shares its northwestern border with Thailand and part of its
northern border with Laos (Cambodia, 2005). To the east and
southeast lies Vietnam, and its southwestern coastline sits
on the edge of the Gulf of Siam. Cambodia has a landmass of
approximately 70,000 square miles (181,035 square kilometers),
about the size of the state of Missouri (Geography
of Cambodia, 2004). Several hill and mountain ranges
run along Cambodia’s present political boundaries and the
highest peak is Phnom Aural (5,984 feet above sea level) (Cambodia,
The delta of the Mekong River,
the longest river in Southeast Asia, lies to the southeast
of the central plains (Water Policy International, 2001).
It flows from north to south and is almost entirely navigable.
Another important physical feature of Cambodia is the Great
Lake (Tônlé Sap)
situated in the central plain that forms the heartland of
the country (Tônlé Sap, 2005). Seasonal flooding causes it
to expand to four times its normal size to approximately 4,000
square miles, and it is one of the richest sources of freshwater
fish in the world (MSN Encarta, 2004). The capital of Cambodia,
the city of Phnom Penh,
lays at the confluence of the rivers Tônlé Sap (which drains
the Great Lake) and the Mekong River (Phnom Penh, 2005).
Over half of Cambodia is covered by forest. However, the
country’s considerable timber resources have been depleted
by decades of war and ruthless exploitation. The Great Lake
Sap) dominates the central plain; the area is used primarily
for wet rice cultivation (Geography
of Cambodia, 2005). Other rivers include the Tônlé
Srêpôk and the Tônlé Sab (Royal Government of Cambodia,
2004c). Although only 21
percent of the total land area is cultivated, rubber,
kapok, bananas, coconuts and palm are grown commercially (Cambodia,
2005). Limited mineral resources include sapphires, rubies,
salts, manganese and phosphates.
In addition to deforestation, a decline in biodiversity and
industrial pollution has affected the supply of fresh water
and fisheries in Cambodia. The Government of Cambodia has
responded to the environmental issues facing the country by
banning the export of lumber and declaring almost 16 percent
of the land “protected areas” (Cambodia, 2005).
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate and receives an
average annual rainfall of 55 inches, but the mountain areas
and coastal regions experience almost three times as much
precipitation. The average temperature is 80°F and the coolest
months of the year are December and January (Cambodia,
of Cambodia, once a part of a great empire, is the oldest
country in Southeast Asia (Royal Government of Cambodia, 2004).
The Khmer people have existed for more than 4,000 years (Chandler,
1991) since the first century A.D.
The area was first dominated by the people of coastal Funan,
then by inland Chenla
(U.S. Library of Congress, 1987a). These warring factions
eventually formed two separate states. In the eighth century
A.D., a powerful king, Jayavarman II, unified it into one
territory, which he called “Kambuja”, a name that was subsequently
Europeanized to “Cambodia.” During the 12th century, the
capital of the Khmer empire was Angkor,
site of the famous temple, Angkor
Wat, which symbolizes the power and influence of the Khmer
Empire at its height. It is considered a national symbol to
this day (Chandler, 1991; U. S. Library of Congress, 1987b).
Farmers comprised the majority of the working population.
They were able to produce rice for their own people as well
as for export to many surrounding countries. The people respected
nature and valued the country and its resources. This independent
empire controlled most of the neighboring countries.
The Angkor Empire began to decline upon the death of Jayavarman
VII. At that time, it became susceptible to domination
by its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors (Domination by the
Thai and by Vietnamese, 2005). This period of time has been
referred to as the “dark
ages” of Cambodia due to the economic, social and cultural
stagnation that marked the period between 1432 until the French
arrived in the eighteenth century. Cambodia then became part
of the French protectorate
in 1863 (Dark Ages, 2005; Colonial Cambodia, 2005).
The French colonized
Cambodia (1887-1953), as part of the Union Indochinoise
(Colonial Cambodia, 2005). They built roads and other
infrastructures to exploit the agricultural potential of the
area (rubber, rice and corn). Consequently, Cambodia became
the “rice basket” of Indochina. The French also restored
the magnificent monuments of the Angkor era, indirectly contributing
to the emergence of nationalism among the educated urban-elite
Cambodians. The Japanese continued this trend by fanning
the flames of nationalism throughout Asia in the years leading
up to World War II (Country
Studies, Library of Congress, 2004).
Between 1945 and 1953, the country went through a period
of several political changes that included the emergence of
several political parties, new leadership, the drafting of
a constitution and elections. King Sihanouk played an important
role. He engaged in a delicate balancing act as he negotiated
the gradual handing over of power by the French, while at
the same time tried to neutralize the political opposition
within Cambodia (Colonial
Cambodia, 2003). In 1953, Cambodia became independent
and King Sihanouk took the title of Prince and ruled the country
until a coup d’etat led by General Lon Noi ousted him in 1970.
The country endured a civil war for five years between the
Lon Noi forces and the Communist Khmer Rouge.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge forces led by Pol Pot took over
the capital city of Phnom Penh and changed the country of
Cambodia and its people forever. The residents of cities and
towns were forced to evacuate, and the Cambodian society was
turned into a forced labor camp. During the Khmer Rouge occupation
(1975-1979) under the vicious leadership of Pol Pot more than
one million people (over 20% of the population) were killed,
displaced, starved to death, or were victims of disease. Indeed,
most of the educated and business classes were killed. This
phase of modern Cambodian history is one of the worst
recorded events of human suffering (Yale University, 2005).
In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and forced Pol Pot out
of power. The Vietnamese take-over put an end to the genocide
but was not initially recognized by the United Nations (UN).
The Khmer Rouge, Khmer’s People’s National Liberation Front,
and the supporters of Prince Sihanouk formed a coalition,
which ruled Cambodia when Vietnam withdrew (Chandler, 1991).
In 1990, the guerilla movement agreed to a United Nations
plan that created a national council to help unite the country.
This newly formed government had its problems. Many guerilla
groups tried to halt any effort to stabilize the new government.
The economy is still in the process of recovering from the
destruction of the infrastructure, the political system or
the society of this once peaceful and productive nation (Brigham
Young University, 2003).
In accordance with a Constitution,
promulgated in September 1993, the Kingdom of Cambodia, is
a multiparty liberal democracy led by a constitutional monarch.
branch of the Royal Cambodian Government is comprised of:
- A King
(“who shall reign but shall not govern” – Article 7 of the
Cambodian Constitution) who functions as the Head of State,
appointed for life by a Royal Council of the Throne (Article
13) in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
- A Prime
Minister (appointed by the King after vote of confidence
by the National Assembly), who functions as the Head of
- A Council
of Ministers appointed by the King, which serves as
the Cabinet to the Prime Minister.
branch is a bicameral body comprised of:
- The National
Assembly that has 122 members elected by popular vote
every five years.
- The Senate that consists of a 61 member (2 appointed
by the King, 2 by the National Assembly and 57 by functional
branch exercises independent judicial authority through a
Supreme Court and lower courts in accordance with legislation
created in accordance with the Constitution. The King ensures
the independence of the judiciary and is assisted in this
task by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy. This Council,
chaired by the King, recommends the appointment of as well
as the discipline of judges appointed to the bench. Chapter
XI of the Cambodian Constitution also provides that judges
cannot be dismissed.
purposes, Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces and three
municipalities. The Kingdom of Cambodia is represented at
the United Nations and participates in all major international
Government of Cambodia, 2004b; Politics
of Cambodia, 2005).
of Cambodia has been challenged by its turbulent and violent
history (Economy of Cambodia, 2005). The failure to develop
infrastructure and to diversify a predominantly agrarian economic
base has had a lasting and persistent legacy. Even today,
political unrest, internally and in the region, give Cambodia
the dubious distinction of being one of the world poorest
countries. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1999 was $3.1
billion (the GDP for the U.S. in 2002 was $10,446 billion)
and per capita GDP was $270 ($36,410).
Cambodia’s major industries include textiles and garment
production, wood furniture, beverage, food processing and
rubber. Before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
in the United States, tourism was one of the fastest growing
areas of Cambodia’s economy. Cambodia is striving to bring
its economy forward with the assistance of foreign, multilateral
Government of Cambodia, 2004).