Thirty years ago, some 22,000 police, military, and administrative personnel flew to Cambodia for one of the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping missions. After decades of bloodied fighting between the Khmer Rouge communist rebels and government forces, the warring factions signed an accord for the U.N. to prepare the Southeast Asian nation for “free and fair” elections in a step towards democracy.
- Explainer: What you need to know about Cambodia’s election
- Cambodia to vote as democracy and free press under pressure
- Cambodia ruling party expected to sweep elections (video)
- Cambodia’s Strongman Tees Up a Dynastic Succession (registration required)
Prime Minister Hun Sen, then 41, was in the middle of it all. Having fought on both sides of the war, Hun Sen, who ascended to power in 1985, was a key player in the peace accords. But when the elections did not turn in his favor, Hun Sen initially refused to accept the results and threatened the secession of certain provinces from Cambodia. He eventually accepted a coalition government in which he was made Second Prime Minister.
But the move toward democracy in Cambodia was short-lived: in 1997, Hun Sen staged a coup against his coalition partner and took back the premiership a year later. Since then, Hun Sen has tightened his grip on power and been accused of a gamut of human rights violations, from arbitrary killings to the torture of political dissidents to clampdowns on the press and more.