaders.

Sihanouk pursued an active foreign policy aimed at protecting Cambodia from American influence in the region. He allowed North Vietnam to establish bases in the country with the South Vietnamese guerrilla group FNL

In 1969, the United States began bombing Cambodia to expel communist troops from the country


Both left-wing as well as right-wing politicians became increasingly dissatisfied with Sihanouk who took to brutal methods to silence opposition on all fronts
When Sihanouk was on a trip abroad abolish the deeply conservative Prime Minister Lon Nol monarchy and established a republic, which had US support and civil war broke out. Sihanouk was supported by North Vietnam and allied with the Khmer Rouge

1970 – 75

An estimated 500,000 to one million deaths were claimed in the civil war


After making peace with North Vietnam, the Americans turned their offensive against the Khmer Rouge with a bombing war that devastated the Cambodian civilian population and many peasants joined the guerrillas.


Despite US support, Lon Nol lost the civil war and in May the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh. For many Cambodians, they came as liberators. The Khmer Rouge renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea and set in motion its peasant revolutionary program. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pol Pot and President Khieu Samphan, the cities were evacuated and the worst abuses ever against the population began and Sihanouk was placed under house arrest in Phnom Penh
City residents were forced to work in rural areas. Academics, officials, police, military and teachers were arrested and many were executed. Among the crimes that could be punished with death were not working hard enough, complaining, hoarding food, mourning dead relatives and practicing religion. Vietnamese and other minorities were particularly hard hit

How many people were murdered or died of disease, starvation and exhaustion is debated, but a figure that is often mentioned is about 1.7 million dead


At the end of the year, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and drove out Pol Pot


In January, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea was proclaimed, organized according to the Vietnamese socialist model. Both China and the United States wanted to weaken Cambodia in order to gain access to Soviet-backed Vietnam


The Vietnamese troops left the country. Cambodia received a new constitution that no longer mentioned socialism and a series of market economic reforms were implemented


Following extensive diplomatic efforts, a peace agreement was signed by four factions, the Phnom Penh government, the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk’s FUNCINPEC and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF).
The agreement stipulated that the parties would be disarmed and that in 1993 the UN would arrange elections to a parliament that would write a new constitution.


The election in May was mainly between the royalist FUNCINPEC, now led by Sihanouk’s son Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and the CPP, the heir to the 1980s state-supporting Vietnam-backed Communist Party. In the election, FUNCINPEC received 45% of the vote and CPP 38%. The
country received a new constitution and a new parliament. The formation of the government resulted in a coalition, led by a prime minister from each party. Ranariddh became the first prime minister and the second prime minister was Hun Sen. Sihanouk was reinstated as king


In the spring, FUNCINPEC lost its majority in parliament after a number of its members resigned, encouraged by Hun Sen. The summer was dramatic. Ranariddh had negotiated cooperation with the Khmer Rouge, which Hun Sen wanted to stop. Fighting between the two prime ministers’ forces broke out in Phnom Penh and Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh in a coup in July. About 100 people were killed


A Japanese peace plan was accepted in the spring and the CPP and FUNCINPEC began a ceasefire. Prince Norodom Ranariddh was sentenced in his absence to 35 years in prison and $ 50 million in damages for arms smuggling and conspiracy. However, he was pardoned by his father King Sihanouk and was able to return to Cambodia to prepare for the summer
elections. In the elections, the CPP won 64 of the 122 seats in parliament, FUNCINPEC won 43 seats and the other opposition party, Sam Rainsy’s party, won 15 seats. . Despite its majority, the CPP could not form its own government, as the constitution required at least a two-thirds majority in parliament for the government. After some hesitation, FUNCINPEC agreed to form a coalition government. She Sen became Prime Minister, while Prince Ranariddh was appointed Speaker of Parliament

In April, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot dies of heart attack guerrilla stronghold Anlong Veng


Earlier this year, the last of the Khmer Rouge’s guerrillas surrendered
The Cambodian government agreed with the UN to set up a special tribunal to convict those responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s abuses. The UN wanted an independent international tribunal, but Hun Sen succeeded in gaining US support for the majority of lawyers to be Cambodians.

Cambodia Brief History