The Kingdom of Cambodia (for the various names of the country in Khmer, see naming section below) is a constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia with a population of more than 13 million people. A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as Cambodian. Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists of Khmer extraction, but the country also has a substantial number of Cham and small hill tribes.
The country shares a border with Thailand to its west, with Laos to its north, with Vietnam to its east, and with the Gulf of Thailand to its south. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong river (colloquial Khmer: Tonle Thom, i.e. "the great river") and the Tonle Sap (i.e. "the fresh water river"), an important source of fish.
The country has three main political parties: the Cambodian People's Party, FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party. The Cambodian People's Party, which is led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is the ruling party. In 2004, after a year of negotiations, a coalition between the Cambodian People's Party and the royalists' FUNCINPEC came to power in the National Assembly.
In the Khmer language, Cambodia is known by two names.
The formal name is Prâteh Kampuchea (Khmer: Mul script 100px; regular script 80px), literally "the Country of Cambodia". Prâteh is a formal word meaning "country"; it comes from Sanskrit and is a cognate of the word pradesh, as in Uttar Pradesh. Cambodia is the traditional transliteration of the Khmer name of the country in English, while Kampuchea is another transliteration, more faithful to the Khmer pronunciation of the word. The French name for the country is Cambodge, while the name in German is Kambodscha.
The name Cambodia is derived from that of the ancient Khmer kingdom of Kambuja (Kambujadesa). Kambuja or Kamboja is the ancient Sanskrit name of an early north Indian tribe, the Kambojas, named after the founder of that tribe, Kambu Svayambhuva, apparently a variant of Cambyses. See Etymology of Kamboja.
The informal and colloquial name of Cambodia, the one most used by Khmer people, is Srok Khmae (regular script 55px) -- literally, "the Khmer Land " (the name Khmae is spelled with a final "r" in the Khmer alphabet, but this "r" is not pronounced; final "r" disappeared from Khmer pronunciation in the 19th century). Srok is a more colloquial word than prâteh, but both words roughly mean the same thing. Srok Khmae is used in almost every circumstance of life, whereas Prâteh Kampuchea is used on more formal occasions, such as in news programs or political speeches.
The official name of the country is Preahreachanachâk Kampuchea (Mul script 150px; regular script 130px), i.e. "Kingdom of Cambodia". The etymology of Preahreachanachâk is: Preah- ("sacred", cognate of the Indian word Brahmin); -reach- ("king, royal, realm", from Sanskrit, cognate of the Indian words raja and raj as in maharaja and British Raj, also cognate with German Reich); -ana- (from Pali Template:IPA, "authority, command, power", itself from Sanskrit Template:IPA, same meaning) -châk (from Sanskrit cakra, meaning "wheel", a symbol of power and rule).
Since independence was achieved in 1953, the official name of Cambodia has changed several times, following the troubled history of the country. In English and French, the following names have been used since 1953.
- Kingdom of Cambodia/Royaume du Cambodge under the rule of the monarchy from 1953 through 1970;
- Khmer Republic/République khmère (a calque of French Republic) under the rule of the fascist military rule of Lon Nol from 1970 to 1975;
- Democratic Kampuchea/Kampuchea démocratique under the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979;
- People's Republic of Kampuchea/République populaire du Kampuchea (a calque of People's Republic of China) under the rule of the Vietnamese-sponsored government from 1979 to 1989;
- State of Cambodia/État du Cambodge (a neutral name, before deciding whether to return to monarchy or not) under the rule of the United Nations transitional authority from 1989 to 1993;
- Kingdom of Cambodia/Royaume du Cambodge (return to the pre-1970's name) used after the restoration of the monarchy in 1993.
Main article: History of Cambodia
From the 9th century to the 15th century, Cambodia was the center of the mighty Khmer Empire, which was during this time based at Angkor. Angkor Wat, the empire's main religious temple, remains a symbol of Cambodia during its time as a world power, and is also the country's top tourist attraction to this day. Cambodia was a protectorate of France from 1863 until the country received independence in 1953. During this period, Cambodia was under Japanese occupation during World War II from 1941 to 1945. During the 1950s and 1960s the country was under the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk, where the country maintained a precarious neutrality in the wake of active aggression against South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese.
In 1969 the USA began B-52 bombing operations in Cambodia to destroy Communist bases in Cambodia. The US administration kept the bombing secret until 1970. In 1970 the Nixon administration briefly invaded Cambodia, and the bombing continued until 1973. About 30,000-500,000 civilians were killed during the bombing raids. During the 1970s and 1980s, the country was plagued with a brutal civil war, a hated military monarchist regime, as well as an even worse genocidal, agro-communist regime led by the Khmer Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge period, autogenocide was committed against millions of people who were perceived intellectuals, detractors of Marxism, and some just innocent civilians. Millions fled across to neighbouring Thailand.
Vietnam invaded in 1978 and the USA instituted an embargo on the new Vietnamese-sponsored government. The Carter administration helped the Khmer Rouge to retain its seat at the UN, giving the impression that Pol Pot's regime was still the legitimate government of Cambodia. After United Nations intervention, however, Cambodia has gained stability and has begun to rebuild the country's infrastructure that was lost during the brutality that reigned in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ancient states: Funan and Chenla
The first advanced civilizations in present day Cambodia appeared in the 1st millennium AD. During the 300s, 400s, and 500s AD, the Indianized states of Funan and Chenla took hold in what is now present-day Cambodia and southwestern Vietnam. These states had close relations with China and India. After these states collapsed, the Khmer civilization began to flourish in this area from the 9th century to the 13th century.
Angkor and the Khmer Empire
Main article: Early history of Cambodia
The Angkorian period was in terms of cultural accomplishments and political power, the golden age of Cambodia. The kingdom was founded by Jayavarman II with its capital at Angkor, and the Khmer Empire lasted from the early 9th century to the 15th century. The Khmers had adopted religious and political ideas and institutions from India and began to establish a centralized kingdom which dominated Southeast Asia for much of this period.
The rule of Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-ca. 1218) saw the rapid expansion of the Khmer Empire. Unlike his ancestors, who had concentrated upon the cult of the Hindu god-king, Jayavarman VII was a patron of Theravada Buddhism.
Jayavarman VII began building activity that included the popular Angkor Thom complex and also the Bayon, a temple whose stone towers bear faces which have been identified as Avalokitesvara, which are either the king himself or the guardians of the cardinal points (Kerlogue, p. 109). He also built over 200 rest houses and hospitals throughout the empire and maintained a system of roads between his capital and provincial towns throughout the empire which would make it simpler for magistrates to collect taxes or for building projects. According to historian George Coedes, "No other Cambodian king can claim to have moved so much stone." Often, quality suffered for the sake of size and rapid construction. An example of this was the beautiful but poorly constructed Bayon.
Main article: Colonial Cambodia
After the Siamese seized Angkor in 1431, Cambodia began to endure years of foreign domination by neighboring Siam to the west and by Vietnam to the east. This period is known as the "dark ages of Cambodia". This period ended when Cambodia was made a French protectorate in 1863 and became part of French Indochina. Cambodia's chief colonial official was the Résident Supérieur (Resident General) while lesser résidents, or regional governors, were posted in all of the provincial centers. In 1897, the incumbent Resident General complained to his superiors in Paris that the current king of Cambodia, King Norodom, was no longer capable of ruling, and thus received permission to assume the king's roles of issuing decrees, collecting taxes, and appointing royal officials, including the next king. Norodom and his successors thus assumed the role of figureheads and heads of the Buddhist religion. Even in the colonial bureaucracy, French nationals held the highest positions, while even in the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy the colonial government preferred to hire Vietnamese.
During World War II Cambodia was occupied by the Japanese. After it ended in 1945, King Norodom Sihanouk demanded independence from France. With the military situation getting worse throughout Indochina, the French agreed to grant independence to the three states of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in 1953. King Sihanouk, a revered hero in the eyes of his people, returned to Phnom Penh in triumph, and independence was celebrated on November 9, 1953. The last French officials left Cambodia in 1954 after control of residual matters affecting sovereignty, such as financial and budgetary affairs, passed to the new Cambodian state.
Civil war and genocide
Main article: Democratic Kampuchea
During the Second Indochina War (the Vietnam War), the Nixon administration of the United States began to bomb the border of South Vietnam and Cambodia, targeting secret Vietcong camps and supply routes. The Vietcong sought refuge in nearby villages, and the United States began to bomb these villages as well. The neutralist government of Prince Sihanouk could do nothing, and when Sihanouk began to send supplies to North Vietnam, a civil war began.
In 1970, while Prince Sihanouk was away in Beijing, General Lon Nol seized power in a military coup d'état with US approval and declared the Khmer Republic. Immediately a civil war began between this military regime and the xenophobic and communist Khmer Rouge, which had gathered much strength because of support by the communist North Vietnamese and the Vietcong.
Led by Pol Pot, who later became the Prime Minister of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge captured the capital Phnom Penh in 1975 and renamed the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge ideology included:
- closing schools and hospitals;
- abolishing banking and currency;
- outlawing religion;
- confiscating private property; and
- relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where they were subject to forced labor.
The Khmer Rouge justified its actions by claiming that Cambodia was on the brink of major famine due to the American bombing campaigns, and that this required the evacuation of the cities to the countryside so that people could become self-sufficient, however this claim is generally dismissed as an excuse by many. It had the effect of converting the entire country into a re-education/labor camp. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, about 1.7 million people were killed, or one-fifth of the country's population of the time. The Killing Fields and the S-21 prison, also known as Toul Sleng, shocked the entire world as the government committed brutal autogenocide. In addition to death from work starvation and exhaustion, the regime killed anyone suspected with connections with either the defeated Khmer Republic government or the previous Sihanouk government, as well as intellectuals (Pol Pot defined anyone who wore glasses as automatically an intellectual), professionals, and also ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, Laotians, and Thai. If this wasn't enough, Cambodia broke into Vietnamese, Lao, and Thai territory and massacred entire villages of border provinces. Even the royal family was brutalized. Prince Sihanouk was put under house arrest and many of the Sisowath branch of the family were massacred. The Tuol Sleng museum is a good authority on this period.
In 1978, a newly-unified Vietnam invaded Cambodia after repeated Khmer Rouge raids into Vietnamese territory and drove the Khmer Rouge to the western border with Thailand. They helped create the People's Republic of Kampuchea, which became a Vietnamese puppet government. A civil war between the Vietnamese-sponsored government of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge continued until United Nations sponsored elections in 1993 restored stability. Prince Sihanouk became King again, and a coalition government between the conservative-royalist Funcinpec party and the pro-Vietnamese Cambodian People's Party was formed in 1998. That year also saw the surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and the death of Pol Pot. Nonetheless, none of the Khmer Rouge leaders have been tried for their war crimes. Cambodia now attempts to rebuild itself after years of horror.
Main article: Politics of Cambodia
Cambodia underwent turbulent events from the 1970s until the early 1990s, when elections, administered by the United Nations, were held. Ever since then, Cambodia has enjoyed greater stability and peace. One effect of this was the smooth transition when King Sihanouk abdicated in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni on October 14, 2004.
Cambodia is now a constitutional monarchy where executive power is held by the prime minister. The head of the state is the king, who reigns but does not govern. Although in the Khmer language there are many words meaning "king", the word officially used in Khmer (as found in the 1993 Cambodian Constitution) is preahmâhaksat (Khmer regular script:80px), which literally means: preah- ("sacred", cognate of the Indian word Brahmin) -mâha- (from Sanskrit, meaning "great", cognate with "maha-" in maharaja) -ksat ("warrior, ruler", cognate of the Indian word Kshatriya).
On the occasion of HM King Norodom Sihanouk's retirement in October 2004, the Cambodian National Assembly coined a new word for the retired king: preahmâhaviraksat (Khmer regular script:90px), where vira comes from Sanskrit Template:IPA, meaning "brave or eminent man, hero, chief", cognate of Latin vir, viris, English virile. Preahmâhaviraksat is translated into English as "King-Father" (French: Roi-Père), although the word "father" does not appear in the Khmer noun.
As preahmâhaviraksat, Norodom Sihanouk retains many of the prerogatives he formerly held as preahmâhaksat and is a highly respected and listened-to figure. Thus, in effect, Cambodia can be described as a country with two heads of state: an official one, the preahmâhaksat Norodom Sihamoni, and an unofficial one, the preahmâhaviraksat Norodom Sihanouk.
The legislature comprises a 61-member appointed Senate and a 123-member lower house, the National Assembly, elected under proportional representation by popular vote for 5 year terms. The judiciary is very weak, since only a handful of lawyers and judges were left alive, the rest being killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Hun Sen of the Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, ousted his former co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of Prince Sihanouk and brother of current King Sihamoni, in a short but bloody civil war between the two coalition partners in 1997. The CPP won the elections in 1998, and formed a coalition with FUNCINPEC, Ranariddh's royalist party, but with Hun Sen as sole prime minister. In the 2003 National Assembly elections, the CPP won 73 seats with 47% of the vote, the opposition-liberal Sam Rainsy Party won 24 seats (22%), and FUNCINPEC won 26 seats (21%). Eleven women were among those elected. Following a year long deadlock during which FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party united to oppose the CPP, and thus prevented it from forming a government, FUNCINPEC switched sides and joined with the CPP, allowing it to control the two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly needed to form a government.
See also: List of political parties in Cambodia
Main article: Provinces of Cambodia
Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces (khett, singular and plural) and 4 municipalities * (krong, singular and plural). It is also divided by District (srok), Communion (khum), Great districts (khett), and also Islands (koh).
- Municipalities (Krong):
- Province (Khett):
- Islands (Koh):
Main article: Geography of Cambodia
Cambodia has an area of about 181,040 square kilometers, sharing an 800-kilometer border with Thailand on the north and west, a 541-kilometer border with Laos on the northeast, and a 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam on the east and southeast. It has 443 kilometers of coastline along the Gulf of Thailand.
The most distinctive geographical feature is the lacustrine plain formed by the inundations of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), measuring about 2,590 square kilometers during the dry season and expanding to about 24,605 square kilometers during the rainy season. This densely populated plain, which is devoted to wet rice cultivation, is the heartland of Cambodia. Most (about 75 percent) of the country lies at elevations of less than 100 meters above sea level, the exceptions being the Cardamom Mountains (highest elevation 1,813 meters) and their southeast extension the Dâmrei Mountains ("Elephant Mountains") (elevation range 500-1,000 meters), as well the steep escarpment of the Dângrêk Mountains (average elevation 500 meters) along the border with Thailand's Isan region. The highest elevation of Cambodia is Phnom Aoral, near Pursat in the center of the country, at 1,813 meters (5,948 feet) above sea-level.
Temperatures range from 10°C to 38°C and Cambodia experiences tropical monsoons. Southwest monsoons blowing inland bring moisture-laden winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean from May to October, and the country experiences the heaviest precipitation from September to October. The northeast monsoon ushers in the dry season, which lasts from November to March, with the driest period from January to February.
Main article: Economy of Cambodia
Despite the recent progress, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer from the effects of decades of civil war and internal strife. The per capita income, is rapidly increasing, but is low compared with other countries in the region. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related sub-sectors. Rice, fish, timber, garments and rubber are Cambodia's major exports, and the United States, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia are its major export partners.
The recovery of Cambodia's economy slowed dramatically in 1997-1998 due to the regional economic crisis, civil violence, and political infighting. Foreign investment and tourism also fell off drastically. Since then however, growth has been steady. In 1999, the first full year of peace in 30 years, progress was made on economic reforms and growth resumed at 5.0%. Despite severe flooding, GDP grew at 5.0% in 2000, 6.3% in 2001, and 5.2% in 2002. Tourism was Cambodia's fastest growing industry, with arrivals increasing from 219,000 in 1997 to 1,055,000 in 2004. During 2003 and 2004 the growth rate remained steady at 5.0%, while in 2004 inflation was at 1.7% and exports at $1.6 billion US dollars. As of 2004 GDP per Capita was $1900 USD, which ranked it 175th (out of 232) countries .
The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure. Fear of renewed political instability and corruption within the government discourage foreign investment and delay foreign aid. The government is addressing these issues with assistance from bilateral and multilateral donors.
Main article: Demographics of Cambodia
Cambodia is ethnically homogeneous, as more than 90% of its population is of Khmer origin and speaks the Khmer language, the country's official language. The remainder include Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham and Khmer Loeu.
The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic language group. French is spoken by many Cambodians as a second-language and is often the language of instruction in various schools and universities. Cambodian French is a dialect found in Cambodia. It is also frequently used in government. However, in recent decades, many younger Cambodians, as well as members of the business-classes, have favored learning English and it is gradually becoming the more widely-known.
Main article: Culture of Cambodia
Khmer culture, as developed and spread by the Khmer empire, has distinctive styles of dance, architecture and sculpture which have strongly influenced neighbouring Laos and Thailand. Notable recent artistic figures include the singers Sinn Sisamouth, who introduced new musical styles to the country, and later Meng Keo Pichenda.
Bonn Om Teuk (Water Festival), the annual boat rowing contest, is the biggest Cambodian holiday. The festival is held at the end of the rainy season when the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels. Approximately 10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year. Popular games include kicking a sey, which is similar to a hacky sack, cockfighting and soccer.
Rice, as in other South East Asian countries, is the staple grain, while fish from the Mekong and Tonle Sap also form an important part of the diet. The Cambodian per capita supply of fish and fish products for food and trade in 2000 was 20 kg of fish per year or 2 oz. per day per person. . Some of the fish can be made into prahok (a Khmer delicacy) for longer storage. Overall, the cuisine of Cambodia is similar to that of its Southeast Asian neighbours. The cuisine is relatively unknown to the world compared to that of its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, but has been described not as spicy as Thai cuisine and similar to other Southeast Asia cuisines.
Customary Cambodian teachings include: that if a person does not wake up before sunrise he is lazy; you have to tell your parents or elders where you are going and what time you are coming back home; close doors gently, otherwise you have a bad temper; sit with your legs straight down and not crossed (crossing your legs shows that you are an impolite person); and always let other people talk more than you.
Khmer culture is very hierarchical, in that the greater a person's age, the greater the level of respect that must be granted to them.
Main article: Transportation in Cambodia
The civil war severely damaged the transportation system, despite the provision of Soviet technical assistance and equipment. Cambodia has two rail lines, totaling about 612 kilometers of single, one-meter-gauge track. The lines run from the capital to Sihanoukville on the southern coast, and from Phnom Penh to Sisophon (although trains often run only as far as Battambang).
The nation's extensive inland waterways were important historically in domestic trade. The Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, their numerous tributaries, and the Tonle Sap provided avenues of considerable length, including 3,700 kilometers navigable all year by craft drawing 0.6 meters and another 282 kilometers navigable to craft drawing 1.8 meters. Cambodia has two major ports, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, and five minor ones. Phnom Penh, located at the junction of the Basak, the Mekong, and the Tonle Sap rivers, is the only river port capable of receiving 8,000-ton ships during the wet season and 5,000-ton ships during the dry season.
Main article: Foreign relations of Cambodia
Cambodia has diplomatic relations with most countries and is a member of most major international organizations, including the United Nations and its specialized agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Cambodia is an Asian Development Bank (ADB) member, a member of ASEAN, and joined the WTO on 13 October 2004.
The country has several border disputes with its neighbours, including disagreements over some offshore islands and sections of the boundary with Vietnam, and undefined maritime boundaries and border areas with Thailand.
In January 2003, there were riots in Phnom Penh prompted by rumored comments about Angkor Wat by a Thai actress wrongly attributed by Reaksmei Angkor, a Cambodian newspaper, and later quoted by Prime Minister Hun Sen: the Thai government sent military aircraft to evacuate Thai nationals and closed its border with Cambodia, while Thais demonstrated outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. The border was re-opened on March 21, after the Cambodian government paid $6 million USD in compensation for the destruction of the Thai embassy and agreed to compensate individual Thai businesses for their losses.
The tourism industry is the country's second-greatest source of hard currency after the textile industry . More than 60% of visitor arrivals are to Angkor, and most of the remainder to Phnom Penh . Other tourist hotspots include Sihanoukville (Cambodia's only port), which has a popular beach.
The Angkor Wat temple complex is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture. Angkor means "city" and Wat "temple". Out of bounds to tourists during the civil war, it gained particular worldwide attention after featuring in the 2001 movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The Bayon, also at Angkor, is located at the center of Angkor Thom. It has 54 towers, each bearing four smiling faces.
Many tourists also visit the Tuol Sleng Museum, the infamous prison of the Khmer Rouge, and Choeung Ek, one of the main Killing Fields; both display photographs, skulls and bones of victims of the autogenocide. Cambodia is also a major destination for sex tourism, and there is particular concern over child sex and forced prostitution .
- Business in Asia report on airports. Accessed 13 November 2005.
- Cambodian Culture website Accessed December 11 2004
- Cambodian Economy Information Accessed January 19 2005.
- CIA World Factbook U.S. Department of State website.
- IFES Summary of 2003 legislative election results. Accessed January 27 2005.
- Kerlogue, Fiona. Arts of Southeast Asia. Thames and Hudson 2004. ISBN 050020381.
- Ministry of Tourism statistics on tourism. Accessed January 27 2005.
- NGO Forum on Cambodia report on 2003 legislative elections. Accessed January 27 2005.
- Radio Broadcasting in Cambodia Accessed January 23 2005.
- Tourism Cambodia Accessed December 11 2004.
- Community Information Web Portal Cambodia Provide access for Cambodians nationwide, especially those in the provinces, to news and information on a wide range of development-related topics.
- Latest Cambodia News Latest Cambodia News.
- Global Voices - Cambodia Comprehensive Cambodian weblogs listing, including Khmer, English and other languages.
- Khmer.ws Khmer website directory.
- Yellow Pages Cambodia Cambodian business directory. Also residential phone number search (white pages) and Cambodia related maps.
- LICADHO - Cambodian League for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
- Wikitravel:Cambodia Travel guide on Cambodia.
- A figure of three million deaths between 1975 and 1979 was given by the Vietnamese-sponsored Phnom Penh regime, the PRK. Father Ponchaud suggested 2.3 million; the Yale Cambodian autogenocide Project estimates 1.7 million; Amnesty International estimated 1.4 million ; and the United States Department of State, 1.2 million. Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot, who could be expected to give underestimations, cited figures of 1 million and 800,000, respectively.
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