Modern Cambodia

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Drawing of Angkor Wat, Cambodia, by Louis Delaporte (1880)
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After the fall of the Pol Pot regime of Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia was under Vietnamese occupation and a pro-Hanoi government, the People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. A civil war raged during the 1980s opposing the government's Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Armed Forces against the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, a government in exile composed of three Cambodian political factions: Prince Norodom Sihanouk's Funcinpec party, the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (often referred to as the Khmer Rouge) and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF).

Peace efforts intensified in 1989 and 1991 with two international conferences in Paris, and a United Nations peacekeeping mission helped maintain a ceasefire. As a part of the peace effort, United Nations-sponsored elections were held in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normality as did the rapid diminishment of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s. Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as King. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces in 1998.

Peace efforts and the free elections[edit]

From July 30 to August 30, 1989, representatives of 18 countries, the four Cambodian parties, and Secretary-General of the United Nations Javier Pérez de Cuéllar met in Paris in an effort to negotiate a comprehensive settlement. They hoped to achieve those objectives seen as crucial to the future of post-occupation Cambodia: a verified withdrawal of the remaining Vietnamese occupation troops and genuine self-determination for the Cambodian people.

On October 23, 1991, the Paris Conference convened to sign a comprehensive settlement giving the UN full authority to supervise a ceasefire, repatriate the displaced Khmer along the border with Thailand, disarm and demobilize the factional armies, and to prepare the country for free and fair elections.

Prince Sihanouk, President of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia (SNC), and other members of the SNC returned to Phnom Penh in November, 1991, to begin the resettlement process in Cambodia. The UN Advance Mission for Cambodia (UNAMIC) was deployed at the same time to maintain liaison among the factions and begin demining operations to expedite the repatriation of approximately 370,000 Cambodians from Thailand.

On March 16, 1992, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), under UNSYG Special Representative Yasushi Akashi and Lt. General John Sanderson, arrived in Cambodia to begin implementation of the UN Settlement Plan. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began full-scale repatriation in March 1992. UNTAC grew into a 22,000 strong civilian and military peacekeeping force to conduct free and fair elections for a constituent assembly.

Over four million Cambodians (about 90% of eligible voters) participated in the May 1993 elections, although the Khmer Rouge or Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK), whose forces were never actually disarmed or demobilized, barred some people from participating in the 10-15 percent of the country (holding six percent of the population) it then controlled.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh's FUNCINPEC Party was the top vote recipient with 45.5% vote followed by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party and the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, respectively. FUNCINPEC then entered into a coalition with the other parties that had participated in the elections.

The parties represented in the 120-member Assembly proceeded to draft and approve a new Constitution, which was promulgated September 24. It established a multiparty liberal democracy in the framework of a constitutional monarchy, with the former Prince Sihanouk elevated to King. Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen became First and Second Prime Ministers, respectively, in the Royal Cambodian Government (RCG). The Constitution provides for a wide range of internationally recognized human rights.

1997 clashes in Cambodia[edit]

In 1997, factional fighting between FUNCINPEC supporters of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and of Hun Sen broke out, resulting in a number of casualties. This event was generally treated by the press, as well as by some scholars, as a "bloody coup by strongman Hun Sen",[1] without much serious and neutral investigation into its causes and its development.[2] Among the very few who attempted to look at evidence from both sides at the time were Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin,[3] and journalist Barry Wain, who wrote, "in circumstances that remain disputed, Mr. Hun Sen's military forces... defeated Prince Ranariddh's troops in Phnom Penh".[4] Hun Sen had alleged that Ranariddh had been planning a take-over with the help of Khmer Rouge fighters, supposedly smuggled into the capital (on the other hand, Hun Sen's army included a number of ex-Khmer rouge fighters).[5] After the royalist resistance was crushed in Phnom Penh, there was indeed some FUCINPEC-Khmer Rouge in the Northern provinces, where the fighting against Hun Sen offensive lasted until August 1997.[6]

Following the coup Prince Ranariddh went into exile to Paris. Some FUNCINPEC leaders were forced to flee the country, many were shot and Ung Huot was elected as the new First Prime Minister. FUNCINPEC leaders returned to Cambodia shortly before the 1998 National Assembly elections. In those elections, the CPP received 41% of the vote, FUNCINPEC 32%, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) 13%. Many international observers judged the elections to have been seriously flawed, claiming political violence, intimidation, and lack of media access. The CPP and FUNCINPEC formed another coalition government, with CPP the senior partner.

Cambodia's first commune elections were held in February 2002. These elections to select chiefs and members of 1,621 commune (municipality) councils also were marred by political violence and fell short of being free and fair by international standards. The election results were largely acceptable to the major parties, though procedures for the new local councils have not been fully implemented.

A riot occurred in January 2003 in which the Embassy of Thailand and several Thai businesses were damaged. Following the incident, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed the RGC's regret to the Thai Government and promised compensation. See Anti-Thai Cambodian riots of 2003

On July 27, 2003, elections were held and the Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen won a majority, but not enough to rule outright. The King has urged the two other parties, Sam Rainsy Party and FUNCINPEC, to accept the incumbent Hun Sen as prime minister. In mid-2004 a coalition government was formed between FUNCINPEC and the CPP.

In 2004, King Sihanouk, still in poor health, announced his abdication of the throne. Prince Norodom Ranariddh was one of the leading candidates to succeed Sihanouk, but the Royal Council of the Throne selected Prince Norodom Sihamoni, as the new king. A sign of Cambodia's modernization is the construction of skyscrapers and Phnom Penh's satellite city, Camko City. As a result of modernization, many problems such as illegal deforestation are occurring.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bloody coup" theory
  2. ^ Matthew Grainger, EU media guru says Ranariddh guilty
  3. ^ Tony Kevin, U.S. Errs in Cambodia Policy, FEER 21 May 1998
  4. ^ Dr. Michael Vickery, The July 1997 shootout
  5. ^ Cambodia: July 1997: Shock and Aftermath by Brad Adams
  6. ^

External links[edit]


  • Original text from U.S. State Department Background Note: Cambodia
  • Michael Vickery, The real story of Cambodia cries out to be told, The Nation, 25 September 1997, Bangkok
  • Michael Vickery, Flip side view of Cambodia's woes, The Nation, 18 November 1997, Bangkok