Cambodia History


Cambodia officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand to the west and northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong River and Tonlé Sap lake.

The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with King Norodom Sihamoni as head of state, and Prime Minister Hun Sen as head of government. Phnom Penh is the kingdom's capital and largest city, and is the center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. Siem Reap is the main destination for tourism and gateway to the Angkor region. Battambang, the largest province in northwestern Cambodia is known for its rice production, andSihanoukville, a coastal city, is the primary sea port and beach resort.

Cambodia has an area of 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 sq mi) and a population of 14.8 million people. Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, which is practiced by around 96% of the Cambodian population. The country's minority people number around 1.9 million Vietnamese,[5] 1.2 million Chinese,[6] 317,000 Chams and over 20 various hill tribes,[7]

Agriculture has long been the most important sector to the Cambodian economy, with around 57.6% of the population relying on agriculture for their livelihood (with rice being the principal crop).[8] The country in the last decade has seen rapid economical and industrial growth. Other important sectors include garments, construction, textiles, and tourism. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial waters, and once commercial extraction begins in 2011, the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia's economy.


In the Khmer language, the country is named Kampuchea (Khmerកម្ពុជា). Kampuchea is a derivation of the Sanskrit term KambojadeÅ›a (Sanskrit:कम्बोजदेश). Cambodians also use the term "Srok Khmer" (Khmerស្រុកខ្មែរ) which translates to "the Land of Khmers".

The official name of the country today is the Kingdom of Cambodia (in Khmerព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជាUNEGN: Preăh Réachéanachâk KâmpÅ­chéa,IPA:. Etymologically, the components of the Khmer name are: Preah- ("sacred"); -reach- ("king, royal", from Sanskrit raja);-ana- (from Pāli Äá¹‡Ä, "authority, command, power", -châk (from Sanskrit chakra, meaning "wheel", a symbol of power and rule). The English name, "Cambodia" is derived from the French "Cambodge"



The sparse evidence for a Pleistocene human occupation of present day Cambodia are quartz and quartzite pebble tools found in terraces along the Mekong River, in Stung Treng and Kratié provinces, and in Kampot Province, but their dating is unreliable.[10]

Some slight archaeological evidence shows communities of hunter-gatherers inhabited Cambodia during Holocene: the most ancient Cambodian archeological site is considered to be the cave of L'aang Spean, in Battambang Province, which belongs to the so-called Hoabinhian period. Excavations in its lower layers produced a series of radiocarbon dates as of 6000 BC.[10][11]

Upper layers in the same site gave evidence of transition to Neolithic, containing the earliest dated earthenware ceramics in Cambodia[12]

Archeological records for the period between Holocene and Iron Age remain equally limited. Other prehistoric sites of somewhat uncertain date are Samrong Sen (not far from the ancient capital of Oudong), where the first investigations began in 1877,[13] and Phum Snay, in the northern province of Banteay Meanchey.[14] Prehistoric artifacts are often found during mining activities in Ratanakiri.[10]

The most outstanding prehistoric evidence in Cambodia however are probably various "circular earthworks", discovered in the red soils near Memot and in the adjacent region of Vietnam as of the end of the 1950s. Their function and age are still debated, but some of them possibly date from 2nd millennium BC at least.[15][16]

A pivotal event in Cambodian prehistory was the slow penetration of the first rice farmers from the North, which begun in the late 3rd millennium BC.[17]

Iron was worked by about 500 BC, with supporting evidence coming from the Khorat Plateau, which is now in modern day Thailand. In Cambodia, some Iron Age settlements were found beneath Angkorian temples, like Baksei Chamkrong. Others were circular earthworks, like Lovea, a few kilometers north-west of Angkor. Burials, much richer, testify to improvement of food availability and trade (even on long distances: in the 4th century BC trade relations with India were already opened) and the existence of a social structure and labor organization.

Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian eras

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. For more than 2,000 years, Cambodia absorbed influences from India, passing them on to other Southeast Asian civilisations that are now Thailand, and Laos.[18] The Khmer Empire flourished in the area from the 9th to the 13th centuries.[19] Around the 13th century, Theravada Buddhism was introduced to the area through monks from Sri Lanka.[20]

From then on, Theravada Buddhism grew and eventually became the most popular religion. The Khmer Empire was Southeast Asia's largest empire during the 12th century and it remained very powerful. The Khmer Empire declined yet remained powerful in the region until the 15th century. The empire's centre of power was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's zenith. Angkor could have supported a population of up to one million people.[21] Angkor, the world's largest pre-industrial settlement complex,[22] and Angkor Wat, the most famous and best-preserved religious temple at the site, are reminders of Cambodia's past as a major regional power.

Dark ages of Cambodia

After a long series of wars with neighboring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Ayutthaya Kingdom and abandoned in 1432 because of ecological failure and infrastructure breakdown.[23][24] This led to a period of economic, social, and cultural stagnation when the kingdom's internal affairs came increasingly under the control of its neighbors. By this time, the Khmer penchant for monument building had ceased. Older faiths such as Mahayana Buddhism and the Hindu cult of the god-king had been supplanted by Theravada Buddhism.

The court moved the capital to Longvek where the kingdom sought to regain its glory through maritime trade. Portuguese and Spanish travelers described the city as a place of flourishing wealth and foreign trade. The attempt was short-lived however, as continued wars with the Ayutthaya and the Vietnamese resulted in the loss of more territory and Longvek being conquered in 1594. With the capturing of Longvek by the Siamese the nation never fully recovered. During the next three centuries, the Khmer kingdom alternated as a vassal state of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and Vietnamese kings, as well as short-lived periods of relative independence.

A new Khmer capital was established at Odong, south of Longvek, but its monarchs could survive only by entering into what amounted to vassal relationships with the Siamese and Vietnamese. A renewed struggle between Siam and Vietnam for control of Cambodia in the nineteenth century resulted in a period when Vietnamese officials attempted to force the Khmers to adopt Vietnamese customs. This led to several rebellions against the Vietnamese. The Siamese–Vietnamese War (1841–1845) ended with an agreement to placed the country under joint suzerainty. This later led to the signing of a treaty for French Protection of Cambodia by King Norodom I.

French colonization

In 1863 King Norodom, who had been installed by Thailand,[25] sought the protection of France from the Thai and Vietnamese, after tensions grew between them. 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 colony of French Indochina, though occupied by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945.[26] After King Norodom's death in 1904, France manipulated the choice of king and Sisowath, Norodom's brother, was placed on the throne. The throne became vacant in 1941 with the death of Monivong, Sisowath's son, and France passed over Monivong's son, Monireth, feeling he was too independently minded. Instead,Norodom Sihanouk, a maternal grand-son of king Sisowath, who was eighteen years old at the time, was enthroned. The French thought young Sihanouk would be easy to control.[26] They were wrong, however, and under the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953.

Independence and Vietnam War

Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk. When French Indochina was given independence, Cambodia lost official control over the Mekong Delta as it was awarded to Vietnam.[citation needed] The area had been controlled by the Vietnamese since 1698 with King Chey Chettha II granting Vietnamese permission to settle in the area decades before.

In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father in order to participate in politics, and was 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 ofneutrality in the Cold War, although he was widely considered to be sympathetic to the Communist cause. While visiting Beijing in 1970 he was ousted by a military coup led by Prime Minister General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, who had the support of the United States. The King urged his followers to help in overthrowing this government, hastening the onset of civil war.[27] Soon the Khmer Rouge rebels began using him to gain support.

King Sisowath I continued the legacy of Norodom I

Between 1969 and 1973, Republic of Vietnam forces and U.S. forces bombed and briefly invaded Cambodia in an effort to disrupt the Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge.[28] Some two million Cambodians were made refugees by the war and fled to Phnom Penh. Estimates of the number of Cambodians killed during the bombing campaigns vary widely, as do views of the effects of the bombing. The US Seventh Air Force argued that the bombing prevented the fall of Phnom Penh in 1973 by killing 16,000 of 25,500 Khmer Rouge fighters besieging the city.[29] However, journalist William Shawcross and Cambodia specialists Milton OsborneDavid P. Chandler and Ben Kiernan argued that the bombing drove peasants to join the Khmer Rouge.[30] Cambodia specialist Craig Etcheson argued that the Khmer Rouge "would have won anyway", even without US intervention driving recruitment despite the US secretly playing a major role behind the leading cause of the Khmer Rouge.

Khmer Rouge regime

As the Vietnam War ended, a draft USAID report observed that the country faced famine in 1975, with 75% of its draft animals destroyed, and that rice planting for the next harvest would have to be done "by the hard labour of seriously malnourished people". The report predicted that

"Without large-scale external food and equipment assistance there will be widespread starvation between now and next February ... Slave labour and starvation rations for half the nation's people (probably heaviest among those who supported the republic) will be a cruel necessity for this year, and general deprivation and suffering will stretch over the next two or three years before Cambodia can get back to rice self-sufficiency".

The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975. The regime, led by Pol Pot, changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. They immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. At least a million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease.[33]

Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million; the most commonly cited figure is two million (about one-third of the population).[34][35] This era gave rise to the term Killing Fields, and the prison Tuol Sleng became notorious for its history of mass killing. Hundreds of thousands fled across the border into neighbouring Thailand. The regime disproportionately targeted ethnic minority groups. The Cham Muslims suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated.[36]

In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia, but by 1984, due to Khmer Rouge genocide and to emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country.[37] Professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, were also targeted. According to Robert D. Kaplan, "eyeglasses were as deadly as the yellow star" as they were seen as a sign of intellectualism.

End of Khmer Rouge and transition

In November 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia.[38] The People's Republic of Kampuchea, a Pro-Soviet state led by the Salvation Front, a group of Cambodian leftists dissatisfied with the Khmer Rouge, was established.[citation needed] In 1981, three years after the Vietnamese invasion, the country was divided between a further three factions that the United Nations euphemistically referred to as the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. This consisted of theKhmer Rouge, a royalist faction led by Sihanouk, and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front. The Khmer Rouge representative to the UN, Thiounn Prasith was retained.[39][40]

Throughout the 1980s the Khmer Rouge, supplied by Thailand, the United States[41][42] and the United Kingdom[43] continued to control much of the country and attacked territory not under their dominance. These attacks, compounded by total economic sanctions[44] by the US and its allies, made reconstruction virtually impossible and left the country deeply impoverished.

Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989 under the State of Cambodia, 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 known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia(UNTAC).[45]

In 1993, Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia, making Cambodia the world's only postcommunist country which restored monarchy as the system of government.[citation needed] The stability established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d'état,[46] but has otherwise remained in place. In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability in the form of a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy.[47] In July 2010 Kang Gek Iew was the first Khmer Rouge member found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his role as the former commandant of the S21 extermination camp. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.



National politics in Cambodia take place within the framework of the nation's constitution of 1993. The government is aconstitutional monarchy operated as a parliamentary representative democracy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia, an office held by Hun Sen since 1985, is the head of government, while the King (currently Norodom Sihamoni) 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 the ministerial appointees exercise executive power while legislative powers are shared by the executive and the bicameral Parliament of Cambodia, which consists of a lower house, the National Assembly or Radhspheaand an upper house, the Senate or Sénat. Members of the 123-seat Assembly are elected through a system of proportional representation and serve for a maximum term of five years. The Senate has 61 seats, two of which are appointed by the King and two others by the National Assembly. Senators serve five year terms.

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 abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week prior. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the king's half brother and current chief advisor), both members of the throne council. He was enthroned in Phnom Penh on October 29, 2004.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is the major ruling party in Cambodia. The CP controls the lower and upper chambers of parliament, with 73 seats in the National Assembly and 43 seats in the Senate. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party is the second largest party in Cambodia with 26 seats in the National Assembly and 2 in the Senate.


The Royal Cambodian ArmyRoyal Cambodian NavyRoyal Cambodian Air Force and Royal Gendarmerie collectively form the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, under the command of the Ministry of National Defense, presided over by the Prime Minister of Cambodia. His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni is the Supreme Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the country's Prime minister Hun Sen effectively holds the position of commander-in-chief.

The introduction of a revised command structure early in 2000 was a key prelude to the reorganisation of the Cambodian military. This saw the defence ministry form three subordinate general departments responsible for logistics and finance, materials and technical services, and defence services under the The High Command Headquarters (HCHQ).

The minister of National Defence is General Tea Banh. Banh has served as defence minister since 1979. The Secretaries of State for Defence are Chay Saing Yun and Por Bun Sreu. The new Commander-in-Chief of the RCAF and was replaced by his deputy General Pol Saroeun, who is a long time loyalist of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Army Commander is General Meas Sophea and the Army Chief of Staff is Chea Saran.

In 2010, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces had comprised about 315,000 personnel. Total Cambodian military spending stands at 3% of national GDP. The Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia total more than 7,000 personnel. Its civil duties include providing security and public peace, to investigate and prevent organized crime, terrorism and other violent groups; to protect state and private property; to help and assist civilians and other emergency forces in a case of emergency, natural disaster, civil unrest and armed conflicts.

Foreign relations

The foreign relations of Cambodia are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under H.E. Hor Namhong.

Cambodia is a member of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is a member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB),ASEAN, and joined the WTO on October 13, 2004. In 2005 Cambodia attended the inaugural East Asia Summit in Malaysia.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with numerous countries; the government reports twenty embassies in the country[49] including many of its Asian neighbours and those of important players during the Paris peace negotiations, including the US, Australia, Canada, China, the European Union (EU), Japan, and Russia.[50] As a result of its international relations, various charitable organizations have assisted with socialeconomical, and civil infrastructure needs.

In recent years, bilateral relations between the United States and Cambodia have strengthened. The US supports efforts in Cambodia to combat terrorism, build democratic institutions, promote human rights, foster economic development, eliminate corruption, achieve the fullest possible accounting for Americans missing from the Vietnam War-era, and to bring to justice those most responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. China's geopolitical interest in Cambodia changed significantly with the end of the Cold War. It retains considerable influence, including close links with former King Norodom Sihanouk, senior members of Cambodian Government, and the ethnic Chinese community in Cambodia. There are regular high level exchanges between the two countries. China provides substantial bilateral and economic aid to the kingdom.[citation needed] Japan has been a vital contributor to Cambodia’s rehabilitation and reconstruction since the high-profile UN Transitional Authority (UNTAC) mission and elections in 1993. Japan provided some US$1.2 billion in total overseas development assistance (ODA) during the period since 1992, and remains Cambodia’s top donor country.

While the violent ruptures of the 1970s and 80s have passed, several border disputes between Cambodia and its neighbours persist. There are disagreements over some offshore islands and sections of the boundary with Vietnam, and undefined maritime boundaries and border areas with Thailand. Both Cambodian and Thai troops had clashed over the temple at Preah Vihear, which is claimed by both countries, leading to a deterioration in relations. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962 awarded the temple to Cambodia but was unclear of the surrounding land. Both countries blamed the other for firing first and denied entering the other's territory.

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