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On November 9, 1953, France releases Cambodia into independence and King Norodom Sihanouk returns.

In 1955, in order to free himself from the restrictions set for the king by the Cambodian constitution, Norodom Sihanouk abdicates in favour of his father, Norodom Suramarit, and enters politics. In successive elections, in 1955, 1958, 1962 and 1966, the party of Norodom Sihanouk wins every seat in parliament.

In March 1969 American planes start bombing Cambodia to interrupt the supply trails of the Vietcong. The bombardments last until 1973.

In 1970, while Norodom Sihanouk is in Moscow on a state visit, Marshal Lon Nol stages a coup d'etat in Phnom Penh. Lon Nol abolishes the monarchy and declares Cambodia a republic. Norodom Sihanouk chooses to stay in Peking, presiding over a governmentinexile. The Khmer Rouge are part of it. During the following years, the Khmer Rouge conquer more and more regions of Cambodia, until finally only Phnom Penh remains under the control of the Lon Nol government.

Prison painting

Photo: Khmer Rouge guards transport a prisoner to an interrogation and torture room - Painting at Tuol Sleng Museum, the former torture prison of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge march into Phnom Penh. Within a few days, the execute a large number of Cambodians formerly connected to the Lon Nol regime. More than 2 Million inhabitants of Phnom Penh are forced out of the city and moved to provincial labour camps. Phnom Penh becomes a ghost town. The economy of the entire country is transformed along radical Communist lines, money is simply abolished. The consequences include famine and epidemics.

Within the following 44 months more than a Million Cambodians fall victim to the Khmer Rouge rule of terror. Refugees who make it to Thailand report atrocities of the worst kind: executions of children, only because they were not born of peasant families or of Vietnamese or Chinese origin. Whosoever was suspected of being educated, or to be a member of a merchant family, was murdered: clubbed to death, not shot, in order to save ammunition.

On December 25, 1978, after a series of transgressions at the CambodianVietnamese border, the Vietnamese army invades Cambodia. On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops occupy Phnom Penh. A Vietnamfriendly government is installed, Heng Samrin, a Khmer Rouge guerrilla who earlier had fled to Vietnam, is proclaimed president. The new Cambodian government is not recognized by Western countries.

Tombstone
Photo: Tombstone for 166 victims of the Khmer Rouge reign.

In 1982, three Cambodian resistance groups, the Khmer Rouge, the National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) of Prince Sihanouk, and the anticommunist Khmer People's National Liberation Front of former PM Son Sann, form a coalition aiming to expel the Vietnamese occupation forces.

In 1989 the Vietnamese troops retreat from Cambodia. On October 23, 1991, the government previously installed in Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese, together with the resistance coalition, among them the Khmer Rouge, sign a peace treaty in Paris. Three weeks later, on November 14, 1991, Prince Sihanouk returns to Phnom Penh. The population of the capital receives him enthusiastically.

FUNCINPEC party headquarters in Cambodia

In 1992 the United Nations Transitory Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) take over the government and the administration of the country. The Khmer Rouge do not adhere to the Paris agreement which stipulates that warring factions lay down their arms.

On May 23, 1993, in elections for a constitutional assembly, supervised by the UN, FUNCINPEC wins 45 % of the votes, the Cambodian People's Party of the government installed by the Vietnamese achieves 38 %. FUNCINPEC and CPP agree to form a coalition government.

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Last updated: March 2, 2016