By Franklin Foer
(840 words; posted Saturday, June 21)
An estimated 2 million Cambodians perished between 1975 and 1979 under the Maoist Khmer Rouge regime. This week, ailing Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot reportedly surrendered to a Khmer Rouge faction, signaling an end to his 18-year quest to regain power. Meanwhile, armed militias backed by the country's dueling prime ministers began sparring in the capital city of Phnom Penh, foreshadowing another civil war. How did the peaceful Cambodian kingdom become a killing field? What are the country's prospects for peace? Colonized by France in 1863, Cambodia regained independence in 1953. Led by its king, Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia remained neutral, not aligning with either the United States or Communist North Vietnam. But Sihanouk's strategy began to unravel as the North Vietnamese established army sanctuaries just inside the Cambodian border: In the spring of 1969, the United States began secretly bombing these sanctuaries, ultimately dropping 540,000 tons of explosives. One year later, the CIA helped Cambodian army Gen. Lon Nol oust Sihanouk and, weeks later, U.S. troops invaded Cambodia in pursuit of the North Vietnamese bases.