Cambodian History

Before 1863, Cambodia mainly served as a vassal territory for either the Thai or Vietnamese governments' to own. King Norodom, seeking to end this cycle and gain power for Cambodia signed a protection treaty with France. France viewed Cambodia as a buffer zone between southern Vietnam and the British-aligned Siam. They hoped that by signing the treaty they would be protecting their own interests in southern Vietnam. In turn, Cambodia relied on French protection to stop Vietnamese invasions on the eastern border. This treaty lasted until 1953, though the relationship was not always harmonious. During the time of the treaty, Cambodia struggled to maintain some sense of autonomy. However, the monarchy was given little power and maintained mainly for cultural significance. In 1941, France elected Norodom Sihanouk, an inexperienced king from the weaker Cambodian house, in the belief that he would submit to French will. During World War II, Japanese forces allowed France to maintain colonial control but encouraged nationalist thought. In 1945, Cambodia underwent a brief lapse of French rule as World War II exhausted French abilities. Contrary to French thought, Sihanouk served as a clever ruler and made ties with other countries in an effort to gain more control over Cambodia.

With the end of World War II, France attempted to reassert rule over its' former territories. In North Vietnam, the Nationalist leader of Communist guerilla forces, Ho Chi Minh, would not allow French intervention to control Vietnamese affairs. In 1945 Minh declared a new Vietnamese state and by 1947 France and Vietnam had begun a war of attrition. Conflict with Vietnam left France unable to control the push for independence from Cambodia. In 1949, France granted Cambodia signifcant autonomy, though the military and economy remained under French control. Ultimately, in 1953 Cambodia was able to declare complete independence from France. At this time Sihanouk abdicated his throne and ran for head of state democratically under the party Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community). He attempted to rid Cambodia of all opposition parties by closing rival newspapers and threatening members of these other groups. Due in part to his brutal tactics Sihanouk won the election and ruled from 1955-1970.

Throughout the next decade Cambodia's foreign policy centered on neutrality in the Vietnam war. Because of the Geneva Conference on Indochina, Viet Minh forces were officially banned from Cambodian land. However, by the mid-60's evidence clearly indicated that Viet Cong troops were operating within east Cambodian provinces. Additionally, the port, Sihanoukville, was allegedly supplying them with goods. The United States grew concerned about ties between Cambodia and Communist forces. The Nixon administration agreed to begin a secret bombing campaign on the Vietnam-Cambodian border. Tensions increased between Cambodia and the United States because Sihanouk vehementally opposed such actions and refused to allow permission for the U.S. to use Cambodian air space. Despite Cambodian attempts to remain neutral in the conflict, the United States viewed the country as leaning toward an alliance with Communist forces. Sihanouk also faced internal conflicts within the middle class and disapproving leftists. Sihanouk created a list in which he labeled "34 Subversives" (including Son Sen, Ieng Sary, and Saloth Sar, "Pol Pot") in an effort to rid the country of Communist thought. These subversives were often referred to as the "Khmer Rouges". After Sihanouk released his list of subversives police forces arrested and in some cases tortured the dissenters they could find. As the treatment toward those involved with the Communist party worsened many members fled to eastern Cambodia.

In March 1970, Sihanouk's prime minister, Lon Nol, conspired against Sihanouk as a protest to the presence of Viet Cong forces in Cambodia. While Sihanouk was abroad, Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak led a coup against Sihanouk and succeeded in throwing him from power. Lon Nol took control and realigned the country with the United States. In October Cambodia declared itself the Khmer Republic. However, Communist forces within Cambodia were increasing. Initially the forces received tremendous aid from North Vietnam. By 1973, however, the Communist Party of Kampuchea were fighting within Cambodia with little or no support. On New Year's Day of 1975 the Communist forces launched their final attack and by April 17th the administration under Lon Nol had surrendered. Khmer Rouge forces marched successfully into the Cambodian capital, Phnom Phen.

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