Prologue

Cambodia was once part of the great Khmer empire. The kingdom extended beyond its present day borders west to include a section of Thailand, north to encompass a major portion of Laos and south to Vietnam, incorporating part of the Mekong Delta, known to us as Khmer Krom (lower Cambodia). Angkor Wat was the capital. Over the centuries there were countless conflicts and border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand, and Cambodia and Vietnam. The people of Thailand insisted that Angkor Wat belonged to them. The Vietnamese laid claim over the Mekong Delta. In the long history of fighting between Cambodia and her neighbours, however, nothing caused as much trauma and destruction to my country as what it experienced at the hands of the revolutionaries who called themselves the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
The region of Southeast Asia, later known as Indochina, which included Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, had become a French protectorate in 1893. These three nations gained a brief independence from France when they were ruled by Japan during the Second World War, but once hostilities ceased French colonialism returned. By this time, however, a new ideology was brewing in Asia: communism. It came to the fore in China after Chairman Mao’s Communist Party defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (the Chinese Nationalist Party) and established the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on October 1, 1949. At around the same time, the Vietnamese Communist Party, (the Viet Minh), led by Ho Chi Minh, proclaimed the independence of Vietnam and had gained control of the northern half of the country by September 1945. France resisted the loss of her territories in the First Indochinese War until 1954. Because of fears Cambodia might ally itself with the Viet Minh to fight the colonial oppressor, Cambodian independence was granted on November 9, 1953. King Norodom Sihanouk initially assumed the dual roles of King and Prime Minister, but two years later in 1955, he abdicated the throne, although everyone in Cambodia still referred to him as the King Father.

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