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Cambodia Post-WWII. French Control. The French ruled Cambodia from 1864, after King Norodom signed a treaty making Cambodia a protectorate of France Cambodia formed a part of French Indochina, which included Laos, Cochin-China, Annam and Tonkin (the latter three eventually became Vietnam)

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French Control

The French ruled Cambodia from 1864, after King Norodom signed a treaty making Cambodia a protectorate of France

Cambodia formed a part of French Indochina, which included Laos, Cochin-China, Annam and Tonkin (the latter three eventually became Vietnam)

The Kings of Cambodia were formally in power, yet they were only figureheads. All control of the country was exercised by the French



The French had little interest in educating the Cambodian people. By the end of World War II, after 70 years of colonial rule, there was only one high school in the entire country and there were no universities

During World War II, like much of Asia, Cambodia was occupied by Japan

World War II


Ho Chi Minh

The French took control of Indochina once more, but were now in conflict with the Communist Viet Minh forces, led by Ho Chi Minh.

In September, 1945, he declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). A coalition of foreign forces joined in a short, but fiercely fought war, and soon restored control to the French


Dien Bien Phu

In 1950 Ho Chi Minh, now supported by China and the Soviet Union, once again declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from France

Fierce fighting ensued until March, 1954, when Ho Chi Minh’s forces won a decisive victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu



  • Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th Parallel into:
    • Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North, under Viet Minh control, and
    • State of Vietnam in the South, which had the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France


The events of 1954 also marked the end of French involvement in the region, and the beginnings of serious US commitment to South Vietnam which led to the Vietnam War

Laos and Cambodia were also granted independence in 1954, but were both drawn into the Vietnam War


Vietnam War

The Vietnam War occurred from 1959 to 1975.

The war was fought between the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and its communist allies and the US-supported Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)


US Joins War

US had entered Cold War with the Soviets during the late 1950s, and feared the spread of Communism beyond the borders of China and Eastern Europe

By the early 1960s, there were hotspots in East Berlin, Cuba and Southeast Asia

US armed itself with missiles and strengthened its defence forces. By 1964 America had joined the Vietnam War


Bombs over


The first bombing of Cambodia occurred relatively early in the war.

Between 1965 and 1968 US forces conducted a number of devastating aerial bombing campaigns along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran through parts of Laos and Cambodia.



Although Cambodia had declared its neutrality as early as 1955, some of the North Vietnamese allies were using Cambodia as a base.

In 1969, under pressure from the US, Prince Norodom Sihanouk informed the Communist groups that they were no longer welcome in his country


Operation Menu

In 1969, President Nixon launched a massive secret bombing campaign, called Operation Menu, against Communist sanctuaries along the Cambodian border.

This violated Washington’s stated support for Cambodian neutrality



On 18 March 1969, on secret orders from Nixon, the U.S. Air Force carried out the bombing of Base Area 353 by 59 B-52 Stratofortressbombers

This series of attacks on the sanctuaries lasted until May 1970



Over 14 months approximately 2,750,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped by US planes on Cambodia – more than the total dropped by the Allies in World War II

The bombing was hidden from the American public until 1973


Lon Nol

In 1970, Sihanouk was deposed by pro-American general Lon Nol

Cambodia’s borders were closed and the US launched raids into Cambodia to attack Communist bases

The coup against Sihanouk and US bombing destabilized Cambodia and increased support for the Khmer Rouge

The invasion of Cambodia sparked nationwide U.S. protests


The War Ends

On April 30, 1975, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam, ending the Vietnam War

For the US, the war ended in the withdrawal of its troops and the failure of its foreign policy in Vietnam

Over 1.4 million military personnel were killed in the war, while civilian fatalities are estimated at 2 million, including up to 700,000 Cambodian civilians


Civil War

The Cambodian Civil War pitted the forces of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge) and their allies North Vietnam and the Viet Cong against the government forces of Cambodia, which were supported by the United States and South Vietnam

North Vietnam wanted to protect its sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia

Cambodia’s government was mainly assisted by the massive U.S. aerial bombing campaigns


Khmer Rouge

  • The government, after 5 years of savage fighting and after:
    • suffering massive casualties,
    • the destruction of its economy,
    • the starvation of its population, and
    • grievous atrocities committed by its enemy
  • was defeated on 17 April 1975 when the victorious Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea.

Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge was the ruling political party of Cambodia —which it renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea—from 1975 to 1979.

The term "Khmer Rouge," means "Red Khmer" in French. It was used to refer to a succession of Communist parties in Cambodia which evolved into the Party of Democratic Kampuchea


Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge is remembered mainly for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people through execution, starvation and forced labour.

Following Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge imposed an extreme form of social engineering on Cambodian society—a radical form of communism where the whole population had to work in collective farms or forced labor projects


Khmer Rouge

In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population (est. 7.5 million people, as of 1975), it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century.

One of their mottos, in reference to the New People, was: "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss."



The Khmer Rouge regime was removed from power in 1979 as a result of an invasion by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and was replaced by moderate, pro-Vietnamese Communists.

It survived into the 1990s as a resistance movement operating from bases in Thailand. In 1996, Pol Pot formally dissolved the organization.

Pol Pot died April 15, 1998, having never been put on trial



Cambodia has one of the worst land mine problems in the world. Three decades of perpetual war and violence has led to a large proliferation of land mines and unexploded bombs throughout the country

Often areas that could be used for agriculture, commercial, civil and other uses are not accessible due to the dangers of land mines.

Most landmine casualties in Cambodia today are civilian