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A brief history

Angkor Wat
The temple complex at Angkor, built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings, is and a big draw for visitors.

Cambodia is the traditional English transliteration, taken from the French Cambodge, while Kampuchea is the direct transliteration, more faithful to the Khmer pronunciation. The Khmer Kampuchea is derived from the ancient Khmer kingdom of Kambuja (Kambujadesa). Kambuja or Kamboja is the ancient Sanskrit name of the Kambojas, an early tribe of north India, named after their founder Kambu Svayambhuva, believed to be a variant of Cambyses.

Since independence, the official name of Cambodia has changed several times, following the troubled history of the country. The following names have been used in English and French since 1954.
The country borders Thailand to its west and northwest, Laos to its northeast, and Vietnam to its east and southeast. In the south it faces the Gulf of Thailand. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong river (colloquial Khmer: Tonle Thom or "the great river") and the Tonlé Sap ("the fresh water lake"), an important source of fish. Much of Cambodia sits near sea level, and consequently the Tonle Sap River reverses its water flow in the wet season, carrying water from the Mekong back into the Tonlé Sap Lake and surrounding flood plain.

Cambodia's main industries are garments and tourism. In 2006, foreign visitors had surpassed the 1.7 million mark. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial water, and once commercial extraction begins in 2009 or early 2010, the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia's economy.

The first advanced civilizations in present-day Cambodia appeared in the 1st millennium AD. During the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, the Indianised states of Funan and Chenla coalesced in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. These states, which are assumed by most scholars to have been Khmer,[1] had close relations with China and India.[2] Their collapse was followed by the rise of the Khmer Empire, a civilization which flourished in the area from the 9th century to the 13th century.

The Khmer Empire declined yet remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire's center of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's zenith. Angkor Wat, the most famous and best-preserved religious temple at the site, is a reminder of Cambodia's past as a major regional power.

After a long series of wars with neighbouring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Thai and abandoned in 1432. The court moved the capital to Lovek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade. The attempt was short-lived, however, as continued wars with the Thai and Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and the conquering of Lovek in 1594. During the next three centuries, The Khmer kingdom alternated as a vassal state of the Thai and Vietnamese kings, with short-lived periods of relative independence between.

In 1863 King Norodom, who had been installed by Thailand, sought the protection of France. In 1867, the Thai king signed a treaty with France, renouncing Suzerainty over Cambodia in exchange for the control of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces which officially became part of Thailand. The provinces were ceded back to Cambodia by a border treaty between France and Thailand in 1906.

Cambodia continued as a protectorate of France from 1863 to 1953, administered as part of the French colony of Indochina. After war-time occupation by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953. It became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk.

In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father in order to be elected Prime Minister. Upon his father's death in 1960, Sihanouk again became head of state, taking the title of Prince. As the Vietnam War progressed, Sihanouk adopted an official policy of neutrality until ousted in 1970 by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, while on a trip abroad. From Beijing, Sihanouk realigned himself with the communist Khmer Rouge rebels who had been slowly gaining territory in the remote mountain regions and urged his followers to help in overthowing the pro-United States government of Lon Nol, hastening the onset of civil war.

Operation Menu, a series of secret B-52 bombing raids by the United States on suspected Viet Cong bases and supply routes inside Cambodia, was acknowledged after Lon Nol assumed power; U.S. forces briefly invaded Cambodia in a further effort to disrupt the Viet Cong. The bombing continued and, as the Cambodian communists began gaining ground, eventually included strikes on suspected Khmer Rouge sites until halted in 1973. Estimates of the number of Cambodians killed during the bombing campaigns vary widely. As many as 800,000 civilians are believed to have died from the bombings. The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975, changing the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot.

Estimates vary as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Depending on whether or not one includes deaths from starvation and subsequent deaths in refugee camps, estimates range anywhere from 1.7 million to 3 million Cambodians. Many were in some way deemed to be "enemies of the state", whether they were linked to the previous regime, were civil servants, people of education or of religion, critics of the Khmer Rouge or Marxism, or were simply offering resistance to the brutal treatment of the cadres. Hundreds of thousands more fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand.

In November 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge incursions across the border and the genocide of Vietnamese in Cambodia. Violent occupation and warfare between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge holdouts continued throughout the 1980s. Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989, culminating two years later in October 1991 in a comprehensive peace settlement. The United Nations was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, and deal with refugees and disarmament.

After the brutality of the 1970s and the 1980s, and the destruction of the cultural, economic, social and political life of Cambodia, it is only in recent years that reconstruction efforts have begun and some political stability has finally returned to Cambodia. The democracy established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 during a coup d'état, but has otherwise remained in place. Cambodia has been aided by a number of more developed nations like Japan, France, Australia and the United States, primarily economically. Money raised in schools and community groups in these countries has gone towards the rebuilding of infrastructure and housing.

The politics of Cambodia formally take place, according to the nation's constitution of 1993, in the framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system, while the king is the head of state. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the Prime Minister and his or her ministerial appointees exercise executive power in government. Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate.

On October 14, 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the surprise abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week before. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king's brother), both members of the throne council. He was crowned in Phnom Penh on October 29. The monarchy is symbolic and does not exercise political power. Norodom Sihamoni was trained in Cambodian classical dance and is an unmarried heterosexual. Due to his long stay in the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovakia) Norodom Sihamoni is fluent in the Czech language.

In 2006, Transparency International rated Cambodia as 151 of 163 countries making it one of the most corrupt countries on earth. The BBC reports that corruption is rampant in the Cambodian political arena with international aid from the U.S. and other countries being illegally transferred into private accounts. Corruption has also added to the wide income disparity within the population.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and it relies heavily on aid. Foreign donors have urged the government to clamp down on pervasive corruption.

Subsistence farming employs 70% of the workforce, with the Mekong River providing fertile, irrigated fields for rice production. Exports of clothing provide most of Cambodia's foreign exchange. Tourism is important to the economy.

Cambodia Key Facts and Statistics

Official website:
See also:

ASEAN Secretaries General

ASEAN Meetings

ASEAN Free Trade Area

Cultural activities


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