Most Cambodians are descendants of the Khmers, who in the 6th century established the Indian-influenced Angkor Empire, and for the next 900 years ruled the area of present-day Cambodia. According to legend, the founder of the Khmer dynasty was Kampu Svayambhuva, from whose name "Kampuchea" derives. From the 10th to the 14th century, after years of military expansion, the Khmers reached their apogee. Their empire extended over most of Southeast Asia (from central Vietnam south-west into the Malay Peninsula, and from Thailand north to the border of Burma, now known as Myanmar). Angkor, the capital city, was a flourishing complex of great temples, palaces, and shrines. In the subsequent centuries, however, continuing attacks by the Thai (who captured Angkor in 1431) and the Vietnamese weakened the empire, and by the end of the 18th century much of Cambodia had become a Thai and Vietnamese condominium. In 1863, the king of Cambodia placed the country under French protection. The French, joining Cambodia to Laos and Vietnam to form French Indochina, ruled the protectorate until the end of World War II. Cambodian nationalism received its greatest impetus during the World War II period, while Japan controlled Indochina. King Norodom Sihanouk, who had ascended the throne in 1941 and had been held a virtual prisoner under the Japanese occupation, proclaimed Cambodia independent in 1945, but yielded before a temporary resumption of the French protectorate, enforced by Allied troops, which occupied Phnom Penh. Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy on 6 May 1947, and was granted nominal independence within the French Union on 9 November 1949. King Sihanouk, meanwhile, had assumed leadership of Cambodia's growing nationalist movement. On 17 October 1953, during the height of the Franco-Indochinese war, he was granted full military control of his country by France. Sihanouk, a skilled politician, abdicated in March 1955 in favor of his father and mother, King Suramarit and Queen Kossamak, and then emerged as prime minister with the unanimous support of the national legislature. King Suramarit died on 31 April 1960, but Prince Sihanouk, although retaining the title of chief of state, did not return to the throne. During the Franco-Indochinese war, Communist-controlled Viet-Minh troops from Vietnam operated in Cambodia (1954), and gave support to a small Khmer Communist movement.
The Geneva agreements of July 1954, which ended the Franco-Indochinese war, secured the withdrawal of French and Viet-Minh troops from Cambodia and the surrender of most of the Khmer rebels. During the next 15 years, Sihanouk sought to keep Cambodia neutral in the deepening Vietnam conflict. This proved increasingly difficult, however, as the National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet-Cong) used Cambodian border areas as bases from which to launch attacks on the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), and as the United States in 1969 launched an undeclared air war against the guerrilla sanctuaries. On 18 March 1970, Marshal Lon Nol, prime minister and army chief, overthrew the chief of state, Prince Sihanouk, while the prince was on a visit to the USSR; the right-wing coup ended 1,168 years of rule by Khmer monarchs. Sihanouk thereupon took up residence in Beijing, where, on 5 May, he announced formation of the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea (GRUNK) under the political auspices of the National United Front of Kampuchea. In the interim, on 30 April, US president Richard M. Nixon announced an "incursion" into Cambodia of 30,000 US and 40,000 Vietnamese troops, with the object of destroying their opponents' strongholds along the Vietnam border. The operation was terminated on 30 June with its military objectives apparently unfulfilled, and bombing of the region continued, to devastating effect on Cambodia's economy.
Formal diplomatic relations with the United States, severed by Sihanouk in 1965, were resumed on 2 July 1970, and Sihanouk was condemned to death (in absentia) three days later. On 9 October, the Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh abolished the monarchy and changed Cambodia's name to the Khmer Republic. In elections held during June 1972, Lon Nol was elected president of the republic. Pressures from GRUNK insurgents continued to mount, especially following the conclusion of a cease-fire in Vietnam in January 1973 and the withdrawal of the last US troops from that country in March. US aid to the Lon Nol government had been substantial, totaling $1.18 billion in military supplies and $503 million in economic assistance for the whole of the 1970–75 period, but with most of the aid concentrated in the early years of direct involvement. With the reversal of US policy in Vietnam, however, support for the Khmer Republic began to taper off, and by the start of 1975, the Lon Nol government was plunged into a struggle for survival. In January, GRUNK military forces, generally referred to as the Khmer Rouge, launched a major offensive aimed at gaining control of the Mekong River and isolating Phnom Penh. Fierce and costly fighting ensued over the next three months, with the United States undertaking a massive airlift to Phnom Penh in February to fend off starvation and military collapse. On 1 April, the strategic Mekong ferry crossing at Neak Luong fell to the insurgents, clearing the way to a direct, final assault on the capital. On that day, Lon Nol fled the country, to be followed by much of the ruling hierarchy. On 17 April, the Khmer Republic government officially capitulated to GRUNK forces, commanded by Khieu Samphan.
The GRUNK government reported in March 1976 that the war had resulted in 1 million casualties, including 800,000 killed. On 5 January 1976, the country was officially renamed Democratic Kampuchea (DK). On 20 March, the first general elections were held for a new 250-member People's Assembly. The Assembly on 14 April named Khieu Samphan chairman of the State Presidium, replacing Prince Sihanouk, who had returned to the country in September 1975, as head of state. Pol Pot was named prime minister. Even before these political reforms were undertaken, the GRUNK government had undertaken a massive—and perhaps unprecedented—reorganization of the country's economic and social life. As an initial step, the new government ordered the near-total evacuation of Phnom Penh, where food, shelter, and medical resources had been stretched to the limit by the press of some 2.5 million refugees. The country was thereupon plunged into almost complete isolation, even from its neighbors in Vientiane and Hanoi. Currency was abolished, social relations completely overhauled, religion almost eradicated, education suspended, and families divided. From two million to three million people may have died from starvation, exhaustion, disease, or massacre under the Pol Pot (Cambodian Communist leader Saloth Sar) regime.
Meanwhile, tensions with Vietnam (traditional enemy of Cambodia until 1976 and again after 1989) were growing, and there were border clashes during 1977 and 1978. In December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia with a force of more than 100,000 troops; by January 1979, they had installed a pro-Vietnamese government, the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), headed by Heng Samrin, a former division commander in the GRUNK army. The PRK had to contend with resistance from the very beginning, and the Khmer Rouge rebels, who had fled to the jungles in the west and south, continued to harass the government despite Vietnamese counteroffensives. In order to improve its international standing, the Khmer Rouge began in 1981 to pursue a united-front strategy; Pol Pot, branded with the 1975–79 atrocities, reportedly withdrew into the background, and Khieu Samphan, supposedly the most moderate of the Khmer Rouge leaders, emerged as chief spokesman. In 1982, the Khmer Rouge formed the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), with two non-communist factions led by Prince Sihanouk and a former politician, Son Sann. The fighting during 1982–83 reflected a pattern of PRK and Vietnamese dry-season offensives alternating with an upsurge of guerrilla operations during the wet season. Militarily, the PRK and Vietnam appeared firmly in control at the end of 1987; diplomatically, however, the PRK had won recognition only from Vietnam, the former USSR, and their allies, with most nations joining the United States and China in giving qualified support to the CGDK. In March 1986, an eight-point plan to settle the Cambodian conflict was issued by the leaders of the coalition.
Progress towards a peaceful settlement had an uneven course in 1988. Prince Sihanouk resigned, retracted his resignation, and resigned again as president of the Democratic Kampuchean Government-in-exile. Informal meetings in Indonesia, one in July shunned by Prince Sihanouk and the other in October ignored by the Khmer Rouge, made no progress on peace plans. However, a subsequent announcement supported the creation of an international peacekeeping force. A conciliatory statement made in August of 1988 indicated the Khmer Rouge was ready to reduce its armed forces to the level of the other Cambodian factions. Vietnam announced the repatriation of 50,000 troops from Cambodia in 1988 and the complete withdrawal of troops by late 1989, or early 1990. In January of 1989 Heng Samrin pledged that, if a political settlement could be achieved, all Vietnamese troops would be repatriated by September. Further encouraging gestures were made by Vietnam, China and Thailand: Thai and Vietnamese officials met in Hanoi; Vietnamese and Chinese ministers met in Beijing; and, Thailand abandoned its policy of isolating the Heng Samrin government and invited talks with them. In 1989 Prince Sihanouk resumed leadership of the Democratic Kampuchean Government-in-exile, later resigning from leadership of the National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC). In protest of Thailand's contact with the Heng Samrin government, Sihanouk refused to attend a second "informal meeting" in Jakarta. This meeting still failed to resolve two outstanding major issues: the make-up of an international force to oversee troop withdrawals and the composition of an interim government before elections. As a further sign of its commitment to change, in April 1989 an extraordinary session of Cambodia's National Assembly ratified amendments to the Constitution: the name of the country was changed to the State of Cambodia (SOC), a new national flag, emblem and anthem were introduced; Buddhism was reinstated as the state religion; and the death penalty abolished. Hun Sen met in Bangkok with the Thai Prime Minister who appealed for a cease-fire among the four Cambodian factions [The government of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) installed by the Vietnamese (the Heng Samrin government), and three antigovernment groups that comprised the umbrella organization, the national Government of Cambodia (NGC): FUNCINPEC, the Khmer Rouge, and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF)]; the Khmer Rouge rejected this suggestion. In July 1989 Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk met in Paris prior to the Paris International Conference on Cambodia (PICC). In September 1989 Vietnam completed the timely withdrawal of its forces from Cambodia. Throughout 1988 and 1989 the Khmer Rouge forces continued to make military gains in Cambodia. The UN adopted a resolution supporting the formation of an interim government that included the Khmer Rouge, although past atrocities of the Khmer Rouge were alluded to indirectly.
In January 1990 the UN Security Council approved an Australian peace initiative—UN monitored cease-fire, the temporary assumption of executive powers by the UN secretary-general, formation of a national supreme council, and the holding of internationally supervised elections. Prince Sihanouk resigned as Supreme Commander of the High Council of National Defense and leader of the resistance coalition, but retained his position as President of Democratic Kampuchea. In February 1990 the Government-in-exile of Democratic Kampuchea was formally renamed by Sihanouk as the National Government of Cambodia and restored the traditional flag and anthem. This change distanced the coalition from association with the Khmer Rouge's former regime, Democratic Kampuchea (DK). (The DK had been named the Khmer Rouge by Sihanouk.) In a third meeting held in Jakarta in February the four Cambodian factions as well as representatives of Vietnam, Laos, ASEAN, France, and Australia met and agreed to the main principles of the UN plan. Prince Sihanouk resumed the presidency of the resistance coalition in May and in June he and Hun Sen signed a conditional cease-fire in Bangkok. In June a meeting in Tokyo was attended by representatives of all four Cambodian factions including Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge, however, refused to sign a cease-fire agreement and proposed that each faction should have equal representation on a supreme national council. Prince Sihanouk offered support for the Khmer Rouge proposal, despite his previous agreement with Hun Sen; the discussions collapsed. In June and July reformist political allies of Hun Sen were dismissed or arrested for alleged attempts to establish a new party. Supporters of conservative Chea Sim, Chairman of the National Assembly, replaced them. Also in July the United States withdrew its support for the National Government of Cambodia's occupation of Cambodia's seat at the UN and indicated willingness to provide humanitarian assistance for the Phnom Penh regime. The UN Security Council in late August endorsed a plan for a comprehensive settlement in Cambodia: UN supervision of an interim government, military arrangements for the transitional period, free elections, and guarantees for the future neutrality of Cambodia. In addition, a special representative of the UN secretary-general would oversee the proposed United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The UN would also assume control of government ministries. Both China and the former USSR subsequently pledged to cease providing supplies of military equipment to their respective allies, the Khmer Rouge and the Phnom Penh regime. In reversals of previous policy the United States announced it would hold talks with the Phnom Penh regime, and the USSR declared that it would hold talks with Prince Sihanouk. The four Cambodian factions accepted the UN proposals at an "informal meeting" in Jakarta in September 1990. In addition, they agreed to the formation of the Supreme National Council (SNC), with six representatives each from the National Government of Cambodia and Phnom Penh regime. The SNC was to occupy the Cambodian seat at the UN General Assembly. At its first meeting in September the SNC failed to elect a chairman. The Khmer Rouge heightened military action in the northern provinces. Even as the final draft of the peace plan was prepared by the UN Security Council the Phnom Penh regime continued to oppose the principal provisions of the plan. In December all 12 members of the SNC attended another meeting of the PICC and all factions endorsed most components of the UN plan.
The SOC replaced three of its six SNC members in February 1991. In May a temporary cease-fire was agreed upon by the four factions in order to facilitate discussions. In June the Khmer Rouge refused to discuss SNC leadership issues, requiring the Phnom Penh regime's prior acceptance of the full terms of the UN peace plan, and the Khmer Rouge refused to comply with a proposed extension of the temporary cease-fire. Prince Sihanouk became an ordinary member of the SNC chairing a meeting in Thailand where all four factions resolved several issues: implementation of an indefinite cease-fire, pledges not to receive further foreign military aid, approval of a flag and anthem for the SNC, and establishment of Phnom Penh as the headquarters for the SNC. Prince Sihanouk was elected to the chairmanship of the SNC and resigned as leader of the resistance coalition and as President of the National Government of Cambodia. His replacement in both positions was Son Sann. From August through October the SNC worked out the details of the armed forces reduction and election procedures. Elections would be held to establish a constituent assembly comprised of 120 seats, which would subsequently become a legislative assembly. The electoral system would be proportional representation based on the 21 provinces. The constituent assembly would be empowered to adopt a new constitution. In October the SOC released hundreds of political prisoners including associates of Hun Sen arrested in 1990 for starting a political party. The Kampuchean (or Khmer) People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP), the communist party aligned with the Vietnamese communist movement, changed its name to the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), removed the hammer and sickle from the party emblem, and replaced Heng Samrin as Chairman of the Central Committee with the conservative Chea Sim. Reformist Hun Sen was elected Vice-Chairman of the CPP.
On 23 October 1991 what was hoped to be an end to thirteen years of war in Cambodia was achieved with the signing of the Comprehensive Political Settlement for Cambodia by the four Cambodian factions and 19 participating countries. The agreement called for the creation of a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to carry out the peacekeeping operations which included the demobilization of 70% of each faction's army and enforcement of a cease-fire; verifying the withdrawal of foreign forces; administering the country until an election in 1993 by taking over certain portfolios; assuring that human rights were maintained; and the repatriation of 600,000 refugees and internally displaced people. In November a threat to the tenuous peace process occurred when a mob attacked Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Son Sen in a Phnom Penh villa. The SNC government's response was slow, and it was alleged that Hun Sen sanctioned this incident and that Vietnamese officials were involved in it. In December violent student demonstrations protesting against high-level corruption and in support of human rights were suppressed by the armed forces and in later demonstrations several protestors were killed. Several high-level government officials were dismissed based on the corruption charges.
In January 1992 the four factions approved the formation of political associations and the promotion of freedom of expression. However, on 22 January Tea Bun Long, minister for religious affairs and an outspoken critique of corruption was killed, and on 28 January Oung Phan, organizer of a new political party emphasizing anti-corruption was shot, but survived. These and other arrests, threats, and disappearances were viewed as intimidation by the secret police geared at undermining the peace process and free elections, and served to intimidate government critics. Yasushi Akashi, the Japanese UN Under Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, was appointed as the UN Special Representative to Cambodia in charge of UNTAC. The UN Security Council authorized mine clearing operations, the dispatch of a 22,000 member peace keeping force to establish UNTAC, at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
In September 1991 approximately 5% of the Cambodian population was in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border, 340,000 refugees in border area camps, and another 190,000 refugees within Cambodia. The plan was to move refugees to transit camps in Thailand, then on to six reception centers in Cambodia, and finally to villages. In October the Khmer Rouge began to forcibly repatriate tens of thousands of civilians in UN refugee camps to areas under its control in Cambodia. International reaction prevented the Khmer Rouge from forcibly repatriating inhabitants of the Khmer Rouge controlled camp, Site 8, just one of the eight refugee camps. The UNTAC refugee repatriation program began in March, in spite of cease-fire violations between the Khmer Rouge and the State of Cambodia forces. Throughout 1992 the Khmer Rouge denied free access to the zones it controlled, refused to comply with the disarmament phase, violated the cease-fire agreement, played upon long-standing racial/ethnic tensions by contending that Vietnamese soldiers were concealed in Cambodia, complained that the UN peacekeepers were not impartial to them, failed to attend meetings, and demanded the dismantling of the Phnom Penh regime as a precondition for the implementation of the peace accords, amongst other demands.
In May 1992 the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the political and military party formed by Son Sann for the purpose of resisting the Vietnamese, was transformed into a political party called the Buddhist Liberal Democracy Party (BLDP) and still headed by Son Sann. FUNCINPEC also became a party, headed by Prince Ranariddh. At a Ministerial Conference on the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Cambodia held in Tokyo in June, the application of economic sanctions against the Khmer Rouge was considered and 33 donor nations and 12 nongovernmental organizations attending the conference pledged $880 million to finance the peacekeeping operation. In August Akashi, the head of UNTAC, approved elections, and the registration of parties began. He also affirmed that the elections would proceed without the participation of the Khmer Rouge if it continued to refuse to co-operate. The demands of the Khmer Rouge were impossible to meet and were viewed as efforts to gain territory in order to increase its representation in the proposed national assembly, perhaps with as much as 35% of the population (a tactic laid down by Pol Pot in a 1988 speech). In September the Khmer Rouge made two new demands: the resignation of Akashi and a redrawn border between Cambodian and Vietnam. This latter demand referred to territory allegedly annexed by Vietnam that would make the elections incomplete if not returned to Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge protested an electoral law drafted by UNTAC that enfranchised citizens aged more than 18 years whose parents or grandparents were born in Cambodia, effectively permitting Vietnamese immigrants to take part in the election.
October 1992 UNTAC began voter registration. The Khmer Rouge boycotted voter registration and escalated destruction of bridges and roads, effectively cutting off its territory in the northeast from the rest of the country. The UN Security Council set a November deadline for the Khmer Rouge's compliance with the terms of the peace accord, but eventually extended the deadline to 31 January 1993 as the Khmer Rouge's last chance to participate in the elections. The Security Council also approved an embargo on supplies of petroleum products to the Khmer Rouge and a ban on timber exports (a principal source of income for the Khmer Rouge). The Khmer Rouge announced the formation of the Cambodian National Unity Party to contest the elections on the day the UN resolution was adopted. Ethnic and racial tensions were increasing as the Khmer Rouge incited and escalated actions against the Vietnamese based on deep-rooted Cambodian sentiments towards the Vietnamese. In December the KPNLF joined the Khmer Rouge in the ethnic cleansing of the "Vietnamese germs." Six members of the UN peacekeeping forces were seized and held for a few days by the Khmer Rouge in December 1992.
In January Prince Sihanouk ceased cooperation with UNTAC and suggested that a presidential election be held prior to the legislative election, but in February he reversed his position. Voter registration was completed in February; registered voters numbered 4.5 million and 20 political parties were registered. The election was set for May 23–25, 1993. The CPP intimidated its political rivals with attacks and stopped the gradual expansion of the Khmer Rouge into Phnom Penh government territory. In a dry season offensive the SOC attacked three of four of the Khmer Rouge's most important zones.
In early 1993 the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm and attacked UN offices, cars, helicopters, and personnel. In addition to the Khmer Rouge's accusations of collusion between UNTAC and the SOC, the presence of the UN forces was a source of growing tension and dissatisfaction in Cambodia. Inflation, official corruption, and crime were increasing and UNTAC's presence and policies were blamed. The Khmer Rouge issued their own currency, thus emphasizing steps toward further partition. In a secret speech a year earlier (6 February 1992), Pol Pot had set out an incremental approach by which the Khmer Rouge could gain popular strength which he considered more important than land: develop local autonomy; set up a money economy with their own banks which would hold the surplus earnings of farmers (projected to be 30% of earnings); distribute land, sell land in order to support the army, and continue to fight the "yuon" (savage), or Vietnamese. As the Khmer Rouge again refused to disarm and take part in the elections, it appeared to follow this program as it also increased attacks on Vietnamese fishermen and their families, killing 34 and injuring 29 in March at the floating village of Chong Kneas. Furthermore, citing its allegations that UNTAC colluded with the Vietnamese aggressors and rubber stamped the Vietnamese occupation, the Khmer Rouge refused to cooperate with the peace process. The UN goal was to have all refugees back in Cambodia by mid-April for elections. By 19 March 330,000 refugees were repatriated. A cash inducement had been added as incentive ($50/adults and $25 for children), and this rapidly accelerated the process. Roughly 87% had taken the cash option, nearly one–third going to Phnom Penh; 80–85% of the returnees chose areas under Phnom Penh government (Hun Sen) control, (about 85% of the country's) territory; 10% chose areas controlled by the Khmer People's National Liberation Front; 2% chose zones controlled by forces loyal to Prince Sihanouk; and 1% chose Khmer Rouge areas. In April the Khmer Rouge closed its office in Phnom Penh and slipped out of the city; it pledged to prevent the planned elections. A Japanese UN worker was killed and eventually 30 of the 460 volunteers for the election work resigned. In May the Khmer Rouge mounted its boldest offensives yet with targets defined for maximum political impact including major cities; they took briefly the Siem Reap airport. Under these pressures UNTAC abandoned 400 of its 1800 polling places.
The election took place May 23–28, 1993; four million Cambodians or 85% of those registered voted. FUNCINPEC won the election with 45% of the vote, or 58 of 120 seats in the constituent assembly; the CPP took 38% of the votes, or 51 seats in the assembly; the BLDP had over 3% of the votes, which gave them 10 seats; and, MOULINAKA (Movement for the Liberation of Kampuchea, a pro-Sihanouk group formed in 1979 by Kong Sileah, considered an offshoot of FUNCINPEC) took one seat. The constituent assembly had three months within which to draft a constitution and form a new government. To the CPP its political defeat was an unacceptable surprise and it demanded a revote and threatened riots; the Khmer Rouge denounced the CPP for contesting the election. The CPP's 51 assemblymen were technocrats and education officials (people who never wielded power within the party); this supported the belief that the CPP paid only lip service to constitutional arrangements as it maintained its grip on power. The CPP's two leaders, hardliner Chea Sim and reformer Hun Sen, were foci of an internal struggle. In a move towards cooperation FUNCINPEC leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and CPP Primer Minister Hun Sen served as co-chairmen of the government, and control of the major ministries was divided, with FUNCINPEC getting the finance and foreign affairs portfolios while the CPP retained the Information Ministry. The CPP had 200,000 armed forces and 40,000 national police; FUNCINPEC's armed forces numbered 5,000. In August for the first time the three government factions, royalist FUNCINPEC, former Phnom Penh ruling regime CPP, and the BLDP, agreed to joint military operations. The Khmer Rouge would not be allowed to enter the political mainstream until it agreed to unconditionally join the unified armed forces and open up areas under its control, estimated to be 20% of Cambodia.
Cambodia's new constitution was adopted on 21 September 1993. Prince Norodom Sihanouk was crowned king, resuming the title first bestowed on him in 1941. In an attempt to restore central control of the economy to the government on December 28 the National Assembly passed a national budget and financial laws. These new laws stripped individuals of the power to collect taxes independently and by law all revenue would be channeled to the national treasury. Minister of Economics and Finance Sam Rainsy set about to root out official corruption and centralize Cambodia's budget. The entrenched businesses protested, but Rainsy received the backing of Sihanouk and international lending institutions. The two co-prime ministers, First Premier Norodom Ranariddh and Second Premier Hun Sen, asked King Sihanouk for sanction to fire Rainsy, but instead received a statement praising Rainsy, who was becoming a popular hero. King Sihanouk also urged the government to grant total freedom to the domestic and foreign press.
Within the SOC there was significant difference of opinion on how to deal with the Khmer Rouge. FUNCINPEC's Ranariddh counted on diplomacy to isolate the Khmer Rouge while using development aid and investment for poverty reduction and infrastructure improvement. On the other hand, many of his counterparts in Hun Sen's CPP sought a military solution to the Khmer Rouge problem. There was consensus, however, that Cambodia should look to Malaysia's experience with the Malayan Communist Party, which consisted of marginalizing the Malaysian communists. UNTAC's failure to disarm the Khmer Rouge was a burden for the new government. The Khmer Rouge was emerging with its prestige enhanced, territory expanded, and weaponry intact. Cambodia had been critical of the role Thailand played in supporting the Khmer Rouge, and renewed its appeals to Thai neutrality. The Khmer Rouge presence benefited Thailand by aiding in securing its border, and with lucrative trade in gems, timber, and armaments. The Khmer Rouge radio station was located inside Thai territory. In early 1994 while the new government sought to consolidate and to gain control of the economy, military activity continued between government forces and the Khmer Rouge. Cambodian currency, the riel, was stabilized and tax revenues increased. International donors pledged an extra $773 million in aid. Corruption and a free press were major issues. King Sihanouk was seriously ill with cancer. The government captured Pailin, official headquarters of the Khmer Rouge on 19 March, but the Khmer Rouge retook it one month later. The dry season campaign by the government against the Khmer Rouge was a failure. Both sides were scheduled to resume peace negotiations on May 2–7. The Khmer Rouge looked to its military successes as leverage for a power sharing compromise with the government; Sihanouk sought to make deals that gave the Khmer Rouge some key posts in return for laying down its arms and opening areas under its control. One year after the elections major problems were security, corruption, and the economy. Security issues included demobilized unpaid soldiers turning to banditry, new mines being laid, Westerners being kidnapped, villagers fleeing the fighting, and closed schools. It was unsafe to farm. Corruption included national assembly members keeping their seats while serving in other branches of government; parties swelling the number of senior officers and civil servants as they vied to match each other in number and in rank; and the National Assembly voting themselves a raise equal to 100 times that of a typical soldier. The economy was undermined by continuing military activity, and privatization was stalled by lack of capital and skilled workers, and political instability.
On 3 July 1994 there was a coup attempt. Less than 300 troops were involved and it was directed against FUNCINPEC, and possibly Hun Sen as well, by hard line figures at the highest levels of the CPP attempting to take over the government. After the coup attempt the National Assembly voted to outlaw the Khmer Rouge and seize its assets, a move that was partly directed at Thailand. The Khmer Rouge's response was to announce the formation of a parallel government, with its headquarters in northern Cambodia and Khieu Samphan as president.
In July 1994, it was estimated that 55,000 Cambodians were again fleeing Khmer Rouge attacks in the western provinces. For the first time since the 1970s, the United States provided military aid to Cambodia. The need to remove the land mines infesting the fields of Cambodia became a high priority. Mines may have inflicted more wounds than any other weapon, and Cambodia has the world's highest percentage of physically disabled persons. As foreign advisors sought to strengthen the country's human rights laws, ethnic considerations were raised. Cambodia's constitution fails to guarantee basic rights for racial groups other than ethnic Cambodians. The definition of Cambodians does include ethnic minority Chams and Chinese, but excludes ethnic Vietnamese.
The Khmer Rouge began to weaken in 1995, with mass defections of guerrilla fighters. The government remained worried by the hard core of dedicated Khmer Rouge rebels and their leaders, who remained at large in northern and western strongholds. Tensions continued within the fragile coalition government, with the CPP fighting off royalist political movements wherever they cropped up. There were also factional disputes within each of the coalition parties. Sam Rainsy's role as an opponent of foreign aid to Cambodia's "undemocratic" government earned him the condemnation of FUNCINPEC and the CPP. The Khmer National Party, formed by Sam Rainsy, was officially unrecognized. Internal rivalries essentially disbanded the government's third partner, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party.
Marginalization of the Khmer Rouge continued in 1996, as the group split between the leadership of ailing Pol Pot and a breakaway faction headed by Ieng Sary. In late 1996, Ieng Sary received a royal pardon, and his force became the object of courtship by CPP and FUNCINPEC. The government parties sought the votes and arms of Ieng Sary's supporters, plotting against each other in the process. This jockeying for position, accompanied by political violence and rumors of coups, continued into 1997.
In February 1997, FUNCINPEC's Ranariddh began an alliance with Sam Rainsy in strong opposition to Hun Sen's CPP. Hun Sen announced in March that he would seek to amend the constitution to prevent members of the royal family from involvement in politics, a direct hit at Ranariddh, Prince Sihanouk's son. Hints of negotiations between Ranariddh and the Khmer Rouge fueled Hun Sen's fears about his government "partner." A demonstration on 30 March, by Sam Rainsy's supporters, was attacked with hand grenades, which killed several protesters and wounded scores. The violence and tensions came to a head on 2 July, with open fighting between forces loyal to FUNCINPEC and CPP. A brief coup d'etat set up Hun Sen as the sole power in charge. Ranariddh fled Cambodia and Hun Sen's forces killed many of Ranariddh's party leaders and supporters in the days immediately following the coup.
Hun Sen moved to establish CPP legitimacy, with the party winning a flawed national election in July 1998 with 41.4% of the vote to FUNCINPEC's 31.7%. Ranariddh was able to return as an opposition leader, and he, along with Sam Rainsy, whose party gained 14.3% of the vote, condemned the election as rigged. Foreign aid, suspended due to the coup, resumed. Throughout 1998, the Khmer Rouge continued to disintegrate, as Pol Pot, the architect of their genocidal regime died on 15 April, and other leaders surrendered or were captured.
With the entire top echelon of living Khmer Rouge leaders in custody, Cambodian government concerns from 1999 through 2001 centered on how to bring them to justice. Hun Sen's preference was for a series of trials conducted within Cambodia's own legal system, while the UN, fearing mere "show trials," called for an international tribunal. Compromises involving foreign judges participating in the Cambodian trials were proposed.
In August 2001, King Sihanouk signed legislation creating a special tribunal to prosecute the Khmer Rouge members responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people through execution, torture, starvation, and hard labor. The trials were to be presided over by three Cambodian judges and two foreign judges, but further negotiations with the UN were necessary to finalize the details of the court. The UN insists that international standards of justice are met for the Khmer Rouge leaders living freely in Cambodia. In February 2002, the UN concluded that the independence, impartiality, and objectivity of the proposed court could not be guaranteed, and pulled out of the negotiations. The Cambodian government indicated it would proceed with plans for the tribunal, with or without support from the UN. The issue of the trials is divisive in Cambodia, with some fearful that they will reopen old wounds and set the country back on the path of civil war. In December 2002, the UN passed a resolution authorizing negotiations on the tribunal to begin again, and in January 2003, talks resumed.
In December 2002, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that he wished to rule for another 10 years. He announced that October that he would be the sole candidate for prime minister of the CPP if it wins the general election scheduled for 27 July 2003.