The November 9, 2018 marked 65 years anniversary of the independence day of the modern Cambodia, when it declared independence from France in 1953. Cambodian celebrated the ceremony at their Independence Monument in Phnom Penh. To mark this occasion, we share a brief history of this interesting destination ever since its declaration of independence.


The French conquest of Indochina began with the attack on an ancient Vietnamese port of Danang in 1858, it took them almost 50 years to lay claim to the whole region, including Cambodia and Laos. All of it was ruled by a French governor general from his palace in HanoiVietnam’s capital.


In 1863, Cambodian King Norodom (1834 – 1904) signed an agreement with the French to establish a protectorate over his kingdom to escape Siamese (Thailand) pressure, Cambodia gradually came under French colonial rule.


After being colonized around 80 years with a brief Japanese occupation, King Norodom Sihanouk (1922 – 2012) began claiming dependence from France in 1949. Though the French could easily have replaced Sihanouk with a more pliable monarch, but the military situation was deteriorating throughout Indochina. The French government declared itself ready to grant full independence to the three states of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. The Cambodia independence day was celebrated on 9 November 1953, and King Sihanouk became a hero in the eyes of his people.




Administration of King Norodom Sihanouk (1953 - 1970)


As a result of the Geneva Conference following the Dien Bien Phu, Cambodia was able to bring about the withdrawal of the Viet Minh troops from its territory. But from the mid-1960s, domestic Cambodian politics became polarized, Paris-educated Pol Pot led an insurgency under the clandestine Communist Party of Kampuchea (Sihanouk called these insurgents the Khmer Rouge, literally the "Red Khmer").


Due to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, parts of Cambodia's eastern provinces were serving as bases for North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front forces operating against the Republic of Vietnam.


Sihanouk, facing internal struggles, did not want Cambodia to be involved in the conflict. He refused to allow the United States to use Cambodian air space and airports for military purposes, which contributed to US’s view that Sihanouk as a North Vietnamese sympathizer.




Cambodian Civil War (1970 - 1975)


While visiting Beijing in 1970 Sihanouk was ousted by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol, who immediately allied Cambodia with the United States. The Cambodian monarchy was then abolished, and the country was renamed the Khmer Republic. The new regime immediately demanded that the Vietnamese communists leave Cambodia.


While the US provided material assistance to Lon Nol, North Vietnam overran large parts of eastern Cambodia and turned the newly won territories over to the Khmer Rouge. The king urged his followers to help in overthrowing Lon Nol’s government, hastening the onset of civil war.


The Khmer Rouge continued to grow, aided by supplies and military support from North Vietnam. But Pol Pot and Ieng Sary asserted their dominance over the Vietnamese-trained communists, many of whom were purged. By 1973, the CPK were fighting battles against government forces with no North Vietnamese troop support, and they controlled nearly 60% of Cambodia's territory and 25% of its population.  


From behind the scene, China "armed and trained" the Khmer Rouge to prevent a pan-Indochina movement, and maintain Chinese military superiority in the region. The Soviet Union supported a strong Vietnam to maintain a second front against China in case of hostilities, and to prevent further Chinese expansion.


As a result, Lon Nol's control was gradually reduced until Communist troops launched an offensive which caused the collapse of the Khmer Republic. The Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh surrendered on 17 April 1975.




Khmer Rouge era (1975 – 1979)


Immediately after its victory, Pol Pot tried to reshape Cambodia into a model that he had conceived. He ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns, sending the entire urban population into the countryside to work as farmers. Agriculture was collectivized, and the surviving part of the industrial base was abandoned or placed under state control. Cambodia had neither a currency nor a banking system.


Remnants of the old society were abolished and religion was suppressed. People were rounded up and executed for speaking a foreign language, wearing glasses, scavenging for food, absent for government assigned work, and even crying for dead loved ones. Former businessmen and bureaucrats were hunted down and killed along with their entire families, as the Khmer Rouge feared that they held beliefs that could lead them to oppose their regime. A few Khmer Rouge loyalists were even killed for failing to find enough 'counter-revolutionaries' to execute.


Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 1.5 million and 3 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.


Pol Pot established close ties with China, his relation with Vietnam worsened rapidly as a result of border clashes. The situation worsened when he ordered military attacked villages in Vietnam. In response to Pol Pot’s attracts, the Vietnamese armed forces along with many dissatisfied former Khmer Rouge members, invaded Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh on 7 January 1979.




Cambodia Today (1993 – Present)


From 1993, Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia, the Kingdom of Cambodia is today in peace and one of the tourist magnets in Southeast Asia. The country is home of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Temples, and the friendly Khmer people with Theravada Buddhism tradition.


The country is being rebuilt with good infrustructures, superb hotels and resorts. Luxury travel Cambodia has never been so easy. Start planning your tailor-made Cambodia journey today. Contact Incense Travel expert to get started.



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