Cautious Cambodia - 2007

Vietnam weakened the Khmer Empire and finally led to its dissolution. By 1863, the last Angkor king requested a protectorate status under the French. In 1878, Cambodia became part of French Indochina. The Japanese occupied the country during World War II and when that conflict ended, the French gave Cambodia its independence in 1953. The country struggled along after that, not really embracing any particular form of government or satisfying the population with greater economic stability, more control over individual lives, or more influence over relations with other regional or world neighbors. Finally in 1975, the communist Khmer Rouge overran the country after a five-year uprising. This takeover by Pol Pot and his henchman led to the most vicious regime the poor Cambodians had ever experienced, indeed one of the most horrific in world history. Pol Pot drove the people almost completely out of the cities, particularly from Phnom Penh the capital, into the countryside where survival was never assured. Over 1,500,000 people were destroyed, through execution (specially used against the educated and middle classes), starvation, and extreme forced hardship. Men and women were sent to separate camps and children were sent to special children’s facilities. No one knew if the rest of his/her family had been killed or died for three deadly years. Youngsters did not know if they were orphans or had any siblings left. Citizens were summarily executed by brutal military guards and revolutionary soldiers for the most capricious reasons: soft hands, signifying the person had not performed physical labor in the past, indentations alongside the bridge of the nose, signifying the wearing of spectacles suggesting the person was an intellectual, questioning authority figures about anything, or becoming ill and unable to work.. Those appalling years were a nightmare from which the people have not yet fully awakened. In 1978, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, driving the Khmer Rouge, including leader Pol Pot, into the countryside and ending the reign of terror. However, then began a 10-year occupation by the Vietnamese. At least, the wholesale murder of the Cambodian people was halted. When the Vietnamese withdrew under UN authority, a 13-year civil war erupted between remnants of the Khmer Rouge and other elements in the society that wanted to control Cambodia’s destiny. More 7

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