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Cambodia Friday, 24 July, 1998, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Cambodia's troubled history
Cambodia's recent history has been violent and its politics complex. Hundreds of thousands of people met their deaths in war, and in the killing fields of one of the most murderous regimes of the 20th century. Below is News online's guide to the turbulent history of the last 50 years:

Cambodia attained full independence from France in 1953. Prince Norodom Sihanouk was elected head of state in 1960.

From 1964, the government faced an underground Marxist insurgent movement, the Khmer Rouge.

Prince Sihanouk
Prince Sihanouk, pictured in 1979
Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a right-wing coup in 1970 led by Lt-Gen Lon Nol, whose government pledged to remove foreign communist forces and appealed to the United States, engaged in the war in neighbouring Vietnam, for military aid.

The prince left the country and formed a government in exile, which was supported by the Khmer Rouge. In 1972 Lon Nol was elected president of a newly-proclaimed Khmer Republic, but his government's control became limited to a few enclaves.

The Khmer Rouge

Forces loyal to Prince Sihanouk, mainly comprising Khmer Rouge fighters, gained control of Phnom Penh in April 1975.

Khmer Rouge soldiers
Khmer Rouge soldiers
Cambodia was renamed Democratic Kampuchea and, under the Khmer Rouge, the country was subjected to a radical attempt at social re-engineering. Towns were evacuated, intellectuals were rounded up and killed and the rest of the population was subjected to forced labour in the countryside.

More than a million people died from torture, disease and starvation.

In 1977, it was officially acknowledged that the country was being run by the Communist Party of Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot. Prince Sihanouk had been placed under house arrest.

Vietnamese invasion

After a campaign of cross-border raids by the Khmer Rouge into Vietnam, the Vietnamese army launched an invasion of Cambodia in 1978, capturing Phnom Penh in January 1979.

Under Heng Samrin, a People's Revolutionary Council pledged to restore basic freedoms, and the country was renamed again, as the People's Republic of Kampuchea.

But the Khmer Rouge remained active, especially in the west of the country, near the Thai border. The Vietnam-backed Phnom Penh government sentenced Pol Pot to death in absentia, saying he was responsible for the deaths of three million people.

Vietnam launched offensives against a coalition of anti-Vietnamese resistance groups formed in 1982 by Prince Sihanouk, his son Prince Norodom Ranariddh and former premier Son Sann. These had the backing of the Chinese government. Thousands of Cambodian refugees fled into Thailand.

Peace talks

In 1987, as a result of international diplomatic pressure, in particular from the Soviet Union and China, Prince Sihanouk met Hun Sen, chairman of the council of ministers in Heng Samrin's Phnom Penh government, in Paris.

A series of subsequent meetings resulted in the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia in 1989.

It was agreed to change the name of the country back to Cambodia, introduce a new flag and reintroduce Buddhism as the state religion.

But fighting continued between forces of the resistance coalition, led by Prince Sihanouk, and the Phnom-Penh government.

In 1990 the UN Security Council endorsed a framework for a comprehensive peace settlement in Cambodia, with a UN supervised interim government and free elections.

Cambodian factions signed the UN peace accord in Paris in October 1991. Prince Sihanouk returned to Phnom-Penh later that year.

A United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC) began operating in 1992. It was rejected by the Khmer Rouge, who launched attacks on its operations.

Elections under the UN

Prince Ranariddh election campaigners
The Khmer Rouge also boycotted UN-supervised general elections in May 1993 which brought Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh as co-prime ministers into an uneasy coalition government.

Prince Ranariddh accused Hun Sen of going back on a power-sharing agreement as Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party took the upper hand in government. Hun Sen in turn accused Prince Ranariddh of building up a guerrilla force with defecting Khmer Rouge rebels.

He surrounded Prince Ranariddh's military bases and, following fighting in the capital, Prince Ranariddh left Cambodia for France in July 1997, accusing Hun Sen of staging a coup.

The government in Phnom Penh sentenced Prince Ranariddh to imprisonment in his absence in 1998 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government with the help of the Khmer Rouge, charges which he denied.

He was pardoned by his father, King Sihanouk, and returned to Cambodia in May 1998.

In the jungle of northern Cambodia, Pol Pot was denounced by his former Khmer Rouge comrades in a show trial in July 1997, and sentenced to house arrest for life.

He died in April 1998. Film footage of his cremation was shown around the world.

Links to more Cambodia stories are at the foot of the page.

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