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A tropical country in south-east Asia flanked by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.


Through it from the north flows the Mekong, while westward is a large lake, the Tonlé Sap. The climate is tropical monsoon, and most of the land marshy or forested. A short coastline faces south-west on the Gulf of Thailand.


Cambodia's economy is overwhelmingly agricultural, and rubber is a major export. There is limited light industry, notably garment making. The prolonged civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime's policies of resettlement decimated the economy but there has since been a significant recovery.


Cambodia was occupied from the 1st to the 6th century ad by the Hindu kingdoms of Funan, and subsequently Chenla. The Khmer people overthrew the Hindu rulers of Chenla and established a Buddhist empire, centred around the region of Angkor. The classical, or Angkorean, period lasted from 802 to 1432, with the Khmer empire reaching its peak during the 12th century. After 1432 the empire went into decline and suffered frequent invasions from Vietnam and Thailand. Continuing foreign domination forced Cambodia to seek French protection in 1863, and from 1884 it was treated as part of French Indo-China, although allowed to retain its royal dynasty. After Japanese occupation in World War II, King Norodom Sihanouk achieved independence within the French Union (1949) and full independence in 1953. Sihanouk abdicated in 1955 to form a broad-based coalition government. Cambodia was drawn into the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and US suspicions of Sihanouk's relations with communist forces led to his overthrow by the army under Lon Nol in 1970, following a US bombing offensive (1969–70) and invasion. The Lon Nol regime renamed Cambodia the Khmer Republic. The regime soon came under heavy pressure from the communist Khmer Rouge. Following the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea and launched a bloody reign of terror, which is estimated to have resulted in as many as two million deaths, or nearly a third of the population. Border tensions led to an invasion of the country by Vietnam in 1978, and the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime two weeks later. The Vietnamese installed a client regime under an ex-Khmer Rouge member, Heng Samrin, who proclaimed a new People's Republic of Kampuchea, but conflict with Khmer Rouge guerrillas continued. International relief organizations were active in Cambodia from 1980. A government in exile comprising anti-Vietnamese factions and led by Son Sann, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), was recognized by the United Nations in 1983. Civil war lasted until 1987, when inconclusive peace talks were held in Paris. These later moved to Jakarta, and in 1990 a peace agreement ended 13 years of civil strife. A UN Transitional Authority enforced a ceasefire and installed an interim Supreme Council, under Prince Norodom Sihanouk as head of state. The Council included representatives of the former government, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen, and the three former guerrilla movements: the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (the former Khmer Rouge); the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, led by Son Sann; and the National United Front (NUF), led by Norodom Ranariddh, son of Norodom Sihanouk. Multiparty elections were held in 1993, and UN peacekeepers supervised the process and helped to repatriate and rehabilitate some half million refugees and released prisoners. No party won a clear majority of seats, but a democratic monarchist constitution was adopted; Sihanouk became king and a coalition government headed by the CPP and NUF was formed, their leaders becoming co-premiers (1993). The Khmer Rouge refused to participate in the elections and continued to launch guerrilla attacks for some years; by 1999 it was effectively quiescent. In 1997 the NUF leader, Prince Ranariddh, was ousted by Hun Sen's followers, who were victorious in elections the following year. The elections of 2003 again produced no clear outcome; a coalition was formed and in 2004 Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh once more agreed to share power. Later that year, Sihanouk abdicated and was succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni.


Subjects: History.

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