Cambodia has 17.1 million people. It is located next to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia’s capital and largest city is Phnom Penh. Buddhism is practised by 97% of the population. Located in Cambodia is Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world – built originally in the 12th century as a Hindu temple, it later became a Buddhist temple. In 1863, Cambodia became a protectorate of France. During World War Two, Japan occupied Cambodia but allowed the French Vichy government (close to the German army) to administer it. After World War Two, in 1953, Cambodia gained independence from France. Despite Cambodia’s neutrality, the Vietnam War extended into the country in 1965. A 1970 coup installed the USA-aligned Khmer Republic, until being overthrown by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. The Khmer Rouge ruled the country and carried out the Cambodian genocide from 1975 until 1979, when they were ousted in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. By 1978, due to the Khmer Rouge regime, the entire legal system was eradicated. Judges and lawyers were executed after being deemed “class enemies” and only 6 to 12 legal professionals survived and remained in the country. Lawyers did not reappear until 1995 when the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia was created. The 1997 coup d’état consolidated power under Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party, who remain in power till today. While per capita income remains low compared to most neighbouring countries, Cambodia has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. Foreign observers have highlighted corruption, poverty and human rights as major issues in the country. 

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Cambodia from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1904 – King Norodom, who in 1863 signed an agreement with the French placing Cambodia under the protection of France, dies. His two successors, Sisowath (ruling from 1904 to 1927) and Monivong (ruling from 1927 to 1941), were content to allow the French to control the country.
  3. 1940 – France was defeated in a brief border war with Thailand and forced to surrender the provinces of Battambang and Angkor (the ancient site of Angkor itself was retained).     
  4. 1941 – King Monivong dies. Instead of Monivong’s middle-aged son, Prince Monireth, the French placed obscure, and inexperienced 18-year-old Prince Norodom Sihanouk on the throne – considering him more pliable. The French were wrong, Prince Norodom Sihanouk later became politically active. Cambodia is occupied by Japan during World War Two.
  5. 1945 – After its defeat in World War Two, Japan relinquished Cambodia.
  6. 1946 – France re-imposes its protectorate. A new constitution permits Cambodians to form political parties. Communist guerrillas begin an armed campaign against the French.
  7. 1950 – Cambodian communists join forces with Vietnamese against French colonialism.
  8. 1953 – Cambodia officially gains its independence from France. Under King Norodom Sihanouk, it becomes the Kingdom of Cambodia.  
  9. 1955 – Norodom Sihanouk abdicates to pursue a political career. His father Norodom Suramarit becomes king, and Sihanouk becomes prime minister.
  10. 1960 – Norodom Sihanouk’s father, King Norodom Suramarit dies. Sihanouk becomes head of state.
  11. 1965 – Norodom Sihanouk breaks off relations with USA and allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases in Cambodia in pursuance of their campaign against USA-backed government in South Vietnam.
  12. 1967 – Pol Pot’s group of Cambodian Communists – dubbed Khmer Rouge by Norodom Sihanouk – launches an insurgency in the northwest.
  13. 1969 – USA begins a secret bombing campaign against North Vietnamese forces on Cambodian soil.
  14. 1970 – General Lon Nol (backed by USA) overthrows Norodom Sihanouk in a coup. He proclaims the Khmer Republic and sends the army to fight the North Vietnamese in Cambodia. Norodom Sihanouk – in exile in China – forms a guerrilla movement. Over the next few years, the Cambodian army loses territory against the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
  15. 1975 – Lon Nol is overthrown as the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot occupy Phnom Penh. Norodom Sihanouk briefly becomes head of state and the country is re-named Kampuchea.
  16. 1975 – Cambodian Genocide. All city dwellers are forcibly moved to the countryside to become agricultural workers. Money becomes worthless, basic freedoms are curtailed and religion is banned. The Khmer Rouge coin the phrase “Year Zero”.
  17. 1975 – Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-class are tortured and executed in special centres. Others starve or die from disease or exhaustion. The total death toll during the next three years is estimated to be at least 1.7 million.
  18. 1976 – The country is re-named Democratic Kampuchea. Norodom Sihanouk resigns, Khieu Samphan becomes head of state. Pol Pot is prime minister. Ieng Sary and Son Sen are deputy prime ministers.
  19. 1977 – Fighting breaks out with Vietnam.
  20. 1978 – Domestically, massive purges spark an uprising in eastern zone of Cambodia in opposition to the Pol Pot regime. Rebels are defeated and regroup across the Vietnamese border and call for help from Hanoi (capital of Vietnam). Vietnamese forces invade in a lightning assault.
  21. 1979 – The Vietnamese take Phnom Penh. Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge forces flee to the border region with Thailand. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea is established. Former eastern zone rebel Heng Samrin is proclaimed President with Hun Sen as Foreign Minister (later Prime Minister). Many elements of life before the Khmer Rouge take-over are re-established.
  22. 1981 – The pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party wins parliamentary elections. The international community refuses to recognise the new government. The government-in-exile, which includes the Khmer Rouge and Norodom Sihanouk, retains its seat at the United Nations.
  23. 1985 – Hun Sen becomes prime minister. Cambodia is plagued by guerrilla warfare. Hundreds of thousands become refugees.
  24. 1989 – Vietnamese troops withdraw. Hun Sen tries to attract foreign investment by abandoning socialism. The country is re-named the State of Cambodia. Buddhism is re-established as the state religion.
  25. 1991 – A peace agreement is signed in Paris. A United Nations transitional authority shares power temporarily with representatives of the various factions in Cambodia. Norodom Sihanouk becomes head of state.
  26. 1993 – General election sees the royalist Funcinpec party win the most seats followed by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). A three-party coalition is formed with Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh as prime minister and Hun Sen as deputy prime minister. The monarchy is restored, Norodom Sihanouk becomes king again. The country is re-named the Kingdom of Cambodia. The government-in-exile loses its seat at the United Nations.
  27. 1994 – Thousands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas surrender in government amnesty.
  28. 1996 – Deputy leader of Khmer Rouge Ieng Sary forms a new party and is granted amnesty by King Norodom Sihanouk.
  29. 1997 – Turmoil within Khmer Rouge – Pol Pot executes Son Sen.
  30. 1997 – Hun Sen mounts a coup against the prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and replaces him with Ung Huot. The coup attracts international condemnation. The Khmer Rouge put Pol Pot on trial and sentence him to life imprisonment.
  31. 1998 – Prince Norodom Ranariddh is tried in his absence and found guilty of arms smuggling but is then pardoned by the king.
  32. 1998 – Pol Pot dies in his jungle hideout, in mysterious circumstances. Khmer Rouge finally disintegrates.
  33. 1998 – Elections are won by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), amid allegations of harassment. A coalition is formed between the CPP and Funcinpec. Hun Sen becomes prime minister, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh is president of the National Assembly.
  34. 2001 – A law setting up a tribunal to bring genocide charges against Khmer Rouge leaders is passed. International donors, encouraged by reform efforts, pledge $560 million in aid.
  35. 2001 – USA-based Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) members are convicted of Year 2000 attack in Phnom Penh. The group pledges to continue campaign to overthrow Hun Sen.
  36. 2001 – First bridge across the Mekong River opens, linking east and west Cambodia.
  37. 2002 – First multi-party local elections; ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) wins in all but 23 out of 1,620 communes. Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s half-brother Prince Norodom Chakrapong sets up his own Norodom Chakrapong Khmer Soul Party.
  38. 2003 – Serious diplomatic trouble with Thailand over comments attributed to a Thai TV star that the Angkor Wat temple complex was stolen from Thailand. Angry crowds attack the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) wins general elections but fails to secure sufficient majority to govern alone.
  39. 2004 – After nearly a year of political deadlock, Prime Minister Hun Sen is re-elected after the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) strikes a deal with the royalist Funcinpec party. Parliament ratifies kingdom’s entry into World Trade Organisation (WTO). King Norodom Sihanouk abdicates and is succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni.
  40. 2005 – Opposition leader Sam Rainsy goes abroad after parliament strips him of immunity from prosecution, leaving him open to defamation charges brought by the ruling coalition.
  41. 2005 – Tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders gets green light from United Nations after years of debate about funding.
  42. 2005 – Sam Rainsy is convicted in absentia of defaming Hun Sen and is sentenced to 18 months in prison.
  43. 2006 – Sam Rainsy receives a royal pardon and returns to Cambodia.
  44. 2006 – Parliament votes to abolish prison terms for defamation.
  45. 2006 – Ta Mok, one of the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, dies aged 80.
  46. 2006 – Funcinpec party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, drops Prince Norodom Ranariddh as its leader.
  47. 2007 – Prince Norodom Ranariddh is sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for selling the Funcinpec party’s headquarters – a charge he denies.
  48.  2007 – United Nations-backed tribunals begin questioning Khmer Rouge suspects about allegations of genocide.
  49. 2007 – The most senior surviving Khmer Rouge member, Nuon Chea – “Brother Number Two” – is arrested and charged with crimes against humanity.
  50. 2008 – USA court convicts Cambodian Freedom Fighters’ (CFF) leader Chhun Yasith of masterminding Year 2000 attack in Phnom Penh.
  51. 2008 – Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claims victory in parliamentary elections, criticised by EU monitors. Cambodia and Thailand move troops to disputed land near Preah Vihear temple after decision to list it as UN World Heritage Site fans nationalist sentiment on both sides.
  52. 2008 – Two Cambodian soldiers die in an exchange of fire with Thai troops in the disputed area. Thai soldier dies later of wounds.
  53. 2009 – Former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav known as Duch goes on trial on charges of presiding over the murder and torture of thousands of people as head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison camp.
  54. 2009 – Parliament again strips opposition leader Sam Rainsy of immunity. He is charged but fails to appear in court.
  55. 2009 – Another row with Thailand, after Cambodia refuses to extradite ex-Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and appoints him as an economic adviser instead.
  56. 2010 – Former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav known as Duch is found guilty of crimes against humanity and given a 35-year prison sentence.
  57. 2010 – Diplomatic ties with Thailand resume after Cambodian government announces resignation of Thaksin Shinawatra as economic adviser.
  58. 2010 – Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy is sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail after being found guilty of manipulating a map to suggest Cambodia is losing land to Vietnam.
  59. 2011 – Tensions rise as Cambodia charges two Thai citizens with spying after they were arrested for crossing the disputed border. Respective forces exchange fire across the border. Hun Sen calls for UN peacekeepers.
  60. 2011 – Three most senior surviving Khmer Rouge members, including leader Pol Pot’s right-hand man, “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, go on trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
  61. 2011 – Cambodia and Thailand agree to withdraw troops from disputed area.
  62. 2012 – Former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav known as Duch loses appeal against conviction at UN-backed tribunal and has sentence increased to life.
  63. 2012 – A second judge quits the tribunal. Swiss Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet says he is going because his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, had thwarted attempts to investigate some former members of the Khmer Rouge regime.
  64. 2012 – Outspoken environmental activist Chut Wutty is shot dead in a confrontation with police while travelling in a threatened forest region in the south-west.
  65. 2012 – Government suspends the granting of land for development by private companies in a bid to curb evictions and illegal logging.
  66. 2012 – Cambodia and Thailand withdraw their troops from a disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple in line with a ruling by the International Court of Justice which aims to halt outbreaks of armed conflict in recent years.
  67. 2012 – Former king, Norodom Sihanouk, dies of a heart attack. He was 89.
  68. 2013 – Tens of thousands of people turn out in Phnom Penh for the cremation of the former king, Norodom Sihanouk.
  69. 2013 – Former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and foreign minister Ieng Sary dies while awaiting trial for genocide, leaving only Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan among prominent Khmer Rouge figures still alive and under arrest by the UN-backed tribunal.
  70. 2013 – Opposition leader Sam Rainsy returns from exile.
  71. 2013 – Parliamentary elections. Ruling party of premier Hun Sen claims victory, opposition alleges widespread irregularities.
  72. 2013 – Mass protests in Phnom Penh over contested election results. Parliament approves new five-year term for Hun Sen. Opposition boycotts opening of parliament.
  73. 2014 – A UN-backed court in Cambodia sentences two senior Khmer Rouge leaders to life in prison for their role in the terror that swept the country in the 1970s. The two, second-in-command Nuon Chea, and the former head of state Khieu Samphan, are the first top Khmer Rouge figures to be jailed.
  74. 2014 – More than 150,000 Cambodian workers return home from neighbouring Thailand after rumours circulate that the new military junta there will crack down on illegal migrants.
  75. 2014 – Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) agrees to end its year-long boycott of parliament as part of an agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen to break the deadlock over the disputed 2013 parliamentary election.
  76. 2015 – Prime Minister Hun Sen marks 30 years in power.
  77. 2015 – A UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia indicts two more former commanders of the Khmer Rouge, Im Cheam and Meas Muth, with crimes against humanity.
  78. 2016 – Kem Ley, a political commentator and prominent critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen is shot dead in the capital Phnom Penh.
  79. 2016 – Prime Minister Hun Sen declares a political “ceasefire” following a wave of prosecutions of opposition members ahead of elections in 2018.
  80. 2016 – Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy is sentenced to five years in prison after a document is published on his Facebook page which the government says is a forgery. Mr Rainsy was found guilty of posting an inaccurate post about a border treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam.
  81. 2017 – Sam Rainsy resigns as head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). He had been in self-imposed exile since 2005, when parliament stripped him of his immunity.
  82. 2017 – Human rights activist Kem Sokha is appointed as the new leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), replacing Sam Rainsy.
  83. 2017 – Opposition leader Kem Sokha is charged with treason.
  84. 2017 – Supreme Court dissolves the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the country’s only significant opposition party.
  85. 2020 (to 2022) – COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 3,000 deaths in Cambodia.
  86. 2022 – A Cambodian American lawyer, Theary Seng, and dozens of members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition party are convicted of treason in a trial. It is seen as a move to tame all opposition to the long-running rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
  87. 2022 – Cambodia has 17.1 million people.

© Comasters July 2022.

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