Angkor Wat


Very little is known about prehistoric Cambodia, although archeological evence has established that prior to 1000 BC Cambodians subsisted on a diet of fish and rice and lived in houses on stilts, as they still do today.

From the 1st to the 6th centuries, much of Cambodia belonged to the Southeast Asian kingdom of Funan. By the 3d cent., the Funanese had conquered their neighbors and extended their sway to the lower Mekong River. In the 4th cent., according to Chinese records, an Indian Brahmin extended his rule over Funan, introducing Hindu customs, the Indian legal code, and the alphabet of central India.

From the 6th to the 8th  centuries, Khmers from the rival Chen-la state to the north overran Funan. With the rise of the Khmer Empire, Cambodia gradually became dominant in SE Asia. Angkor, the capital of the Khmer empire, was one of the world's great architectural achievements.

From the 9th to the 14th centuries, Cambodia experienced its ups and downs, sometimes reunited, sometimes riven by conflicts. Still the Angkorian arts experienced the finest level of elaboration such as the temples in the Roluos area,  Phnom Bakheng Temple, Angkor Thom, many public works… and the unrivalled Angkor Wat.

Forces of the Thai kingdom of Ayudhya sacked Angkor in 1431, leaving the Khmers plagued by dynastic rivalries and continual warfare with the Thais for a century and a half.

The Spanish and Portuguese also played a part in these wars. The Spanish arrived in 1596, going through many disagreements and sacking of the capital city and the Royal Palace, installing the new king. Those incents led to the massacre of the Spanish garrison at Phnom Penh in 1599.

From 1600 to 1863, the country was ruled by series of weak kings. In 1863, King Norodom signed the protectorate treaty with the French. Another treaty signed in 1884 turned Cambodia into a French colony.

In 1941 the French installed 19-year-old Prince Sihanouk on the Cambodian throne. In Jan., 1946, France granted Cambodia self-government within the French Union. A treaty signed in 1949 raised the country's status to that of an associated state in the French Union, but limitations on the country's sovereignty persisted. King Norodom Sihanouk campaigned for complete independence, which was finally granted in 1953. An agreement between France and Cambodia (Dec., 1954) finished the French influence in Cambodian policies. In 1955, Cambodia withdrew from the French Union and was admitted into the United Nations.

    King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in Mar., 1955, in order to enter politics; his father, Norodom Suramarit, succeeded him as monarch. Sihanouk subsequently formed the Popular Socialist party and served as premier. After Suramarit's death in 1960, the monarchy was represented by Sihanouk's mother, Queen Kossamak Nearireak. Sihanouk was installed in the new office of chief of state. Throughout the 1960s, Sihanouk struggled to keep Cambodia neutral. Sihanouk permitted the use of Cambodian territory as a supply base and refuge by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops while accepting military a from the United States to strengthen his forces.

    In Aug., 1969, Lt. Gen. Lon Nol, the defense minister and supreme commander of the army, became premier, with Sihanouk delegating conserable power to him.

 On Mar. 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, premier Lon Nol led a right-wing coup deposing Sihanouk as chief of state. Sihanouk subsequently set up a government-in-exile in Beijing in control of a Cambodian indigenous revolutionary movement which Sihanouk had nicknamed Khmer Rouge.

In 1969 the United States carpet-bombed suspected communist base camps in Cambodia, killing thousands of civilians and dragging the country unwillingly into the War. American and South Vietnamese troops invaded the country in 1970 to eradicate Vietnamese communist forces but were unsuccessful; they d manage, however, to push Cambodia's leftist guerillas (the Khmer Rouge) further into the country's interior. Savage fighting soon engulfed the entire country, with Phnom Penh falling to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.

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 over 2 million people were executed by the Khmer Rouge over the next four years. Members of the upper, mdle, or educated classes, as well as suspected enemies of the Khmer Rouge, were victims of the genoce.

 Responding to recurring armed incursions into their border provinces, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, forcing the Khmer Rouge to flee to the sanctuary of the jungles along the Thai border. 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 countryse, 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 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.

 In m-1993, UN-administered elections led to a new constitution and the reinstatement of Norodom Sihanouk as king. The Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections, rejected peace talks and continued to buy large quantities of arms from the Cambodian military leadership. In the months following the election, a government-sponsored amnesty secured the first defections from Khmer ranks, with more defections occurring from 1994 when the Khmer Rouge was finally outlawed by the Cambodian government.

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 the fighting in July, 1997, between the factions of Hun Sen and Prince Ranardh, Hun Sen's forces declared victory and Ranardh fled the country; he was replaced as first premier by Ung Huot. Prince Ranardh returned to Cambodia in Mar., 1998, and became an opposition candate in the legislative elections held in July. Hun Sen's party (the Cambodian People's party) was the official winner of the election (with 64 seats out of 122), and he became the sole premier. Prince Ranardh became the present of the national assembly.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won elections in 2003. 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 Ranardh's party agreed to a renewed coalition with the CPP. A 186-member cabinet was formed. In Oct., 2004, the king abdicated in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni. In June 2004, Hun Sen found a coalition partner and resumed his prime ministership.

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