Neighbors Defined Country's Fate

Cambodia's history has long been defined by its location between Thailand and Vietnam.

The French imposed a protectorate upon Cambodia, in part because of resistance efforts against their rule in Vietnam. Rebels there were seeking refuge from the French by hiding across the border in Cambodia. It was 1864; the pattern would be repeated into the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1941, the French selected 19-year-old Norodom Sihanouk as ruler of Cambodia, and by 1953 the Paris government gave Cambodia its independence.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. military officials grew concerned about Vietnamese communist attacks on South Vietnam launched from sanctuaries inside Cambodia, which was officially neutral. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon authorized the secret bombing of the communist bases.

The next year, the Cambodian prime minister, Lon Nol, seized power while Sihanouk was visiting Moscow and Peking. At the end of April, Nixon announced that U.S. and South Vietnamese troops had crossed the border to attack communist bases in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, Cambodian communists (the Khmer Rouge), made annual attacks against Lon Nol's troops. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country, 13 days before the Vietnamese communists took Saigon. They renamed the country the Republic of Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodian cities, forcing the entire population to labor in the countryside. Most experts estimate that 1 million people either starved or were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodia's population today is about 5.9 million.

Then, in December of 1978, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The Vietnamese installed their own government in Phnom Penh.

The latest resistance movement is an uneasy alliance of three factions: one led by Sihanouk, another headed by a former prime minister, Son Sann, and the third, the Khmer Rouge. The coalition, with Sihanouk as president, is recognized as Cambodia's legitimate government by the U.N. General Assembly.

Since December, however, the Vietnamese have overrun resistance camps along the length of the Thai-Cambodian border in their most successful dry-season offensive since the invasion. The Thai military, which is supported by the United States, is trying to drive back Vietnamese forces that have crossed the border into Thailand.

One former Long Beach resident has died in the recent fighting. King Men, whose family has moved to Oregon, was second in command of Sihanouk's troops. He was cremated in Thailand last week.

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