To understand modern-day Cambodia, it's important to look into one of the darkest periods of its history. From 1975 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge seized power from Cambodia's monarchy. Although brief, this horrible reign attempted to send the country back to the Dark Ages, resulting in the deaths of around two million Cambodians.
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The Communist Party of Kampuchea was formed around 1960 in opposition to the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk. A military coup in 1970 hobbled Sihanouk's power and five years later, the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, the capital. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge began moving people from cities to the countryside in attempts to revert Cambodia to an agrarian society without money, private property, or religion. This was declared Year Zero. Religious figures, ethnic minorities, and intellectuals were mercilessly persecuted, often killed. Children were brainwashed to spy for the state and report hidden intellectuals, even their own parents. In total, a quarter of the population was killed.
The Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979 as the result of war with the Vietnamese. The United Nations steps in a decade later, Vietnam withdraws and, although the Khmer Rouge attempt to regain power, the Paris Peace Agreement seals their fate. The Khmer Rouge was outlawed in 1994 and Pol Pot, along with others was put on trial in 1997. He is sentenced to house arrest and dies a year later.
Read more about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge:
Cambodia Tribunal Monitor: Khmer Rouge History
BBC: Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime
PBS: Timeline: The History of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge