Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge and After
The Khmer Rouge and After
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, seized control of Phnom Penh and overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge renamed the country the Democratic Kampuchea, and established Pol Pot as the premier. Immediately following the takeover, Phnom Penh was evacuated, and the entire population of the country's urban areas was forced to move to rural areas and work in agriculture. Most of the country's vehicles and machines were destroyed because the new regime was opposed to technology and Western influence. It is estimated that about a million and a half people were executed by the Khmer Rouge over the next four years. Members of the upper, middle, or educated classes and of ethnic minorities, as well as suspected enemies of the Khmer Rouge, were victims of the genocide.
In 1978, after Pol Pot refused offers of negotiation and international supervision, the Vietnamese army invaded and seized Phnom Penh in 1979. Prince Sihanouk, who had been imprisoned in his palace by the Khmer Rouge, again fled to Beijing. The Khmer Rouge was driven into the western countryside, but the Kampuchean People's Republic, led by Pol Pot, was still recognized by the United Nations as the country's legitimate government. Throughout the 1980s various guerrilla factions formed and skirmished with the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge. One such group was a coalition force led by Sihanouk, who was still recognized by many Cambodians as the country's true leader.
In 1987 talks began in Paris to try to settle the civil war, and in 1989, Vietnam announced plans to withdraw its occupying troops from Cambodia. A peace treaty was signed by all of Cambodia's warring factions (including the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen's Vietnamese-supported government, and Prince Sihanouk's faction) on Oct. 23, 1991. As agreed in the treaty, the United Nations assumed (1992) the government's administrative functions and worked toward democratic elections. However, provisions calling for disarmament of all factions were resisted by the Khmer Rouge, who resumed guerrilla warfare. Sihanouk denounced the Khmer Rouge, aligned himself with Premier Hun Sen, and again became head of state.
Cambodia's first-ever democratic elections were held in May, 1993, supervised by a large UN peacekeeping mission. Royalists won the largest bloc of national assembly seats (58 out of 120); Hun Sen's party came in second, and a coalition government with co-premiers—Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen—was formed. The government administration remained populated largely by bureaucrats who had operated under the Hun Sen regime. The Khmer Rouge, who had boycotted the elections, continued armed opposition, retaining control of substantial territory in the N and W parts of the country. A new constitution reestablished the monarchy, and in Sept., 1993, Sihanouk became king. Attempts at mediation with the Khmer Rouge failed, and fighting continued.
In 1996 the Khmer Rouge split into two factions, one of which made an accord with the government. Pol Pot was ousted and imprisoned by the remaining Khmer Rouge in 1997 and died in 1998; the Khmer Rouge subsequently lost most of its remaining power and support. Following fighting in July, 1997, between the factions of Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh, Hun Sen's forces declared victory and Ranariddh fled the country; he was replaced as first premier by Ung Huot. Prince Ranariddh returned to Cambodia in Mar., 1998, and became an opposition candidate in the legislative elections held in July. Hun Sen's party (the Cambodian People's party) was the official winner of the disputed election (with 64 seats out of 122), and he became the sole premier. Prince Ranariddh became the president of the national assembly, but Hun Sen further consolidated his control of the country.
Cambodia joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999. Elections in July, 2003, failed to give Hun Sen's Cambodian People's party (CPP) the two-thirds majority needed to govern without a coalition, but the liberal and royalist opposition parties denounced the results, rejected a two-party coalition, formed the Alliance of Democrats, and insisted that the alliance be the cornerstone of a three-party coalition. The deadlock remained unresolved until June, 2004, when Prince Ranariddh's party agreed to a renewed coalition with the CPP. A 186-member cabinet, the seats in which were reportedly sold for large sums in the expectation that they would yield corrupt profits, was formed.
The king abdicated in Oct., 2004, in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni, despite the fact that the constitution made no provision for abdication. In Feb., 2005, the national assembly lifted opposition leader Sam Rainsy's parliamentary immunity, subjecting him to potential defamation lawsuits from the governing coalition, which he had accused of corruption. He fled Cambodia, and was subsequently convicted of defamation. Other members of his party also were tried and convicted in trials that international human-rights groups said were shams, and subsequently independent human-rights activists were arrested.
A political truce in early 2006, due in part to pressure from international aid donors, resulted in a pardon for Sam Rainsy and others and in Rainsy's return to Cambodia. In Mar., 2006, the constitution was amended so that future governments could be formed with the support of a majority of the members of parliamemt instead of two thirds of the members. Evidence of corruption led the World Bank to suspend funding for three Cambodian development projects in mid-2006. In July, 2006, a tribunal staffed by both Cambodian and international judges was formed to try former Khmer Rouge leaders; the event marked the culmination of nearly nine years of negotiations concerning such trials. The first trial began in 2009 and resulted (2010) in the conviction of the former prison chief. A few other former leaders were tried beginning in 2011; Khieu Samphan, a largely figurehead former head of state, and Nuon Chea, the group's chief ideologist, were convicted of crimes against humanity in 2014. In Oct., 2006, Prince Ranariddh was ousted as leader of the royalist party while he was out of the country. He was subsequently convicted (2007) in absentia of fraud in the sale of the party's headquarters; Ranariddh denounced the conviction as politically motivated; he was pardoned by the king in 2008.
Tensions flared between Cambodia and Thailand in July, 2008, over the Preah Vihear (Phra Viharn) temple on their border. Claimed by both nations but awarded to Cambodia in 1962, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Thai government support for that distinction became a Thai domestic political issue, sparking strong nationalism in both nations and creating a crisis between them. The reinforcement of troops along the border near the temple also led to concern over possible fighting, but in August both sides withdrew most of their forces from the area. Tensions increased in September, however, and there was a brief outbreak of fighting the following month; clashes erupted again in Apr., 2009, and recurred in subsequent years. A demilitarized zone was established around the temple in 2012; most of the disputed area was awarded (2013) by the International Court of Justice to Cambodia. Relations with the Thais worsened again in Nov., 2009, when Hun Sen appointed Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's deposed prime minister, as an adviser.
Cambodian parliamentary elections in July, 2008, resulted in a landslide for Premier Hun Sen, whose party received nearly 60% of the vote. International observers termed the election flawed but the result largely valid; Cambodian opposition parties, however, denounced the result as manipulated but ultimately accepted the outcome. In Jan. and Sept., 2010, opposition leader Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia on charges relating to his actions concerning the marking of the Cambodia-Vietnam border; he had questioned the government's marking of the border, saying it encroached on Cambodian territory, and had removed border markers during a political protest. There was a significant and deadly border clash between Thai and Cambodian forces at the Preah Vihear temple in Feb., 2011, and there and at other sites in April. In Dec., 2011, both sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the disputed areas around Preah Vihear. Cambodia experienced significant flooding during the 2011 monsoon season; by October, three quarters of the country's provinces had been affected by floodwaters.
In the July, 2013, elections, Hun Sen's party won a majority of the seats, but the government was accused of fraud by Sam Rainsy and his party. Sam Rainsy, who shortly before the election was pardoned and had returned to the country, led a parliamentary boycott and protests against the results that continued into 2014, when the government also faced strikes by garment workers and others. In Jan., 2014, the government violently crushed protesting strikers and also dispersed and banned opposition protests.
In July, 2014, Sam Rainsy reached an agreement with the government that ended the opposition's year-long boycott, but his party again boycotted parliament for several months in late 2015 after thugs attacked two opposition lawmakers and again in the second half of 2016 after some of its lawmakers were stripped of their immunity and jailed. Rainsy again went into exile in 2016, but the government pardoned Rainsy's deputy, Kem Sokha, in late 2016 in an apparent attempt to divide the opposition.
Rainsy resigned as party leader in 2017 in advance of legislation that would have forbidden him to head a party and made it easier to ban a political party; the government then moved against Kem Sokha and other opposition leaders and subsequently dissolved Rainsy's party, stripping its elected officials of their voting rights. In the subsequent senate (Feb., 2018) and national assembly (July, 2018) elections, the governing party won by a landslide. After Hun Sen had secured a landslide victory, opposition figures (including Kem Sokha) were released from prison in subsequent months. Rainsy attempted to return from exile in Nov., 2019, but the government barred his entry. Government corruption remains a significant problem in Cambodia, and Hun Sen's family has been accused of being a major beneficiary.
Sections in this article:
- The Khmer Rouge and After
- Civil War
- Cambodia under Sihanouk
- Early History to Independence
- Land and People
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