Three decades after a landmark agreement ended years of bloody violence in Cambodia, its strongman ruler has crushed all opposition and is eyeing dynastic succession, shattering hopes for a democratic future. The Paris Peace Agreements, signed on October 23, 1991, brought an end to nearly two decades of savage slaughter that began with the Khmer Rouge's ascent to power in 1975. The genocidal regime wiped out up to two million Cambodians through murder, starvation and overwork, before a Vietnamese invasion toppled the communist Khmer Rouge but triggered a civil war.
The Paris accords paved the way for Cambodia's first democratic election in 1993 and effectively brought the Cold War in Asia to an end.
Aid from the West flowed and Cambodia became the poster child for post-conflict transition to democracy.
But the gains were short-lived and Premier Hun Sen, now in his fourth decade in power, has led a sustained crackdown on dissent.
"We did a great job on bringing peace, but blew it on democracy and human rights," said former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the peace deal.
Evans said it was a mistake to agree to Hun Sen's demands for a power-sharing arrangement after the 1993 election.
Rights groups say the veteran strongman maintains his iron grip on the country through a mix of violence, politically motivated prosecutions and corruption.
Exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy said the international community lacked the will in 1993 to stand up to Hun Sen, who had been installed as ruler by the Vietnamese in 1985.
"The West had a tendency to wait and see and look for imagined gradual improvements in governance. That clearly did not work," he told AFP.
--- AFP, Phnom Penh