Cambodia was an important power in Southeast Asia as far back as 13 centuries ago, with the Khmer Empire stretching from Cambodia, to Thailand, to Laos, and Vietnam. Their dominance of the area waned in the 14th century and the area eventually became a French protectorate (1863). Japan occupied Cambodia during World War II, but the French returned following the war's conclusion. In 1953, Prince Norodom Sihanouk led Cambodia to independence, the french having been defeated in Indochina. Cambodia's stability was severely challenged during the Vietnam War with the rise of the Khmer Rouge (Communist rebels). Sihanouk was deposed in 1970 by Lon Nol. Five years later, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. Their leader, the despotic Pol Pot , conducted a reign of terror unlike any every seen in Asia. His regime was responsible for the deaths of at least 3 million people and the dispersion of hundreds of thousands more. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, various degrees of chaos plagued the country, which finally held elections in 1993. Though the Royalist forces captured about 40% of the vote, they agreed to join with the Cambodian People's Party in government sharing but by 1997, the coalition plan had deteriorated and Sihanouk was exiled. New elections were held in 1998 with the People's Party candidate Hun Sen victorious. Another coalition government was organized with Hun Sen as Premier and Sihanouk's son as President of the Assembly. By 1999, the last of the Khmer Rouge had surrendered or captured. The delicate balance of peace in Cambodia may hang on how the country handles the issue of war trials in the near future. MORE HISTORY