Cambodia had spent centuries being stripped by a kleptocratic and Byzantine monarchy and then treated as an appendage to Vietnam by a disinterested French colonial system. But what little there was in 1970 was comprehensively destroyed over the next two decades. Nixon’s bombers, internal coups and power struggles, the genocidal insanity of the Khmer Rouge, and a Vietnamese occupation, all in the midst of continuous civil war, flattened the country.
Two million people, a quarter of the population, had died in Pol Pot’s genocide, and another 600,000 were in refugee camps in Thailand; along the Thai border, one of the world’s largest minefields of 10 million landmines had been constructed. So from 1989 the world’s great powers came together in Paris along with the four-sides of the civil war. By October 1991, the different sides had reached a compromise – disarmament, peace and reconciliation, and a united democratic country.
That makes the transition that Cambodia has seen since incredible, with extraordinary economic growth and development. And though there is a long way to go, both economically and amid democratic backsliding, Cambodia’s recovery is still impressive and a testament to the success of international aid in the hardest of circumstances.