Cambodia, country in Southeast Asia, also known as Kâmpŭchéa. More than a thousand years ago, Cambodia was the center of the Khmer (Cambodian) kingdom of Angkor, a great empire that dominated Southeast Asia for 600 years. A monarchy since ancient times, Cambodia was a French protectorate from 1863 to 1953. A republic replaced the monarchy in 1970, and in 1975 a Communist regime known as the Khmer Rouge took power, naming the country Democratic Kâmpŭchéa. The Khmer Rouge’s brutal repression and radical socialist reforms devastated Cambodia’s society and economy. In 1979 anti-Khmer Rouge Communist forces from Vietnam and Cambodia overthrew the Khmer Rouge and established a more moderate socialist state. In 1989 the country abandoned socialism, and in 1993 a new constitution restored the monarchy. Cambodia’s official name is the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Cambodia is bounded on the northeast by Laos, on the east and southeast by Vietnam, on the west and northwest by Thailand, and on the southwest by the Gulf of Thailand (Siam). The country’s capital and largest city is Phnom Penh.
Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq mi). Most of the country consists of a low-lying alluvial plain that occupies the central part of the country. To the southeast of the plain lies the delta of the Mekong River. To the east of the plain, ranges of undulating hills separate Cambodia from Vietnam. To the southwest a mountain range, the Chuŏr Phnum Krâvanh, fringes the plain and forms a physical barrier along the country’s coast. Cambodia’s highest peak, Phnom Aural (1,813 m/5,948 ft) rises in the eastern part of this range. To the north, the Chuŏr Phnum Dângrêk mountains separate Cambodia from Thailand.
Cambodia’s most important river is the Mekong, the longest river in Southeast Asia and the tenth largest in the world. The Mekong flows from north to south through Cambodia and is navigable for much of its course. Other rivers in the country include the Tônlé Srêpôk and the Tônlé Sab.
Cambodia’s principal lake, the Tônlé Sap (Great Lake), is the largest in Southeast Asia. From the northwest, the Tônlé Sap drains into the Mekong via the Tônlé Sab River, entering the Mekong at Phnom Penh. Each year during the monsoon season (approximately May to October), the waters of the Mekong increase and reverse the flow of the Tônlé Sab, which begins to drain into the lake. The lake then expands dramatically, flooding the provinces along its banks. When dry weather returns, the river reverses its course again and flows back into the Mekong, draining the northwestern provinces. At the height of the flooding, the Tônlé Sap reaches more than 10,000 sq km (4,000 sq mi), or about four times its size in the dry season. The lake is one of the richest sources of freshwater fish in the world.
Forests cover 53 percent of Cambodia’s land. The densest forests thrive in the mountains and along the southwestern coast. Higher plains and plateaus contain savannas covered with high, sharp grass. Plants growing in Cambodia include rubber, kapok (a tree with seeds that yield a cotton-like fiber), palm, coconut, and banana, all of which are exploited commercially.
Wildlife in Cambodia includes elephants, deer, wild ox, panthers, bears, and tigers. Cormorants, cranes, parrots, pheasants, and wild ducks are also found, and poisonous snakes are numerous. Logging and mining activities, along with unregulated hunting, have diminished the country’s wildlife rapidly.
Of Cambodia’s total land area, only 21 percent is cultivated. Areas surrounding the Mekong and the Tônlé Sap are the most fertile regions. The country's once-ample timber resources have been poorly managed and are being rapidly depleted by local and foreign entrepreneurs. Although Cambodia is not rich in mineral resources, Bătdâmbâng province in northwestern Cambodia contains limited quantities of zircons, sapphires, and rubies. The central part of the country contains commercial deposits of salt, manganese, and phosphate. The Gulf of Thailand is thought to contain petroleum deposits, but the extent and accessibility of the reserves have yet to be determined.
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate. December and January are the coolest months, while March and April are the hottest. The country’s rainy season extends from May to October. Average annual rainfall is about 1,400 mm (about 55 in) on the central plain and increases to as much as 3,800 mm (150 in) in the mountains and along the coast. The average annual temperature is about 27°C (about 80°F).
Deforestation is the most serious threat to Cambodia’s environment. In the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian forests and wetlands were harmed by bombings and defoliants used in the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and 1980s the damage continued with the disastrous agricultural policies of the Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. In the relatively peaceful 1990s, timber became an important export for Cambodia. More than 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of Cambodian forest were cut down from 1990 to 1995. In 1995 the government responded by banning log exports, but illegal timber exporting has led to continued deforestation. The annual rate of deforestation in 1990-2000 was 0.58 percent.
Many of the mangrove swamps crucial to the country’s fisheries and wildlife have been destroyed. The loss of wildlife habitat and the negative environmental effects of logging and mining industries have caused a decline in biodiversity. In 2000, 86 species were listed as threatened in Cambodia, including 21 species of mammals. In addition, the pollution and contamination of streams and lakes has made much of the country’s fresh water unsafe. Only 30 percent (1999) of all Cambodian people have access to safe, drinkable water, and only 18 percent (1999) have access to sanitation.
In addition to banning the export of lumber, the Cambodian government has declared a large portion— 16.2 percent (1997)—of the country’s total land area protected. The government has also ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, endangered species, marine life conservation, ship pollution, and tropical timber.
The population of Cambodia is 12,491,501 (2001 estimate). Population growth per year is estimated at 2.3 percent, one of the highest rates in Asia. The rate of infant mortality is also high. The population density is 69 persons per sq km (179 per sq mi), with the densest concentrations on the heavily cultivated central plain. The mountainous regions of the country, where malaria is widespread, are thinly populated, as are the poorly watered northern provinces. During the late 1970s, under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, all of Cambodia’s towns were depopulated, and residents were forcibly relocated to rural areas. A process of reurbanization began in the 1980s.
Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is situated at the junction of the Mekong and Tônlé Sab rivers. Other major cities are Bãtdâmbâng, Kâmpóng Cham, Kâmpôt, and Cambodia’s only deep-water port, Kâmpóng Saôm, located on the Gulf of Thailand.
Ethnic Cambodians, or Khmer, constitute 90 percent of the population. About 5 percent of the country’s inhabitants are of Vietnamese origin, and 1 percent are Chinese. Seminomadic tribal groups concentrated in the mountainous northeast make up the remaining 4 percent of the population.
Cambodia’s official language is Khmer, or Cambodian, which belongs to the Mon-Khmer family of languages (see Austro-Asiatic Languages). French was formerly an important secondary language in the country, but English gained considerable ground in the 1990s. Other languages spoken include Vietnamese and an assortment of South Chinese dialects.
More than 90 percent of Cambodia’s inhabitants adhere to Theravada Buddhism, which is the dominant religion in most Southeast Asian nations. Buddhism originated in India in the 6th century bc and arrived in Cambodia during the first centuries ad. At first Mahayana Buddhism predominated, but after the 14th century Theravada gradually replaced the older school as the primary religion. Nevertheless, a minority of modern Cambodians still practices Mahayana Buddhism. Other religions practiced in Cambodia include Roman Catholicism and Islam.
An estimated 35 percent of Cambodia’s adult population is literate. Public education is free and compulsory for the first 6 years. Primary school attendance increased rapidly in the 1990s, and by 1997 virtually all children were enrolled, as well as many older people who were unable to attend school in earlier years. Secondary education was more limited, with only 24 percent of eligible children enrolled. Seven institutions of higher learning, including the University of Phnom Penh, the University of Fine Arts, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, operate in the country. Only 1 percent of Cambodians of usual university age were enrolled in these schools in 1997.
Perennially handicapped by insufficient funding, Cambodia’s educational system was devastated in the late 1970s when the Khmer Rouge regime closed schools and executed thousands of teachers. The regime viewed intellectuals, among others, as potential sources of opposition to its attempt to create an ideal socialist, agrarian society. In the 1980s thousands more teachers fled the country or sought better-paying work. Ever since then, efforts to revive the education system have been hampered by a shortage of funds and trained personnel.
Eighty percent of Cambodia’s people live in rural areas, where their principal occupation is subsistence farming on family-operated holdings. In rural Cambodia, most houses are built of palm leaf and bamboo and are often raised on stilts for protection from annual floods. A rural village (phum) consists of a group of houses, usually clustered around a Buddhist monastery, or wat.
In the cities, life for the poor resembles life in the countryside, but sanitary conditions are worse and violent crime is much more frequent. Wealthy and middle-class Cambodians value material possessions, which reflect their social standing. In the 1990s hundreds of extravagant villas were built for members of the political and commercial elite.
Most rural Cambodians wear simple clothing and have few material possessions. Women usually dress modestly in cotton shirts and ankle-length skirts, reserving their multicolored, locally woven silks for religious festivals. A cotton garment called a krama is worn by both men and women as a head covering, as a loincloth (for bathing), and as a carrying bag. Urban Cambodians usually wear Western-style clothing. Rice and fish form the basis of the Cambodian diet.
Cambodian families are large, but infant mortality, especially from intestinal disorders, remains high. Women head a large proportion of family units because many men were killed in the warfare of the 1970s and 1980s. In most families, females manage the household economy. Women also constitute the majority of vendors at local markets. Traditionally, boys became monks for a few months during their adolescence, but this practice is fading.
Throughout Cambodia’s history, religious principles guided and inspired its arts. A unique Khmer style emerged from the combination of indigenous animistic beliefs and the originally Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. These two religions, along with the Sanskrit language and other elements of Indian civilization, arrived in mainland Southeast Asia during the first few centuries ad. Seafaring merchants following the coast from India to China brought them to the port cities along the Gulf of Thailand, which were then controlled by the state of Funan in Cambodia. At varying times, Cambodian culture also absorbed Javanese, Chinese, and Thai influences.
Between the 9th and 15th centuries, a prosperous and powerful empire flourished in northwestern Cambodia. The Khmer kingdom of Angkor, named for its capital city, dominated much of what is now Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The kingdom drew its religious and political inspiration from India. The literary language of the court was Sanskrit; the spoken language was Khmer. Massive temples from this period, including Angkor Wat and the Bayon at Angkor Thum, testify to the power of Angkor and the grandeur of its architecture and decorative art. The unparalleled achievements in art, architecture, music, and dance during this period served as models for later cultural development in Cambodia.
Angkor faded into obscurity after the capital moved south to Phnom Penh in the 15th century, probably due in part to frequent invasions by the neighboring Thais. The jungle rapidly grew over the monuments. In the centuries that followed, frequent wars reduced the territory, wealth, and power of Cambodian monarchs. However, an independent state with its capital near Phnom Penh survived until the 19th century. The most important work of Cambodian literature, the Reamker (a Khmer-language version of the Indian myth of the Ramayana), was composed during this time.
France, which began administering Cambodia in 1863, rediscovered the temples at Angkor and worked to preserve them beginning in the early 20th century. Cambodia’s traditional culture and the monuments of Angkor were endangered between 1970 and 1990 due to civil war. The Communist Khmer Rouge regime, which opposed and mistrusted religion and education, banned all of Cambodia’s traditional arts and its written language. Since 1991, when Cambodia’s warring factions signed a peace accord, international organizations have helped the Cambodian government restore the sites at Angkor and revive Cambodia’s traditional crafts.
Myths and legends passed down orally through the generations form the heart of Cambodian literature. These popular legends are based on the great epics of ancient India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and on the Jataka tales, stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. Episodes from the Reamker have been portrayed throughout history in all Cambodian arts, from scenes carved in stone at Angkor to mural paintings on the enclosure wall of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s earliest written documents are stone slabs inscribed in Sanskrit (dating from the 6th century) and Khmer (dating from the early 7th century), which provide a genealogy of Khmer kings and their endowments to the temples.
The first Cambodian novel, Suphat, by Rim Kin, was published in 1938 after the French introduced printing techniques to Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge regime, literature was restricted to poems, written on themes of peasant and agricultural development, and revolutionary songs. Most Cambodian literary works published during the late 20th century were written by Cambodian refugees living abroad, mainly in France and Thailand.
To ensure order and harmony in the universe, Angkor’s architects and sculptors created stone temples that symbolized the cosmic world and decorated them with wall carvings and sculptures of Hindu gods and the Buddha. Religious guidelines dictated that a basic temple layout include a central shrine, a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat. More than 60 of these temple complexes survive in the Angkor region. In addition, several stone bridges and reservoirs built in the Angkor period are still in use. Many Cambodian public buildings, such as the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, are decorated in the Khmer architectural style and use motifs such as the garuda, a mythical bird in the Hindu religion.
After the devastation of culture in the Khmer Rouge era, the traditional arts and handicrafts of Cambodia are reviving. Notable among these traditional arts are textiles, silver work, basketry, woodcarving, stone sculpture, and painting. Artisans use cotton to weave the krama, a rectangular scarf made in colorful checks and stripes, and the sampot, a skirt for women. Beautiful silk sampots with elaborate, multicolored patterns, often entwined with gold or silver thread, are woven using the ikat technique, in which each individual thread is tied. Cambodia’s long tradition of metal work nearly disappeared, but the French revived it in the early 20th century. Silversmiths produced popular items of the period, such as animal-shaped boxes, intricately decorated, that were used to hold the ingredients of a preparation known as betel, which is chewed as a stimulant and tonic.
Khmer classical dance derived from Indian court dance, which traces its origins to the apsarases of Hindu mythology, heavenly female nymphs who were born to dance for the gods. The traditions of Thailand and Java (in Indonesia) also influenced the music and dance of Cambodia. In classical Cambodian dance, women, dressed in brightly colored costumes with elaborate headdresses, perform slow, graceful movements accompanied by a percussive ensemble known as the pinpeat. Pinpeat orchestras include drums, gongs, and bamboo xylophones. In Cambodia’s villages, plays performed by actors wearing masks are popular. Shadow plays, performed using black leather puppets that enact scenes from the Reamker, are also enjoyed. Folk dancing is popular in rural Cambodia and is performed spontaneously to a drumbeat.
The Khmer Rouge closed cultural institutions during their rule, but many were reopened in the 1980s. The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s largest museum, with objects dating from prehistory to the 18th century. The museum houses the largest collection of Khmer art in the world and is renowned for its Angkor-era bronze and stone images. The museum’s exhibits also include ceramics, wooden ornaments, musical instruments, weaving looms, lacquer, and silver. The University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh is responsible for preserving Khmer culture. It has reopened with departments in music, dance, painting, architecture, and the plastic arts.
The Tuol Sleng Museum (Museum of Genocide), also in Phnom Penh, is a former high school that was used by the Khmer Rouge as a killing center and since then has been converted into a museum. Displays focus on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and include torture instruments and photographs of those killed.
Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest nations. In 1999 its total gross domestic product (GDP) was $3.1 billion, yielding a per capita GDP of just $270, among the lowest in the world.
Even before being plunged into civil conflict in the 1970s, Cambodia lacked significant industrial development, with most of the labor force engaged in agriculture. The country was self-sufficient in food and produced exportable surpluses of its principal crops of rice and corn. In spite of relatively low yields and a single harvest per year, Cambodia annually exported hundreds of thousands of tons of rice.
The civil war from 1970 to 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and the Cambodia-Vietnam War from 1978 to 1979 virtually destroyed Cambodia’s economy. By 1974, under wartime conditions, rice had to be imported, and production of Cambodia’s most profitable export crop, rubber, fell off sharply. The civil unrest also disrupted Cambodia’s fledgling manufacturing industry and severely damaged road and rail networks.
In 1975 the newly installed Khmer Rouge government nationalized all means of production in Cambodia. Money and private property were abolished, and agriculture was collectivized (ownership was transferred to the people as a group, represented by the state). The Khmer Rouge Four-Year Plan, a utopian document drafted in 1976, envisaged multiple plantings of rice and a vastly expanded irrigation system. The plan aimed to increase income from exports of rice and other products and to use this income to buy machinery with which to industrialize the country. The Four-Year Plan was poorly thought out, brutally enforced, and unsuccessful. Rice production rose slightly, but between 1976 and 1978, hundreds of thousands of people died from malnutrition, overwork, and mistreated or misdiagnosed diseases. The Khmer Rouge executed hundreds of thousands more people whom they judged to be enemies of the regime. The atrocities of the Khmer Rouge period decimated Cambodia’s labor force.
After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in early 1979, the government’s grip on agricultural production loosened, and millions of Cambodians attempted to resume their lives as subsistence farmers. By the mid-1990s Cambodia once again achieved self-sufficiency in rice production and began to export small quantities of rice. The country’s infrastructure improved gradually in the 1990s, largely due to massive infusions of foreign assistance. Other sectors of the economy were less fortunate, however. By 1995 the country’s economy as a whole was performing at only 40 to 50 percent of its pre-1970 capacity. For many visitors to the country, Cambodia’s poverty is masked by the apparent prosperity of sections of Phnom Penh.
In 1999 Cambodia had a labor force of 6.1 million. Agriculture was the largest employer, engaging 75 percent of the workers. It is followed by services (21 percent) and industry (5 percent). Underemployment in urban areas is high, and working conditions in developing industries, such as clothing manufacturing, are poor. Efforts to unionize factory workers have encountered significant opposition from factory owners.
Agriculture is the largest sector of Cambodia’s economy, contributing 51 percent of the GDP in 1998. Rice is Cambodia’s most important crop and the staple food of the Khmer diet. More than one-half of cultivated land—much of it of poor quality—is planted in rice. Rubber, Cambodia’s other important export crop, is grown in plantations in the eastern part of the country. Corn, cassava, soybeans, palm sugar, and pepper are also grown commercially, while cucumbers and fruits, including mangoes, bananas, watermelons, and pineapples, are raised for local consumption. Chicken and pigs are widely domesticated, while cattle and water buffalo are used for agricultural work.
Freshwater fish are an important ingredient of the typical Cambodian diet. Most of the annual catch is consumed locally. Important types of fish caught include perch, carp, lungfish, and smelt. The Tônlé Sap is the most concentrated source of freshwater fish in Southeast Asia. Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Thailand, on the other hand, is relatively undeveloped.
In 1998 industry, primarily manufacturing, contributed 15 percent of Cambodia’s GDP. Although mining is not a major industry, Cambodia produces limited quantities of zircons, sapphires, and rubies, and exploits commercial deposits of salt, manganese, and phosphate. In the early 1990s Cambodia began exploring for petroleum in the Gulf of Thailand, but Thailand and Vietnam, who claim offshore areas of the gulf, have contested the exploration projects.
Cambodia’s manufacturing base was severely damaged in the civil war of the 1970s and was later mismanaged under the Khmer Rouge. Manufacturing activity recovered slowly in the 1980s and 1990s but still represents a relatively minor sector of the national economy. Manufactured products include bricks, tile, cement, processed rubber, textiles, clothing, and furniture.
Services, especially small-scale commercial activities, account for 35 percent of Cambodia’s GDP. Since the late 1980s Cambodia has encouraged tourism as an important source of foreign exchange, and the annual number of visitors rose from less than 1,000 in 1987 to 368,000 in 1999. Tourist spending in 1999 was 190 million U.S dollars. Most tourists are from Asian countries, and popular destinations are Phnom Penh and the ruins of Angkor.
Before the civil war, Cambodia’s principal exports were rice, rubber, and corn. In 1971 these were valued at $60 million. Exports fell sharply under wartime conditions and later under the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia’s export economy recovered slowly in the 1980s and more rapidly in the 1990s, when the major exports were rubber, timber, and soybeans. Trade in forest products continued after the government ban on logging in 1995, but by 1997 the value of forest product exports dropped by one-half. Total exports in 1999 were valued at $740 million. Vietnam, Thailand, the United States, Singapore, and China purchase most of Cambodia’s exports.
Cambodia’s primary imports have always been manufactured goods, such as textiles, motor vehicles, machinery, and processed foods. In 1996 imports were valued at $1.2 billion. Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan supply most of the goods that Cambodia imports.
Cambodia’s unit of currency is the riel, consisting of 100 sen. The value of the riel shrank from 700 riels per U.S.$1 in 1991 to an average of 3,808 riels per U.S.$1 in 1999. Currency is issued by the National Bank of Kâmpŭchéa, established in 1980. There are relatively few private banks in Cambodia. Most of them are foreign-owned banks operating in Phnom Penh and other cities.
Cambodia has a relatively undeveloped road system. In 1998 the country had 35,769 km (22,226 mi) of roads, of which only 8 percent were paved. A modern highway links Phnom Penh with the deepwater port of Kâmpóng Saôm. Foreign nations, especially Japan, have donated money to help repair roads connecting other Cambodian cities. In the mid-1990s the entire railroad system extended about 600 km (about 370 mi). A rail line runs between Phnom Penh and Bãtdâmbâng and extends to the Thai border. Another line connects the capital with Kâmpóng Saôm. The Mekong River, which is navigable in central and southern Cambodia, serves as another transportation artery. In early 1999 construction began on a bridge over the Mekong. The bridge, located to the northeast of Phnom Penh, is scheduled for completion in 2002. The country’s main international airport is in Phnom Penh. The national airline is Royal Air Cambodge.
The government controls all electronic communications in Cambodia. Telephone service is barely adequate in the capital and almost nonexistent elsewhere. In 1997 only 9 television sets existed for every 1,000 people. Radios are more common, totaling 128 for every 1,000 people. About 20 newspapers are published in Cambodia, most of them not widely available outside of Phnom Penh. The Cambodia Daily is published in a combination of English and Khmer. The most important Khmer-language daily is Reaksmei Kâmpŭchéa (Light of Cambodia). The Phnom Penh Post is published biweekly in English.
A monarchy ruled Cambodia from ancient times until 1970, surviving under a French protectorate from 1863 to 1953. In 1970 a right-wing coup ended the monarchy, and the coup’s leaders established the Khmer Republic. A civil war ensued, and in 1975 a Communist-dominated insurgency movement known as the Khmer Rouge, or Red Khmers, took control of Cambodia. Renamed Democratic Kâmpŭchéa (DK), the country waged war against neighboring Vietnam starting in 1977. The Khmer National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS), a group of Cambodian Communist rebels backed by more than 100,000 Vietnamese troops, deposed the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and established the pro-Vietnamese regime of the Peoples’ Republic of Kâmpŭchéa (PRK). However, only a few foreign governments recognized the PRK as Cambodia’s legitimate government, and the DK retained Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations (UN) until 1990.
Vietnam stationed troops in Cambodia throughout the 1980s. During this time, the Kâmpŭchéan People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP), the only legal political party, ran the PRK on socialist principles. After Vietnam withdrew its troops in 1989, the PRK renamed itself the State of Cambodia (SOC), abandoned socialism, and introduced free-market reforms. Fighting between the forces of the PRK and the DK, which had reached a stalemate during the Vietnamese occupation, flared up again. The KPRP changed its name to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in 1991.
International negotiations under UN auspices led to a peace accord, signed in Paris in 1991. The agreement called for a UN protectorate to help rule the country until national legislative elections could be held in 1993. More than 20 political parties participated in the 1993 elections. However, two parties obtained more than 85 percent of the vote: A royalist party, known by its French acronym, FUNCINPEC, won the most seats, while the CPP, led by the incumbent prime minister, Hun Sen, won the next largest bloc. Following the elections, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC became first prime minister, while Hun Sen took the post of second prime minister. In September 1993 a new constitution restored the monarchy and established the Kingdom of Cambodia.
In July 1997, Hun Sen ousted Ranariddh while he was abroad, replacing him with Ung Huot, a more pliable member of FUNCINPEC. Elections held in 1998 gave the CPP a plurality of votes, but Ranariddh and another opposition candidate, Sam Rainsy, contested the outcome of the election, claiming that it had not been conducted fairly. In November 1998 the CPP and FUNCINPEC reached a compromise agreement resulting in a new coalition government. Hun Sen became the sole prime minister, while Ranariddh became the president of the National Assembly.
Cambodia is divided for administrative purposes into 20 provinces and 3 municipalities. These units are administered by governors.
Cambodia’s head of state is the king, whose role is largely ceremonial and advisory. The king, on the advice of the legislature, formally appoints the prime minister to head the government. The prime minister must be a member of the winning party in legislative elections. The prime minister heads a cabinet made up of members of the legislature. Cabinet members are chosen by the prime minister, ratified by the legislature, and formally appointed by the king.
A bicameral (two-chamber) parliament holds legislative power. The more powerful lower house is called the National Assembly. Established in 1993, the assembly consists of 122 members who serve five-year terms. Members are chosen through popular elections in which people over 18 years of age are entitled to vote. The National Assembly may dismiss cabinet members or the entire cabinet with a two-thirds majority vote. The upper house, or Senate, was created by constitutional amendment in 1999, in accordance with provisions of the 1998 agreement. The 61-member Senate serves as an advisory body to the National Assembly; it has the power to recommend amendments to legislation passed by the assembly, but the lower house can reject the recommendations on a second vote. Although members of the first Senate were appointed based on the 1998 election results, future senators will be elected. The first Senate term is set at five years, but subsequent terms will be six years.
The 1993 constitution provided for an independent judiciary under a Supreme Court. However, the exact structure and laws of the courts were not yet determined as of early 2000.
Thirty-nine parties participated in the 1998 elections, but only three received enough votes to obtain seats in the National Assembly. Official results awarded the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) 64 seats, FUNCINPEC 43 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP, formerly the Khmer Nation Party) 15 seats. FUNCINPEC’s political platform supports the maintenance of the monarchy, economic development, closer regional ties, and democratic government. The SRP advocates adherence to democratic principles and respect for human rights, land reform, and protection of the environment. Under the 1998 agreement between the CPP and FUNCINPEC, Ranariddh became president of the assembly, even though FUNCINPEC did not hold the majority. The CPP headed the Senate after it was convened in 1999. The agreement also divided control of the cabinet ministries between the two parties. Each party assumed control of some of the ministries, while others were to be placed under joint control.
In 1999 the Cambodian armed forces had 140,000 members. This figure includes an army of 90,000, a navy of 3,000, and an air force of 2,000; the remainder make up provincial forces. From 1979 to 1997 the army was engaged in fighting Khmer Rouge remnants and their anti-Vietnamese allies in the northern and western parts of the country, on both sides of the Thai border. After the Khmer Rouge resistance collapsed in the late 1990s, the foreign nations who provide aid to Cambodia exerted pressure on the Cambodian government to reduce the size of its armed forces.
Cambodia is a member of the United Nations (UN). It was scheduled for admission into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1997, but its entry was delayed by the political struggle between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh and the instability of the government following the 1998 elections. ASEAN admitted Cambodia in April 1999.
No one knows for certain how long people have lived in what is now Cambodia, as studies of its prehistory are undeveloped. A carbon-l4 dating from a cave in northwestern Cambodia suggests that people using stone tools lived in the cave as early as 4000 bc, and rice has been grown on Cambodian soil since well before the 1st century ad. The first Cambodians likely arrived long before either of these dates. They probably migrated from the north, although nothing is known about their language or their way of life.
By the beginning of the 1st century ad, Chinese traders began to report the existence of inland and coastal kingdoms in Cambodia. These kingdoms already owed much to Indian culture, which provided alphabets, art forms, architectural styles, religions (Hinduism and Buddhism), and a stratified class system. Local beliefs that stressed the importance of ancestral spirits coexisted with the Indian religions and remain powerful today.
Early Chinese writers referred to a kingdom in Cambodia that they called Funan. Modern-day archaeological findings provide evidence of a commercial society centered on the Mekong Delta that flourished from the 1st century to the 6th century. Among these findings are excavations of a port city from the 1st century, located in the region of Oc-Eo in what is now southern Vietnam. Served by a network of canals, the city was an important trade link between India and China. Ongoing excavations in southern Cambodia have revealed the existence of another important city near the present-day village of Angkor Borei.
A group of inland kingdoms, known collectively to the Chinese as Zhenla, flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries from southern Cambodia to southern Laos. The first stone inscriptions in the Khmer language and the first brick and stone Hindu temples in Cambodia date from the Zhenla period.
In the early 9th century a Khmer (ethnic Cambodian) prince returned to Cambodia from abroad. He probably arrived from nearby Java or Sumatra, where he may have been held hostage by island kings who had asserted control over portions of the Southeast Asian mainland. In a series of ceremonies at different sites, the prince declared himself ruler of a new independent kingdom, which unified several local principalities. His kingdom eventually came to be centered near present-day Siĕmréab in northwestern Cambodia. The prince, known to his successors as Jayavarman II, inaugurated a cult honoring the Hindu god Shiva as a devaraja (Sanskrit term meaning “god-king”). The cult, which legitimized the king’s rule by linking him with Shiva, persisted at the Cambodian court for more than two hundred years.
Between the early 9th century and the early 15th century, 26 monarchs ruled successively over the Khmer kingdom (known as Angkor, the modern name for its capital city). The successors of Jayavarman II built the great temples for which Angkor is famous. Historians have dated more than a thousand temple sites and over a thousand stone inscriptions (most of them on temple walls) to this era. Notable among the Khmer builder-kings were Suyavarman II, who built the temple known as Angkor Wat in the mid-12th century, and Jayavarman VII, who built the Bayon temple at Angkor Thum and several other large Buddhist temples half a century later. Jayavarman VII, a fervent Buddhist, also built hospitals and rest houses along the roads that crisscrossed the kingdom. Most of the monarchs, however, seem to have been more concerned with displaying and increasing their power than with the welfare of their subjects.
At its greatest extent, in the 12th century, the Khmer kingdom encompassed (in addition to present-day Cambodia) parts of present-day Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the Malay Peninsula. Thailand and Laos still contain Khmer ruins and inscriptions. The kings at Angkor received tribute from smaller kingdoms to the north, east, and west, and conducted trade with China. The capital city was the center of an impressive network of reservoirs and canals, which historians theorize supplied water for irrigation. Many historians believe that the abundant harvests made possible by irrigation supported a large population whose labor could be drawn on to construct the kings’ temples and to fight their wars. The massive temples, extensive roads and waterworks, and confident inscriptions give an illusion of stability that is undermined by the fact that many Khmer kings gained the throne by conquering their predecessors. Inscriptions indicate that the kingdom frequently suffered from rebellions and foreign invasions.
Historians have not been able to fully explain the decline of the Khmer kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries. However, it was probably associated with the rise of powerful Thai kingdoms that had once paid tribute to Angkor, and to population losses following a series of wars with these kingdoms. Another factor may have been the introduction of Theravada Buddhism, which taught that anyone could achieve enlightenment through meritorious conduct and meditation. These egalitarian ideas undermined the hierarchical structure of Cambodian society and the power of prominent Hindu families. After a Thai invasion in 1431, what remained of the Cambodian elite shifted southeastward to the vicinity of Phnom Penh.
The four centuries of Cambodian history following the abandonment of Angkor are poorly recorded, and therefore historians know little about them beyond the bare outlines. Cambodia retained its language and its cultural identity despite frequent invasions by the powerful Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya and incursions by Vietnamese forces. Indeed, for much of this period, Cambodia was a relatively prosperous trading kingdom with its capital at Lovek, near present-day Phnom Penh. European visitors wrote of the Buddhist piety of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Lovek. During this period, Cambodians composed the country’s most important work of literature, the Reamker (based on the Indian myth of the Ramayana).
In the late 18th century, a civil war in Vietnam and disorder following a Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya spilled over into Cambodia and devastated the area. In the early 19th century, newly established dynasties in Vietnam and Thailand competed for control over the Cambodian court. The warfare that ensued, beginning in the l830s, came close to destroying Cambodia.
By the second half of the 19th century, France had begun to expand its colonial penetration of Indochina (the peninsula between India and China). In 1863 France accepted the Cambodian king’s invitation to impose a protectorate over his severely weakened kingdom, halting the country’s dismemberment by Thailand and Vietnam. For the next 90 years, France ruled Cambodia. In theory, French administration was indirect, but in practice the word of French officials was final on all major subjects—including the selection of Cambodia’s kings. The French left Cambodian institutions, including the monarchy, in place, and gradually developed a Cambodian civil service, organized along French lines. The French administration neglected education but built roads, port facilities, and other public works. Phnom Penh, as planned by the French, came to resemble a town in provincial France.
The French invested relatively little in Cambodia’s economy compared to that of Vietnam, which was also under French control. However, they developed rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia, and the kingdom exported sizable amounts of rice under their rule. The French also restored the Angkor temple complex and deciphered Angkorean inscriptions, which gave Cambodians a clear idea of their medieval heritage and kindled their pride in Cambodia’s past. Because France left the monarchy, Buddhism, and the rhythms of rural life undisturbed, anti-French feeling was slow to develop.
During World War II (1939-1945), Japanese forces entered French Indochina but left the compliant French administration in place. On the verge of defeat in 1945, the Japanese removed their French collaborators and installed a nominally independent Cambodian government under the recently crowned young king, Norodom Sihanouk. France reimposed its protectorate in early 1946 but allowed the Cambodians to draft a constitution and to form political parties. Soon afterward, fighting erupted throughout Indochina as nationalist groups, some with Communist ideologies, struggled to win independence from France. Most of the fighting took place in Vietnam, in a conflict known as the First Indochina War (1946-1954). In Cambodia, Communist guerrilla forces allied with Vietnamese Communists gained control of much of the country. However, King Sihanouk, through skillful maneuvering, managed to gain Cambodia’s independence peacefully in 1953, a few months earlier than Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which marked the end of the First Indochina War, acknowledged Sihanouk’s government as the sole legitimate authority in Cambodia.
Sihanouk’s campaign for independence sharpened his political skills and increased his ambitions. In 1955 he abdicated the throne in favor of his father to pursue a full-time political career, free of the constitutional constraints of the monarchy. In a move aimed at dismantling Cambodia’s fledgling political parties, Sihanouk inaugurated a national political movement known as the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People’s Socialist Community), whose members were not permitted to belong to any other political group. The Sangkum won all the seats in the national elections of 1955, benefiting from Sihanouk’s popularity and from police brutality at many polling stations. Sihanouk served as prime minister of Cambodia until 1960, when his father died and he was named head of state. Sihanouk remained widely popular among the people but was brutal to his opponents.
In the late 1950s the Cold War (period of tension between the United States and its allies and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and its allies) intensified in Asia. In this climate, foreign powers, including the United States, the USSR, and China, courted Sihanouk. Cambodia’s importance to these countries stemmed from events in neighboring Vietnam, where tension had begun to mount between a Communist regime in the north and a pro-Western regime in the south. The USSR supported the Vietnamese Communists, while the United States opposed them, and China wanted to contain Vietnam for security reasons. Each of the foreign powers hoped that Cambodian support would bolster its position in the region. Sihanouk pursued a policy of neutrality that drew substantial economic aid from the competing countries.
In 1965, however, Sihanouk broke off diplomatic relations with the United States. At the same time, he allowed North Vietnamese Communists, then fighting the Vietnam War against the United States and the South Vietnamese in southern Vietnam, to set up bases on Cambodian soil. As warfare intensified in Vietnam, domestic opposition to Sihanouk from both radical and conservative elements increased. The Cambodian Communist organization, known as the Workers Party of Kâmpŭchéa (later renamed the Communist Party of Kâmpŭchéa, or CPK), had gone underground after failing to win any concessions at the Geneva Accords, but now they took up arms once again. As the economy became unstable, Cambodia became difficult to govern single-handedly. In need of economic and military aid, Sihanouk renewed diplomatic relations with the United States. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, U.S. president Richard Nixon authorized a bombing campaign against Cambodia in an effort to destroy Vietnamese Communist sanctuaries there (see Secret Bombing of Cambodia).
In March 1970 Cambodia’s legislature, the National Assembly, deposed Sihanouk while he was abroad. The conservative forces behind the coup were pro-Western and anti-Vietnamese. General Lon Nol, the country’s prime minister, assumed power and sent his poorly equipped army to fight the North Vietnamese Communist forces encamped in border areas. Lon Nol hoped that U.S. aid would allow him to defeat his enemies, but American support was always geared to events in Vietnam. In April U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, searching for North Vietnamese, who moved deeper into Cambodia. Over the next year, North Vietnamese troops destroyed the offensive capacity of Lon Nol’s army.
In October 1970 Lon Nol inaugurated the Khmer Republic. Sihanouk, who had sought asylum in China, was condemned to death despite his absence. By that time, Chinese and North Vietnamese leaders had persuaded the prince to establish a government in exile, allied with North Vietnam and dominated by the CPK, whom Sihanouk referred to as the Khmer Rouge (French for “Red Khmers”).
The United States continued bombing Cambodia until the Congress of the United States halted the campaign in 1973. By that time, Lon Nol’s forces were fighting not only the Vietnamese but also the Khmer Rouge. The general lost control over most of the Cambodian countryside, which had been devastated by U.S. bombing. The fighting severely damaged the nation’s infrastructure and caused high numbers of casualties. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into the cities. In 1975, despite massive infusions of U.S. aid, the Khmer Republic collapsed, and Khmer Rouge forces occupied Phnom Penh. Three weeks later, North Vietnamese forces achieved victory in South Vietnam.
Immediately after occupying Cambodia’s towns, the Khmer Rouge ordered all city dwellers into the countryside to take up agricultural tasks. The move reflected both the Khmer Rouge’s contempt for urban dwellers, whom they saw as enemies, and their utopian vision of Cambodia as a nation of busy, productive peasants. The leader of the regime, who remained concealed from the public, was Saloth Sar, who used the pseudonym Pol Pot. The government, which called itself Democratic Kâmpŭchéa (DK), claimed to be seeking total independence from foreign powers but accepted economic and military aid from its major allies, China and North Korea.
Without identifying themselves as Communists, the Khmer Rouge quickly introduced a series of far-reaching and often painful socialist programs. The people given the most power in the new government were the largely illiterate rural Cambodians who had fought alongside the Khmer Rouge in the civil war. DK leaders severely restricted freedom of speech, movement, and association, and forbade all religious practices. The regime controlled all communications along with access to food and information. Former city dwellers, now called "new people," were particularly badly treated. The Khmer Rouge killed intellectuals, merchants, bureaucrats, members of religious groups, and any people suspected of disagreeing with the party. Millions of other Cambodians were forcibly relocated, deprived of food, tortured, or sent into forced labor.
The Khmer Rouge also attacked neighboring countries in an attempt to reclaim territories lost by Cambodia many centuries before. After fighting broke out with Vietnam (then united under the Communists) in 1977, DK’s ideology became openly racist. Ethnic minorities in Cambodia, including ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, were hunted down and expelled or massacred. Purges of party members accused of treason became widespread. People in eastern Cambodia, suspected of cooperating with Vietnam, suffered severely, and hundreds of thousands of them were killed. While in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians—more than one-fifth of the country’s population.
The war with Vietnam went badly for Cambodia, and in the second half of 1978 the DK tried to open the country up to the wider world, inviting journalists to visit and extending diplomatic recognition to several nonsocialist countries. In December 1978 the Vietnamese launched a blitzkrieg assault on Cambodia, using more than l00,000 troops. A group of Cambodian Communist rebels, the Khmer National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS), accompanied them. On January 7, 1979, the invading forces occupied Phnom Penh, which the Khmer Rouge leaders had abandoned the day before. Pol Pot, his colleagues, and hundreds of thousands of followers sought refuge over the next few months along the Thai-Cambodian border. There they were protected by the Thai regime, which was hostile to Vietnam.
Vietnam established a satellite regime called the People’s Republic of Kâmpŭchéa (PRK) in January 1979. The new government included many former members of the Khmer Rouge who had defected to Vietnam, as well as some Cambodians who had sought refuge in Vietnam before the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975. After coming to power, the regime restored much of Cambodia’s pre-1975 way of life, including the practice of Buddhism and a nationwide education system. For the time being, however, agriculture remained collectivized. Like all previous regimes, the new government treated its opponents harshly; like the Khmer Rouge, it severely limited people’s freedom of expression. The pro-Vietnamese Kâmpŭchéan Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (KPRP) monopolized political power and swept the 1981 elections for the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, remnants of the Khmer Rouge and other Cambodians who had fled to Thailand formed an anti-Vietnamese government in exile, which continued to be known as DK. China, Thailand, and the United States had disapproved of the overthrow of DK, viewing it as Vietnamese aggression, and encouraged the formation of the government in exile. With the support of these countries, DK retained Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations (UN). Only a few foreign governments, including the USSR and India, recognized the PRK as Cambodia’s legitimate government. Foreign aid to Cambodia was largely limited to the Soviet-led bloc of Communist nations.
Throughout the 1980s, Vietnam maintained more than 100,000 troops in Cambodia. Conflict between PRK and DK forces, combined with Cambodia’s relative isolation, produced continuing economic instability. Thousands of people were killed in battle or maimed by landmines. In 1985 Cambodia’s foreign minister, Hun Sen, became prime minister of the PRK.
Weary of socialism and the harsh conditions inside Cambodia, more than 500,000 Cambodians sought asylum in Thailand in the 1980s. More than 300,000 of these people eventually resettled in other countries, especially France and the United States. This outflow deprived Cambodia of thousands of trained personnel and removed many members of the small elite, whose ranks had already been thinned through execution and fatal illnesses under the Khmer Rouge.
In September 1989, as the Cold War ended and Soviet financing of the Vietnamese forces in Cambodia fell sharply, Vietnam withdrew its troops from Cambodia. The withdrawal left the Cambodian regime, under young prime minister Hun Sen, in a precarious position, deprived of all substantial foreign aid and threatened militarily by the forces of the Khmer Rouge and their allies on the Thai-Cambodian border. Soon afterward the PRK officially abandoned socialism, renamed itself the State of Cambodia (SOC), and introduced a range of reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment and increasing the popularity of the ruling KPRP, renamed the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
A program of privatization, which ended collectivized agriculture, and a headlong rush toward free-market economics from 1989 to 1992 widened the inequities in Cambodian society. Some members of the government became millionaires overnight, while the national economy was still stumbling to its feet. As markets opened in Thailand and Vietnam, exploitation of Cambodia’s gem and timber resources by foreign businesses became widespread. Meanwhile, fighting between government and Khmer Rouge forces intensified, as the Khmer Rouge occupied large areas in the relatively inhospitable northern part of the country.
In October 1991 Cambodia’s warring factions, the UN, and a number of interested foreign nations signed an agreement in Paris intended to end the conflict in Cambodia. The agreement provided for a temporary power-sharing arrangement between a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and a Supreme National Council (SNC) made up of delegates from the various Cambodian factions. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former king and prime minister of Cambodia, served as president of the SNC.
The Paris accords and the UN protectorate pushed Cambodia out of its isolation and introduced competitive politics, dormant since the early 1950s. UNTAC sponsored elections for a national assembly in May 1993, and for the first time in Cambodian history a majority of voters rejected an armed, incumbent regime. A royalist party, known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC, won the most seats in the election, followed by the CPP, led by Hun Sen. Reluctant to give up power, Hun Sen threatened to upset the election results. Under a compromise arrangement, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk’s sons, became first prime minister, while Hun Sen became second prime minister.
In September 1993 the government ratified a new constitution restoring the monarchy and establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia. Sihanouk became king for the second time. After the 1993 elections, no foreign countries continued to recognize the DK as Cambodia’s legal government. The DK lost its UN seat as well as most of its sources of international aid.
The unrealistic power-sharing relationship between Ranariddh and Hun Sen worked surprisingly well for the next three years, but relations between the parties were never smooth. The CPP’s control over the army and the police gave the party effective control of the country, and it dominated the coalition government. In July 1997 Hun Sen staged a violent coup against FUNCINPEC and replaced Prince Ranariddh, who was overseas at the time, with Ung Huot, a more pliable FUNCINPEC figure. Hun Sen’s action shocked foreign nations and delayed Cambodia’s entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). By the end of 1997, Cambodia was the only nation in the region that was not a member.
Despite the coup, elections scheduled for July 1998 proceeded as planned. Hundreds of foreign observers who monitored the elections affirmed that voting was relatively free and fair; however, the CPP harassed opposition candidates and party workers before and after the elections, when dozens were imprisoned and several were killed. The election gave the CPP a plurality of votes, but results, especially in towns, where voting could not be dictated by local authorities, indicated that the party did not enjoy widespread popular support. Prince Ranariddh and another opposition candidate, Sam Rainsy, took refuge abroad and contested the outcome of the election. In November the CPP and FUNCINPEC reached an agreement whereby Hun Sen became sole prime minister and Ranariddh became president of the National Assembly. The parties formed a coalition government, dividing control over the various cabinet ministries. In early 1999 the constitution was amended to create a Senate, called for in the 1998 agreement. These signs that Cambodia’s political situation was stabilizing encouraged ASEAN to admit Cambodia to its membership a short time later.
Pol Pot died in 1998, and by early 1999 most of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and leaders had surrendered. Rebel troops were integrated into the Cambodian army. In 1999 two Khmer Rouge leaders were arrested and charged with genocide for their part in the atrocities.
Since the Paris Accords of 1991, Cambodia’s economic growth has depended on millions of dollars of foreign aid. Foreign interest in Cambodia has decreased, however, and the country has received diminishing economic assistance. This development, along with the continued lack of openness in Cambodian politics, has made Cambodia’s prospects for democratization dim, as well as its chances for sustained economic growth.
The Arts and Culture section of this article was contributed by Dawn F. Rooney. The remainder of the article was contributed by David Chandler.
Dawn F. Rooney
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation.
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