HISTORY


 

Cambodia's History

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, constructed in the early to mid 12th century: symbol of Cambodia's nationhood

Cambodia, also known for a time as Kampuchea, is located in mainland Southeast Asia between
Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and the Gulf of Thailand. From the 9th to the 15th century the Khmer
Empire extended its sway far beyond the country's boundaries. This period produced the glorious
temple complex and royal palace at Angkor. The Khmer kingdom gradually declined; it accepted
French protection in 1863 and was later incorporated into French Indochina. Cambodia became
independent in 1953, but it was soon entangled in the Vietnam War. In April 1975, Cambodian
Communists known as the Khmer Rouge took control of the country, which they renamed
Democratic Kampuchea, and instituted policies that led to the deaths of at least 1 million people. The
Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979 by the Vietnamese army and Cambodian exiles. The
Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea (renamed State of Cambodia in 1989) was
opposed by the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in exile (renamed the National
Government of Cambodia in 1990), made up of the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge, which had the
largest army, and two non-Communist factions. With U.S. support this government in exile held
Cambodia's seat in the United Nations until 1990. Under a 1991 peace accord the four factions
formed a UN-supervised interim coalition government from which the Khmer Rouge later withdrew.
Multiparty elections were nevertheless held in May 1993, after which Norodom Sihanouk again
became king of Cambodia.
LAND AND RESOURCES
Most of the country is low-lying and heavily forested; only a small portion (11%) of the land is
cultivated. The Dangrek Mountains provide a watershed escarpment boundary with Thailand in the
north. The Cardamom Range dominates the southwest, rising to 1,771 m (5,810 ft) at Phnom Aoral,
the highest point in the country. Adjacent to the coast is the Elephant Range, and highlands adjoin
Laos and Vietnam east of the Mekong River in the northern part of the country.
Soils
Two types of soil predominate in Cambodia: alluvium deposited by riverine flooding and soil resulting
from rock decay. The former is fertile and supports rice production; the latter is mostly forested and
has limited agricultural potential.
Climate
Monsoon rains prevail from mid-April to October, followed by drier and cooler air until March.
Average annual rainfall in the central lowlands is 1,400 mm (55 in) and may be three or more times
greater in the southwestern mountains. Temperatures range from 20 degrees C to 36 degrees C (68
degrees F to 97 degrees F).
Drainage
The Mekong River bisects and irrigates the eastern lowlands of Cambodia. Close to the center of the
country is the largest lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonle Sap ("great lake"), which acts as a natural
reservoir for the Mekong. Only a few of Cambodia's rivers, in the southwest, lie outside the drainage
system of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap.
Vegetation and Animal Life
Dense tropical rain forests cover the uplands, while mangroves predominate along the coast. The
natural vegetation of the central plains is prairie grass.
Larger species of wildlife, including buffalo, elephants, rhinoceroses, bears, tigers, and panthers, are
found at higher elevations. Exotic birds and reptiles are common.
Resources
Hardwood forests have long been exploited for timber. Phosphate, salt, and gems (rubies, sapphires,
and zircons) have been exported, and there are iron ore deposits.
PEOPLE
The Khmer, who are thought to have migrated from southern China prior to 200 BC, constitute
about 90% of the population. The chief minority groups are the Chinese and the Vietnamese. Almost
all of the Vietnamese in Cambodia were driven out or killed under Khmer Rouge rule. Many of the
several hundred thousand Vietnamese who later settled there remained after Vietnam's 1989 military
withdrawal, but thousands of them fled to Vietnam after the Vietnamese-backed government's defeat
in Cambodia's May 1993 elections. It is not known how various upland minorities, such as the
Cham-Malays and the Khmer Loeus, fared under the Khmer Rouge. Between 1991 and 1993,
some 370,000 Cambodian refugees in camps along the Thai border were resettled under UN
supervision. Because much of Cambodia's agricultural land had been heavily mined during the civil
war, many land titles were in dispute, and nearly half of the refugees were under the age of 15 and
had never farmed, it was unclear whether the returning refugees would be able to feed themselves.
Theravada Buddhism has been the religion of almost all Khmer since the 13th century, when it
replaced animism and ancestor worship among the peasants and Brahmanic beliefs at the royal court.
The Khmer Rouge banned all religions, disrobed and punished thousands of monks, and desecrated
hundreds of temples and monasteries. Buddhism, legally practiced since 1979, again became the
official religion in 1989. Monasteries are being restored with government support.
Cambodia is overwhelmingly agricultural and rural. The largest cities are Phnom Penh (the capital),
Battambang, and Kompong Cham. The Khmer Rouge evacuated the refugee-swollen cities and
towns in 1975 with great loss of life. Massive population shifts again took place after 1979 as the
new government allowed people to rejoin their families and return home. The population of Phnom
Penh (1975 est., 3,000,000) increased from less than 200,000 in 1979 to 800,000 in 1992. As
economic liberalization began to revitalize the city, it attracted growing numbers of refugees and rural
Cambodians seeking job opportunities.
Formal education was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge period in favor of basic task training and
political indoctrination in agricultural communes, and millions of educated Cambodians were killed or
fled overseas during the Khmer Rouge period. After 1979, with Vietnamese assistance, public
schools were reopened and adult literacy courses were promoted.
Health care was very limited under French rule, and many physicians did not survive the Khmer
Rouge revolution. Hospitals in the major towns have since been reopened, but rural areas, where
malnutrition, malaria, dengue fever, and other illnesses are widespread, still lack medical facilities.
The greatest monuments of Khmer culture are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, inspired by a
Hinduized worldview and indigenous sculptural idioms. After 1979 some of the lesser architectural
monuments and temples were restored, and the government organized classical- and folk-dance
performances, song troupes, and shadow plays. In the 1990s tourists again visited Angkor Wat, and
there were international efforts to restore Cambodia's deteriorating architectural wonders.
ECONOMY
Cambodia's myriad small plots, primitively cultivated once a year, traditionally produced an
exportable surplus of rice. During the Vietnam War, dikes were destroyed and rubber plantations
and processing plants were crippled by military damage; corn, groundnut, sugar, and livestock
production also suffered. A large refugee population became dependent on imported rice. The
Khmer Rouge, who emphasized economic self-sufficiency, abolished money and personal property
and forcibly collectivized agriculture. By 1978 renewed civil war caused further economic disruption.
After the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979, a massive international relief effort provided
Cambodia with food and other aid. The Vietnamese-backed government abandoned its efforts to
collectivize agriculture in 1989, and much small enterprise is in private hands. Fish harvesting has
increased dramatically, although the country is still not self-sufficient in rice.
Manufacturing facilities are also being rehabilitated. The surviving industries process agricultural and
forest products and produce consumer goods. Transportation lines are slowly being restored, but the
years of fighting have left most of the country's infrastructure in ruins.
Under the Khmer Rouge, foreign trade was almost nonexistent. The Vietnamese-backed government
depended almost exclusively on aid from Vietnam, the USSR, and its allies, but this aid ended with
the breakup of the USSR in 1991. The Khmer Rouge, no longer bankrolled by China, conducts a
lucrative trade in timber and gemstones across the Thai border, despite a 1993 ban on raw timber
exports. The new government has been promised substantial foreign aid to rebuild the ravaged
economy.
GOVERNMENT
Vietnamese-backed opponents of the Khmer Rouge established the People's Republic of
Kampuchea, headed by a People's Revolutionary Council. In 1981 the newly elected National
Assembly ratified a constitution providing for a council of state and a council of ministers. The
Kampuchean People's Revolutionary party (Communist party) was the sole legal political party until
1991, when it abandoned Marxist-Leninism, accepted multipartyism, and was renamed the
Cambodian People's party (CPP). Sihanouk was president of the coalition government in exile
formed in 1982; Khieu Samphan (Khmer Rouge) was vice-president, and Son Sann was prime
minister. The armed forces of these leaders operated independently.
On Oct. 23, 1991, the government in Phnom Penh and the three rebel factions signed a peace
accord. Sihanouk became chairman of the Supreme National Council, a coalition that administered
the country with the United Nations until multiparty elections for a 120-member national assembly
were held in May 1993. The royalist party, known as Funcinpec, captured 58 seats to 51 seats for
the CPP. The assembly wrote a new constitution making Cambodia a constitutional monarchy, and
Sihanouk again became king on September 24. Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh
became first prime minister, with Hun Sen of the CPP as second prime minister. The Khmer Rouge
withdrew from the peace process in mid-1992, and its future role in the government is unclear.
HISTORY
Five significant periods can be discerned in the history of Cambodia. From the 1st century AD, the
kingdom of Funan organized life in support of royal courts that adopted the Indian Brahmanic cult of
the god-king; Indic culture spread into the legal code and an alphabet. During the 6th and 7th
centuries, kingdoms of Khmer origin known as Chenla kept the institutions of Funan while
conquering neighboring kingdoms in present-day Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. Chenla was
succeeded by the classical (Angkor) period of Khmer history, which lasted from the 9th to the
mid-15th century. During this period Cambodian artistic, architectural, and military achievements
reached their zenith. A gradual decline in the coercive authority of the Khmer Empire was followed
by losses of territory to the Vietnamese and the Thais.
The French protectorate began by treaty in 1863 and became a colonial relationship with
Cambodia's incorporation into the Union of Indochina in 1887. Indochina fell to the Japanese during
World War II, but France reclaimed it in 1945 as part of the newly conceived French Union. King
Norodom Sihanouk (installed by France in 1941) was pressed by new nationalist parties to gain full
independence (granted 1953).
After independence opposition groups continued to demand further political and social reforms,
although the Cambodian offshoot of Ho Chi Minh's Indochina Communist party withdrew its cadres
to North Vietnam in 1954 following the Geneva cease-fire agreements for Indochina (see Geneva
conferences). Sihanouk gave up the throne to his father in 1955, but he remained a prince, premier,
leader of the dominant political movement (the Sangkum), and, after 1960, elected head of state. He
tried to minimize the risk of involvement in the Vietnam conflict by rejecting membership in the
Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), accepting military aid from China, breaking relations
with South Vietnam and the United States, and allowing the North Vietnamese use of his seaport to
support their forces in South Vietnam. A new Communist group under Soloth Sar (Pol Pot) sprouted
secretly in 1960. This group, later named the Communist party of Cambodia (Khmer Rouge),
launched an armed struggle to topple the Cambodian government in 1968.
The United States began secretly bombing North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia in 1969, and
in April 1970, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces launched a limited incursion to wipe them out. By
this time Sihanouk had been overthrown by one of his top generals, Lon Nol. The new Khmer
Republic's government became increasingly authoritarian and corrupt, and it fought a losing battle
against the North Vietnamese on its territory and the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces.
The Paris Peace Accords for Vietnam in January 1973 failed to halt the fighting in Cambodia, and in
April 1975 the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh. Without hesitation they drove the entire urban
population out among the poor peasants of the countryside, in whose name a revolutionary leveling
was to take place. For the next three and a half years the population was conscripted into agricultural
communes by zonal and local Khmer Rouge commanders, referred to only as Angkar
("Organization"). A few light industries were maintained in the otherwise empty cities and towns.
Hundreds of thousands of people died of exhaustion, malnutrition, revolutionary and disciplinary
executions, and paranoid purges within the movement itself. Conservative estimates have put the toll
at about 1 million persons; it may have been much higher. The Khmer Rouge almost totally isolated
the country.
In January 1979, following violent disputes with Vietnam over boundaries and revolutionary
leadership, Phnom Penh was overrun by the Vietnamese army. Khmer Rouge defectors headed by
Heng Samrin established a Vietnamese-style people's republic backed by the authority of up to
180,000 Vietnamese troops and myriad advisors. The Khmer Rouge forces staggered to the western
boundary with Thailand, where the United Nations eventually organized camps for further waves of
Cambodians variously seeking food, haven, or resettlement. The Khmer Rouge launched guerrilla
resistance with arms supplied by the Chinese. In 1982, Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann formed a
coalition government in exile with the Khmer Rouge. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(see ASEAN), opposed to the growing Soviet and Vietnamese influence in the region, helped to arm
this more acceptable resistance group, which held Cambodia's seat in the United Nations until 1990.
In May 1989 constitutional revisions restored the right to private property. The Vietnamese withdrew
almost all of their forces from Cambodia by September 1989 despite the collapse of multinational
peace talks on the future of the country. In July 1990, as the Khmer Rouge intensified their guerrilla
war, the United States withdrew diplomatic recognition from the government in exile, although it
continued to aid the non-Communist factions until 1991. China also agreed to stop aiding the Khmer
Rouge.
The UN Security Council drew up a comprehensive peace plan in 1990, and a cease-fire was
declared in June 1991. Under the peace accord signed on Oct. 23, 1991, Sihanouk became head of
an interim coalition national council that included all four factions. Much of the bureaucracy of the
Vietnamese-backed government remained in place pending elections. The UN Transitional Authority
in Cambodia (UNTAC), the largest peacekeeping operation in history, controlled several ministries,
oversaw the cease-fire, repatriated the refugees, and organized and supervised elections, although it
failed to disarm the Khmer Rouge, which withdrew from the coalition government in 1992 and
boycotted the 1993 elections. After the new National Assembly restored Sihanouk to the throne on
Sept. 24, 1993, the UN forces withdrew. The Khmer Rouge continued its armed insurgency from
bases on the Thai border. In 1996 it split into two factions, one of which sought to reach a
power-sharing agreement with the government.
MacAlister Brown
Facts about Cambodia
LAND
Area:
181,035 sq./km. (69,898 sq./mi. ).
Capital and largest city:
Phnom Penh (1992 est. pop., 800,000).
Elevations:
highest--Phnom Aoral, 1,771 m (5,810 ft); lowest--sea level, along the coast.
PEOPLE
Population (1993 est.):
9,000,000; density: 49.7 persons per sq./km. (128.8 per sq./mi. ).
Distribution (1993):
13% urban, 87% rural.
Annual growth (1993):
2.5%.
Official language:
Khmer.
Major religion:
Buddhism.
EDUCATION AND HEALTH
Literacy (1990 est.):
41% of adult population.
Universities (1993):
1.
Hospital beds (1988):
12,953.
Physicians (1988):
303.
Life expectancy (1993):
women--51; men--48.
Infant mortality (1993):
123 per 1,000 live births.
ECONOMY
GDP (1991 est.):
$930 million; $130 per capita.
Labor distribution (1992):
agriculture--84%; other--16%.
Foreign trade (1991):
imports--$180 million; exports--$52.5 million; principal trade partners--Vietnam, Russia,
Japan.
Currency:
1 new riel = 100 sen.
GOVERNMENT
Type:
constitutional monarchy.
Government leaders (1996):
Norodom Sihanouk--king; Prince Norodom Ranariddh--first premier; Hun Sen--second
premier.
Legislature:
National Assembly.
Political subdivisions:
19 provinces.
COMMUNICATIONS
Railroads (1988):
649 km (403 mi) total.
Roads (1989):
14,800 km (9,200 mi) total.
Major ports:
2.
Major airfields:
1.
Bibliography:
Becker, E., When the War Was Over (1986); Brown, M., and Zasloff, J. J., Settlement for
Cambodia (1994); Chanda, N., Brother Enemy (1986); Chandler, D. P., Brother Number One
(1992), A History of Cambodia, 2d ed. (1992), and The Tragedy of Cambodian History:
Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945 (1992); Ebihara, M. M., et al., eds., Cambodian
Culture since 1975 (1994); Etheson, C., The Rise of Democratic Kampuchea (1984); Findlay,
T., Cambodia: The Legacy and Lessons of UNTAC (1995); Jackson, K. D., ed., Cambodia:
1975-78 (1992); Kiernan, B., How Pol Pot Came to Power (1985) and Genocide and
Democracy in Cambodia (1993); Kiernan, B., and Chandler, D. P., eds., Revolution and Its
Aftermath in Kampuchea (1983); Martin, M. A., Cambodia, a Shattered Society, trans. by M.
W. Mcleod (1994); Ross, R. R., Cambodia: A Country Study, 3d ed. (1990); Vickery, M.,
Cambodia 1975-1982 (1984) and Kampuchea (1987); Wright, M., ed., Cambodia (1989).

Cambodia's history can be traced back to the Stone Age. The Khmer people formed powerful kingdoms between the ninth and twelfth centuries, constructing a vast capital city and temple complex at Angkor, but their empire then declined and for 600 years Cambodia had feuds with Thailand and Vietnam. A French protectorate from the mid-19th century, Cambodia fell under Japanese authority during World War II, finally gaining independence from France in 1954.

From 1955 to 1970 the Kingdom of Cambodia was ruled by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Sihanouk had been king since 1941, but he abdicated in 1955 in order to further his aim to establish Cambodia as a constitutional monarchy. Sihanouk formed a political party, led it to victory and became Prime Minister. He was elected as Head of State in 1960. In 1963 left-wing opponents of Sihanouk (including Saloth Sar, who changed his name to Pol Pot) fled Phnom Penh, the capital, for the jungles and mountains of Cambodia and established the Communist Party of Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge).

In 1969 United States bombings of Cambodia began, largely in secret, aimed at Vietnamese communist base camps on Cambodian territory.

Gathering storm

1970Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, is deposed in a coup d'état led by General Lon Nol. Sihanouk forms a United Front with his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge, to oppose the Lon Nol regime. US and South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia, without Lon Nol's knowledge or approval, in order to attack communist bases. US troops withdraw after two months.
1972Two million Cambodians are made homeless by escalating war between Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot.
1973Massive US bombing raids in Cambodia are terminated by act of Congress. More than a million people and two-thirds of Cambodia's draught animals have been killed, wounded or maimed since bombing started in 1965. The US has dropped 2,756,941 tons of bombs, more than all the bombs dropped by the Allies during World War II, in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Nearly half the population have been uprooted and displaced within their own country.

Holocaust

1975Lon Nol flees to Hawaii. On 17 April the Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh and establish the government of Democratic Kampuchea (DK). Entire populations of major cities are forced into hard labour in the countryside. The Cambodian holocaust begins. Sihanouk returns to Phnom Penh as Head of State.
1976Sihanouk resigns and remains virtually under house arrest.
1977Heavy fighting on the Kampuchea-Vietnam border begins when DK troops launch cross-border raids.
1978Heng Samrin, a Khmer Rouge officer, and others stage an unsuccessful uprising against the Pol Pot regime, then flee to Vietnam. Vietnam invades Kampuchea on Christmas Day.

Aftermath

1979Phnom Penh is captured by the Vietnamese, who install Heng Samrin as President of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). The PRK is not recognised by the United Nations, and DK (still led by Pol Pot) occupies Cambodia's seat at the UN General Assembly. The Khmer Rouge are driven towards the Thai border. Conflict and famine cause Cambodians to flee to Thailand. The extent of Khmer Rouge atrocities becomes evident: up to at least 1.7 million inhabitants have perished; Cambodia's infrastructure is in ruins — no currency, no financial institutions, no postal system, no telephones, virtually no sanitation, clean water or electricity; 45 doctors remain out of the 450 practising before 1975; 7,000 out of 20,000 teachers have survived; no schools; books burned.
1979-1981Chaos prevents normal rice planting: the 1979/80 harvest is only one third of the usual output. An international humanitarian relief effort is set up. Kampuchea's political isolation from the West continues.
1982The Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) is formed between DK, the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF - formed from the remnants of Lon Nol's government) and the Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, Economique et Coopératif [United Front for an Independent, Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia] (FUNCINPEC - led by Sihanouk). The CGDK occupies Kampuchea's seat at the UN General Assembly.
1983Member states of the United Nations declare the 'Kampuchean emergency' to be over, despite outspoken statements by the UN secretariat that it is not. Most UN donor governments impose a 'development aid' embargo on Kampuchea.
1984-1985Fighting between the PRK and DK drives more refugees into Thailand. DK forces begin to disperse and conduct guerrilla warfare over a wider area of Kampuchea.
1989The PRK adopts a liberal democratic constitution and establishes the State of Cambodia with Hun Sen (an ex-Khmer Rouge officer who fled to Vietnam with Heng Samrin) as Prime Minister. Vietnamese troops withdraw. Buddhism is reinstated as the national religion.

A new start

1991The Paris Peace Agreement is signed by all factions. A Supreme National Council is established with Prince Sihanouk as chairman. Political isolation ends.
1992The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia is established. Repatriation of 360,000 Cambodians in Thai border camps begins. The Khmer Rouge withdraw from the democratic process.
1993Elections take place without Khmer Rouge participation. A coalition government is established, led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh (FUNCINPEC) and Hun Sen (Cambodian People's Party, formerly People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea) as First and Second Prime Ministers respectively. Cambodia becomes a constitutional monarchy with King Norodom Sihanouk as Head of State. The government is recognised internationally. Fighting resumes between the government army and the Khmer Rouge.
1996Division becomes increasingly evident in the coalition. Rumours of Pol Pot's death circulate. The Khmer Rouge splits into factions, some of which surrender to the Cambodian government.

Political turmoil

1997Pol Pot is captured by a faction of the Khmer Rouge. On the advice of his generals First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh leaves Cambodia. Second Prime Minister Hun Sen accuses Ranariddh of collaborating with the Khmer Rouge and seizes control of the government, effectively staging a coup d'état.
1998Prince Norodom Ranariddh is found guilty of arms smuggling and collaborating with the Khmer Rouge, but he receives a royal pardon. As the Khmer Rouge disintegrates, losing more and more ground to government forces, Pol Pot dies of a heart attack. Four months after an inconclusive general election Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh conclude a power-sharing agreement.
1999A measure of political stability returns to Cambodia, which is admitted to membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The remnant of the Khmer Rouge surrender.
2000347 people die, 318,000 homes are destroyed and two million people are affected in the worst flooding in Cambodia for 40 years.
2002Cambodia successfully hosts the ASEAN Summit and ASEAN Tourism Forum. For the first time a senior Khmer Rouge leader is found guilty of a crime in a court of law (in connection with the kidnapping and murder of three Western backpackers in 1994).
2003Relations between Cambodia and Thailand are strained after a mob burns down the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh and wrecks Thai-owned business premises. Cambodia is admitted to the World Trade Organisation. The Cambodian People's Party wins the most seats in a general election but not enough to form a government without a coalition partner.

A strong hand

2004Eleven months after the 2003 general election the leaders of the Cambodian People's Party and FUNCINPEC finally agree on the formation of a coalition governent. The National Assembly passes legislation to enable trials to take place of former Khmer Rouge leaders. King Norodom Sihanouk abdicates and is succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni.
2005The National Assembly votes to remove parliamentary immunity from three opposition members. One is arrested and the other two, including Sam Rainsy, leader of the Sam Rainsy party, flee the country. The military court's jurisdiction is extended to cover any case "regarding the violation of people's security." Prime Minister Hun Sen sues several opponents for defamation (a criminal offence), while others leave the country, fearing arrest because of their opposition to a controversial border treaty with Vietnam.
2006The Prime Minister drops charges for defamation and the King issues royal pardons, resulting in the release of those imprisoned in 2005 and the return to Cambodia of Sam Rainsy. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea begin preparations for a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders. The constitution is amended to enable a party obtaining a simple majority at a general election to form a government. Prince Norodom Ranariddh is ousted from his position as head of FUNCINPEC and removed from his seat in the National Assembly.
2007The Cambodian People's Party wins an overwhelming victory in elections for commune chiefs. Five former high-ranking officials of the Khmer Rouge are charged with crimes against humanity. The Cambodian economy enjoys a high growth rate with steadily increasing revenues in the garment and tourism industries. Revenue from offshore oil production is expected to make a significant contribution to the economy, peaking in 2021.
2008In a general election, the Cambodian People's Party wins 90 seats in Cambodia's 123-seat National Assembly. Preliminary hearings take place in preparation for the trials of the five Khmer Rouge officilas held in custody. Cambodian and Thai troops facing off along a disputed border near the Preah Vihear temple, which had recently been listed as a World Heritage site, exchange fire. Consumer price inflation hits 22%.
2009The trial of former Khmer Rouge prison direcor Kaing Khek Ieu (also known as Duch) takes place in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea. Diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand deteriorate further when Cambodia's Prime Minister offers fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra a job as an economic adviser.
2010Cambodian and Thai troops again exchange fire in the disputed border territory near the Preah Vihear temple. Kaing Khek Ieu is found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and is sentenced to 35 years in prison, but the sentence is reduced by 16 years to take account of his pre-trial detention and co-operation with the court. Approximately 350 people die and 400 are injured in a stampede in Phnom Penh.
2011After more fighting along the Cambodian-Thai border both sides agree to accept Indonesian military and civilian observers to monitor disputed areas

Cambodia Today

Cambodia's recovery from the effects of war, genocide and the virtual elimination of its skilled workforce has been slow. International isolation, the Khmer Rouge guerrilla campaign against the government in the 1980s and early 1990s, political instability, corruption and natural disasters have all hindered development.

The growth of the tourism and garment industries (at least until they began to decline as a result of the world-wide recession that beagn in 2008), providing Cambodia with much needed foreign investment, and the reduction in the HIV/AIDS infection rate have been two bright spots in an otherwise gloomy picture.

In 1979, Cambodia hit the headlines as the horrors perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime were revealed. But that was a generation ago. Today the world has largely forgotten Cambodia as fresh tragedies have unfolded elsewhere. So has Cambodia recovered from its traumatic past?

Unhealed wounds

  • After nearly three decades of civil war, the Khmer Rouge are no more. Pol Pot is dead, other ageing leaders were arrested or pardoned, and the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers defected to the Government side. Trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders may help close this chapter in Cambodia's history, or they may yet open fresh wounds.
  • Though war may have come to end, violent crime, including banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping, is rife. A culture of impunity and corruption denies justice to the poor and oppressed.
  • Millions of landmines remained in the ground at the end of the war. About 850 people died from injuries caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance each year from 2000 to 2005, but there are signs that the casualty rate may now be dropping. About 2,900 km2 of land remains covered with mines. Cambodia's prime minister has predicted that the country will not be clear of the devices until at least 2020.

Political strife

  • Following the 2003 general election it took almost a year for the two main political parties to form a coalition government. Rifts and realignments are a constant feature of political life.
  • The ruling Cambodian People's Party are firmly entrenched at every level of national and local government but Prime Minister Hun Sen has faced criticism over the bringing of law suits against opposition politicians.

Slow economic growth

  • Although Cambodia is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations, it lags far behind some of its more prosperous neighbours. Foreign direct investment fell each year from 1998 to 2003, a symptom of the frustation that investors feel with Cambodia's seemingly endemic corruption.
  • The garment industry has been one of Cambodia's success stories. The International Labour Organisation has commended working conditions, though trade unions have complained of oppression of workers by some employers. The industry's future prosperity depends on Cambodia's ability to compete with manufacturers in other Asian countries such as China and Vietnam and to survive the drop in demand for its products resulting from the worldwide economic downturn.
  • The number of tourist arrivals increased steadily until 2008, but many tourists arrive in Siem Reap (a provincial town) by air, spend two or three days wisiting the Angkor temples, and then fly out again, seeing nothing of the rest of the country and contributing little to the economy. Tourist arrivals declined in 2009.

Poverty

  • Cambodia remains one of the poorest, least developed countries in Asia. Our Facts and Figures page reveals the degree to which Cambodia's standard of health, level of education, care for the environment and other indicators of quality of life need to be improved.
  • The gap between rich and poor is widening rapidly.
  • It is the rural poor who suffer when floods and drought occur, or when illegal logging causes environmental damage.

Challenges

Challenges faced by Cambodia today include:

  • achieving a measure of political consensus with a viable opposition;
  • reducing corruption and creating a competent and impartial judiciary;
  • establishing a fair way of resolving land disputes;
  • reducing the trafficking and abuse of illegal drugs;
  • achieving millennium development goals;
  • stimulating foreign investment and economic growth;
  • conducting trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders and achieving some kind of closure to the tragic events of 1975-1979.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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