Background: Following a five-year struggle, communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns; over 1 million displaced people died from execution or enforced hardships. A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside and touched off 13 years of fighting. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy, as did the rapid diminishment of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces.
Government type: multiparty liberal democracy under a constitutional monarchy established in September 1993
Capital: Phnom Penh
Currency: 1 new riel (CR) = 100 sen
Geography of Cambodia
Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos
Geographic coordinates: 13 00 N, 105 00 E
total: 181,040 sq. km
land: 176,520 sq. km
water: 4,520 sq. km
total: 2,572 km
border countries: Laos 541 km, Thailand 803 km, Vietnam 1,228 km
Coastline: 443 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical; rainy, monsoon season (May to November); dry season (December to April); little seasonal temperature variation
Terrain: mostly low, flat plains; mountains in southwest and north
lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Phnum Aoral 1,810 m
Natural resources: timber, gemstones, some iron ore, manganese, phosphates, hydropower potential
arable land: 13%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 11%
forests and woodland: 66%
other: 10% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 920 sq. km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: monsoonal rains (June to November); flooding; occasional droughts
Environment – current issues: illegal logging activities throughout the country and strip mining for gems in the western region along the border with Thailand have resulted in habitat loss and declining biodiversity (in particular, destruction of mangrove swamps threatens natural fisheries); soil erosion; in rural areas, a majority of the population does not have access to potable water; toxic waste delivery from Taiwan sparked unrest in Kampong Saom (Sihanoukville) in December 1998.
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Marine Life Conservation, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping
Geography – note: a land of paddies and forests dominated by the Mekong River and Tonle Sap
Cambodia covers 181,040 square kilometers in the southwestern part of the Indochina peninsula. It lies completely within the tropics; its southernmost points are only slightly more than 10° above the equator. Roughly square in shape, the country is bounded on the north by Thailand and by Laos, on the east and southeast by Vietnam, and on the west by the Gulf of Thailand and by Thailand. Much of the country’s area consists of rolling plains. Dominant features are the large, almost centrally located, Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Mekong River, which traverses the country from north to south.
The climate is monsoonal and has marked wet and dry seasons of relatively equal length. Both temperature and humidity generally are high throughout the year. Forest covers about two-thirds of the country, but it has been somewhat degraded in the more readily accessible areas by burning (a method called slash-and-burn agriculture), and by shifting agriculture.
Cambodia falls within several well-defined geographic regions. The largest part of the country–about 75 percent of the total– consists of the Tonle Sap Basin and the Mekong Lowlands. To the southeast of this great basin is the Mekong Delta, which extends through Vietnam to the South China Sea. The basin and delta regions are rimmed with mountain ranges to the southwest (the Cardamom Mountains the Elephant Range) and to the north (Dangrek Mountains). Higher land to the northeast and to the east merges into the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam.
The Tonle Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands region consists chiefly of plains with elevations generally of less than 100 meters. As the elevation increases, the terrain becomes more rolling and dissected.
The Cardamom Mountains in the southwest, oriented generally in a northwest-southeast direction, rise to more than 1,500 meters. The highest mountain in Cambodia–Phnom Aural, at 1,771 meters–is in the eastern part of this range. The Elephant Range, an extension running toward the south and the southeast from the Cardamom Mountains, rises to elevations of between 500 and 1,000 meters. These two ranges are bordered on the west by a narrow coastal plain that contains Kampong Saom Bay, which faces the Gulf of Thailand. This area was largely isolated until the opening of the port of Kampong Saom (formerly called Sihanoukville) and the construction of a road and railroad connecting Kampong Saom, Kampot, Takev, and Phnom Penh in the 1960s.
The Dangrek Mountains at the northern rim of the Tonle Sap Basin consist of a steep escarpment with an average elevation of about 500 meters, the highest points of which reach more than 700 meters. The escarpment faces southward and is the southern edge of the Korat Plateau in Thailand. The watershed along the escarpment marks the boundary between Thailand and Cambodia. The main road through a pass in the Dangrek Mountains at O Smach connects northwestern Cambodia with Thailand. Despite this road and those running through a few other passes, in general the escarpment impedes easy communication between the two countries. Between the western part of the Dangrek and the northern part of the Cardamom ranges, however, lies an extension of the Tonle Sap Basin that merges into lowlands in Thailand, which allows easy access from the border to Bangkok.
The Mekong Valley, which offers a communication route between Cambodia and Laos, separates the eastern end of the Dangrek Mountains and the northeastern highlands. To the southeast, the basin joins the Mekong Delta, which, extending into Vietnam, provides both water and land communications between the two countries.
Cambodia’s climate–like that of the rest of Southeast Asia–is dominated by the monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences. The monsoonal airflows are caused by annual alternating high pressure and low pressure over the Central Asian landmass. In summer, moisture-laden air–the southwest monsoon–is drawn landward from the Indian Ocean. The flow is reversed during the winter, and the northeast monsoon sends back dry air. The southwest monsoon brings the rainy season from mid-May to mid-September or to early October, and the northeast monsoon flow of drier and cooler air lasts from early November to March. The southern third of the country has a two-month dry season; the northern two-thirds, a four-month one. Short transitional periods, which are marked by some difference in humidity but by little change in temperature, intervene between the alternating seasons. Temperatures are fairly uniform throughout the Tonle Sap Basin area, with only small variations from the average annual mean of around 25°C. The maximum mean is about 28°C; the minimum mean, about 22°C. Maximum temperatures of higher than 32°C, however, are common and, just before the start of the rainy season, they may rise to more than 38°C. Minimum temperatures rarely fall below 10°C. January is the coldest month, and April is the warmest. Typhoons–tropical cyclones–that often devastate coastal Vietnam rarely cause damage in Cambodia.
The total annual rainfall average is between 100 and 150 centimeters, and the heaviest amounts fall in the southeast. Rainfall from April to September in the Tonle Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands area averages 130 to 190 centimeters annually, but the amount varies considerably from year to year. Rainfall around the basin increases with elevation. It is heaviest in the mountains along the coast in the southwest, which receive from 250 to more than 500 centimeters of precipitation annually as the southwest monsoon reaches the coast. This area of greatest rainfall, however, drains mostly to the sea; only a small quantity goes into the rivers flowing into the basin. The relative humidity is high at night throughout the year; usually it exceeds 90 percent. During the daytime in the dry season, humidity averages about 50 percent or slightly lower, but it may remain about 60 percent in the rainy period.
Except for the smaller rivers in the southeast, most of the major rivers and river systems in Cambodia drain into the Tonle Sap or into the Mekong River. The Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Range form a separate drainage divide. To the east the rivers flow into the Tonle Sap, while on the west they flow into the Gulf of Thailand. Toward the southern end of the Elephant Mountains, however, because of the topography, some small rivers flow southward on the eastern side of the divide.
The Mekong River in Cambodia flows southward from the CambodiaLaos border to a point below Kracheh city, where it turns west for about 50 kilometers and then turns southwest to Phnom Penh. Extensive rapids run above Kracheh city. From Kampong Cham the gradient slopes very gently, and inundation of areas along the river occurs at flood stage–June through November–through breaks in the natural levees that have built up along its course. At Phnom Penh four major water courses meet at a point called the Chattomukh (Four Faces). The Mekong River flows in from the northeast and the Tonle Sab–a river emanating from the Tonle Sap–flows in from the northwest. They divide into two parallel channels, the Mekong River proper and the Basak River, and flow independently through the delta areas of Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea.
The flow of water into the Tonle Sab is seasonal. In September or in October, the flow of the Mekong River, fed by monsoon rains, increases to a point where its outlets through the delta cannot handle the enormous volume of water. At this point, the water pushes northward up the Tonle Sab and empties into the Tonle Sap, thereby increasing the size of the lake from about 2,590 square kilometers to about 24,605 square kilometers at the height of the flooding. After the Mekong’s waters crest–when its downstream channels can handle the volume of water–the flow reverses, and water flows out of the engorged lake.
As the level of the Tonle Sap retreats, it deposits a new layer of sediment. The annual flooding, combined with poor drainage immediately around the lake, transforms the surrounding area into marshlands unusable for agricultural purposes during the dry season. The sediment deposited into the lake during the Mekong’s flood stage appears to be greater than the quantity carried away later by the Tonle Sab River. Gradual silting of the lake would seem to be occurring; during low-water level, it is only about 1.5 meters deep, while at flood stage it is between 10 and 15 meters deep.
People of Cambodia
Population: 13,607,069 (July 2005 est.)
0-14 years: 41.25%
15-64 years: 55.28%
65 years and over: 3.47%
Population growth rate: 2.25%
Birth rate: 33.16 births/1,000 population
Death rate: 10.65 deaths/1,000 population
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate: 65.41 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 56.82 years
male: 54.62 years
female: 59.12 years
Total fertility rate: 4.74 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%
Religions: Theravada Buddhist 95%, other 5%
Languages: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 35%
female: 22% (1990 est.)
History of Cambodia
ALTHOUGH THE LAND occupied by Cambodia has been populated for millennia, the area’s history was unrecorded until the Chinese chronicles of the early Christian era. In the fewer than 2,000 years of its imperfectly documented existence, the Cambodian state has evolved along the lines of ascension, dominance, and retrogression inherent in all civilizations.
Historians surmise that by the first century A.D. a small number of Khmer (or Cambodian) states already existed on the fringes of the earliest recorded state in the region, the empire of Funan. Centered in the Mekong Delta of present-day Vietnam, Funan derived its power from commerce. With its port of Oc Eo on the Gulf of Thailand, Funan was well-placed to control maritime traffic between India and China. According to Chinese annals, Funan was a highly developed and prosperous state with an extensive canal system for transportation and irrigation, a fleet of naval vessels, a capital city with brick buildings, and a writing system based on Sanskrit. The inhabitants, whose adherence to Indian cultural institutions apparently coexisted with Mahayana Buddhism, were organized into a highly stratified society.
When the small Khmer states to the northwest of the Mekong Delta emerged into recorded history, it was to make war upon the declining empire of Funan. Between A.D. 550-650, these Khmer states overran their adversary, which fell apart, losing its tributary states on the Kra Isthmus and along the Gulf of Thailand.
Chaos and economic decline followed the fall of Funan, but the sequence of events over the next 500 years led to the ascension of the Cambodian state and its evolution into an increasingly powerful and dynamic entity. The first unified and distinctly Khmer polity to emerge after Funan was Chenla. It absorbed the Indianized cultural legacy of its predecessor and established its capital near the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), the heartland of Cambodia, then as now. Under expansionist rulers, its authority was pushed into the territories of present-day Thailand and Laos. The development of Chenla was not marked by an unrelieved accretion of power, however. Divisive forces quickly resulted in a split into Land (or Upper) Chenla and Water (or Lower) Chenla. Land Chenla demonstrated the greater vitality, controlled some thirty provincial cities, and sent emissaries to China under the Tang dynasty. Water Chenla slipped into vassalage to Java.
The historical ascension of the Khmer polity began during the early 800s. The initiator of the period was the first empire builder, Jayavarman II (A.D. 802-50), who carved out a feudal state generally encompassing modern Cambodia. Jayavarman revived the cult of Devaraja, an Indianized cultural institution that was intended to confer, through elaborate rituals and symbols, heavenly approbation or even divine status upon the ruler. Following the reign of Jayavarman II, the two Chenlas were reunited peacefully, and the Khmer polity continued to develop, establishing over time a priestly hierarchy, an armed force and police, a provincial administration of subordinate officials, a system of courts, corvée labor by the peasants, and a capital on the site of Angkor near the Tonle Sap.
The Khmer state reached its apogee in the Angkorian period– also called the empire of Angkor–during the period from the eleventh century to the thirteenth century, when it was ruled by a succession of able monarchs. The last great monarch of the Angkorian period was Jayavarman VII (1181-ca. 1218). He reversed the Cham encroachments that had taken place after the death of Suryavarman II (1113-50) and carried the war to the enemy, conquering Champa itself and briefly reducing it to a Khmer vassal state. At its greatest extent, the Angkorian empire of Jayavarman VII encompassed not only Champa on the coast of southern Vietnam but also extended north to the vicinity of Vientiane in present-day Laos and south to include the small trading city-states of the Malay Peninsula. Jayavarman continued the public works program of his predecessors, uniting his realm by elevated military causeways with resthouses at intervals. He also built hospitals for the aged and the infirm and sponsored the construction of Angkor Thom and the Bayon, the last major temples of Angkorian times and splendid edifices in their own right, but presaging the decadence that shortly set in.
Jayavarman VII’s wars and public works exacted a heavy toll on the finances and the human labor force of the Angkorian empire. The drain of resources coincided with the gradual intrusion of Theravada Buddhism, with its egalitarian focus, at the expense of the Indianized cults that stressed a hierarchical, stratified society. Whether it was this development or the inability of the Khmer monarchs to command the fealty of their subjects that led to a societal breakdown remains open to conjecture. Also coupled with these internal developments was the accelerated southward migration of the Thai, who, dislodged from their state in southwestern China by the Mongols in the mid-1200s, flooded into the Menam Chao Phraya Valley. Subject to internal and external pressures, the Khmer state became unable to defend itself at the very time its enemies were growing stronger. Thai attacks were stepped up around 1350, and they continued until Angkor itself was captured and sacked in 1430-31. The fall of Angkor ended the dominant period of the Khmer state. Thereafter, its borders shrank, and it controlled little more than the area around the Tonle Sap, the alluvial plain to the southeast, and some territory west of the Mekong River. To the east, the collapse of the kingdom of Champa in 1471 opened the Khmer lands of the Mekong Delta to the steady Vietnamese expansion southward.
The long waning of the Cambodian empire after the fall of Angkor is not well documented. The transfer of the capital from the Angkorian region around the Tonle Sap to the vicinity of Phnom Penh may have heralded the shift of emphasis from an agricultural to a trading society. Even with this change, the Khmer state retained some of its vitality into the seventeenth century, alternately trading and warring with its neighbors. By the eighteenth century, however, it had become a backwater buffer state, existing solely on the sufferance of its increasingly powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The imposition of the French protectorate upon Cambodia prevented its neighbors from swallowing it completely.
Cambodia’s status declined further under the French, however, when the last vestiges of its sovereignty were lost, especially after 1884, when Paris imposed another unequal treaty that went beyond the original protectorate of 1863. The newer pact limited the authority of the king, abolished slavery, stationed colonial officials in the countryside, and codified land ownership. Reaction to the 1884 treaty produced the only sustained rebellion during colonial times. Unrest persisted until 1886 and was put down with troops from Vietnam. Thereafter, the French consolidated their grasp on the country, and Cambodia became merely a heavily taxed, efficient rice-producing colony, the inhabitants of which were known for their passivity.
As the Southeast Asian colonies of the European powers stood on the brink of World War II in 1940 and 1941, the utter powerlessness of Cambodia was illustrated by the fact that it was compelled to surrender its provinces of Siemreab and Batdambang (Battambang), which included some of the country’s most fertile agricultural area, to Thailand, as a result of the brief Franco-Siamese War. In addition, some months later it was the French, not the Cambodians, who selected the candidate who would sit on the throne in Phnom Penh. Their choice was the young Prince Norodom Sihanouk, because French officials considered him more manipulable than the heir apparent. (Sihanouk was then a shy youth, well-disposed toward his role as figurehead monarch, and totally inexperienced in governing. His formidable international reputation lay far in the future.)
In March 1945, the Japanese swept aside the Vichy French administration in Cambodia (as elsewhere in Indochina), and they induced the young king to proclaim independence. The event offered little occasion for euphoria, however. The Japanese remained in control, and then, after the Japanese surrender, the French returned to reimpose their authority, granting the Cambodians, as consolation prizes in early 1946, the right to have a constitution and the right to form political parties.
In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, the struggle for independence in Cambodia took place on several levels. Two political parties were formed under princes of the royal house. The Liberal Party, the more conservative of the two, advocated an evolutionary approach to independence. The Democratic Party, the more radical one, favored the rapid attainment of independence and the formation of whatever political alliances might be necessary. Underground, Cambodian guerrillas took to the jungles to fight the returning French. The Khmer Issarak, as these guerrillas were called, encompassed disaffected Cambodians from across the entire political spectrum. Meanwhile, the French managed to secure the return of Cambodia’s two provinces lost to Thailand in 1941. In 1949, under increasing military pressure from the Viet Minh in neighboring Vietnam, the French granted Cambodia qualified self-government in certain areas and an autonomous zone in Batdambang and Siemreab.
Sihanouk continued the political struggle above ground, embarking upon a campaign for independence. Using a combination of private and public initiatives and grandiose gestures, he exacted grudging concessions from a French government increasingly hard- pressed in Indochina by its war against the Viet Minh. In November 1953, Sihanouk announced dramatically that independence had been gained, and he returned triumphantly from Paris to Phnom Penh.
Sihanouk quickly emerged as a leader of stature in his newly independent country. In an effort to gain a freer hand in the politics of his nation, a role he was not permitted to play as the ruler in a constitutional monarchy, he abdicated the throne in 1955 and formed a political movement, the People’s Socialist Community (Sangkum Riastre Niyum, or Sangkum). With control of the Sangkum, Sihanouk succeeded in having himself named both chief of state and head of government. For nearly sixteen years, from 1954 to 1970, he dominated Cambodian politics and ruled at the head of a highly authoritarian and centralized government.
In the countryside, Sihanouk kept the support of the people through his charismatic personality, his highly visible personal forays among the rural peasantry, and his adherence to the traditional symbols and institutions of the Khmer monarchy, such as public audiences and participation in time-honored ceremonies. Among the politicized urban elite, Sihanouk maintained power and kept his opponents off-balance through a range of manipulative stratagems, pitting them against one another when he could and co- opting them with government positions when he could not.
In spite of Sihanouk’s efforts, the situation in Cambodia began to go awry in the mid- to late 1960s. Internally, the country had been savaged by economic reverses. The budget was chronically in deficit; United States aid had been terminated; and state socialism had stifled development. Prices for Cambodia’s export commodities–rice and rubber– were declining. Numerous members of the youthful, educated elite were underemployed and dissatisfied. Among the politicized middle class, the military leadership, the intellectuals, and the students, opposition was developing to Sihanouk’s authoritarianism. In the countryside, heavy taxation had ignited the shortlived Samlot Rebellion in Batdambang Province. Although suppressed ruthlessly, it refused to die out, and smoldered on in remote corners of Cambodia. Disaffected elements still were at large, and some of the country remained insecure. The radical wing of the Kampuchean (or Khmer) Communist Party, led by Saloth Sar (later to be known as Pol Pot), had gone underground and had taken up arms, unleashing its own insurgency against the Sihanouk regime. In the northeast, minority ethnic groups were alienated from the government in Phnom Penh because of its corvée labor, forced resettlement, and assimilationist policies.
Internationally, the picture was not much better. Sihanouk tried to maintain a nonaligned course in the country’s foreign policy. During its first decade of independence, Cambodia had received aid from East and from West, and it was respected internationally. In the mid- to late 1960s, however, this neutrality was fast eroding, and Cambodia was about to be engulfed by the war in neighboring Vietnam. The country rapidly was becoming a logistical rear area and a safe haven for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces fighting the Saigon government. Cambodia was exposed to cross-border forays and airstrikes from South Vietnam to neutralize these enemy installations. The Cambodian port of Kampong Saom also was becoming the terminus for Chinese weapons and supplies that were then trucked, sometimes in Cambodian army vehicles, overland to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong supply depots.
Sihanouk sought to adjust to the prevailing trends in Indochina. He sought to distance Cambodia from South Vietnam and accepted accommodation with North Vietnam and with the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, the political arm of the Viet Cong. He broke relations with Washington, looked for support to Beijing–which was then distracted by its Cultural Revolution, and then resumed ties with Washington.
Events in Cambodia were moving out of control, however. When Sihanouk went abroad for a lengthy sojourn in January 1970 to solicit Soviet and Chinese assistance in curbing the presence of North Vietnamese sanctuaries on Cambodian territory, domestic opposition to his regime became more outspoken and soon acquired a momentum of its own. The entire Cambodian National Assembly, led by a rightist cabinet under Premier Lon Nol, voted on March 22 to bar the return of Sihanouk to the country. Cambodia’s first post- independence era thus ended, and the country soon was plunged into a period of war, chaos, and human suffering perhaps unparalleled in its history.
The Lon Nol government that succeeded the fall of Sihanouk quickly abolished the monarchy and proclaimed itself the Khmer Republic. It initially enjoyed wide support among the urban population, but it soon proved itself unequal to the tasks of governing and defending the country and capturing the allegiance of the Cambodian masses. The new government in Phnom Penh began by fanning anti-Vietnamese sentiment among the Khmer population, as a result of which countless numbers of civilian Vietnamese migrants in Cambodia were massacred. The government then turned against the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong by calling publicly for their ouster from Cambodia and by initiating ineffectual military operations against them. Shortly thereafter, an offensive military thrust of the United States and South Vietnam into Cambodia dislodged North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units from their border sanctuaries; instead of driving them away from Cambodian territory, however, it pushed them deeper into the country, where they soon swept before them the ill-trained, ill- armed, and totally inexperienced Cambodian republican forces.
At the same time, two concurrent developments conspired to erode further the shaky position of the Khmer Republic. The first was that Sihanouk established a government-in-exile in Beijing, where he had fled following his ouster. There, he raised the standard of revolt against the republican regime in Phnom Penh, and he united in a common front with the armed Khmer communist rebels. Both sides saw the advantages to such an alliance of convenience. The Cambodian communists, dubbed the Khmer Rouge by Sihanouk, had ignited a small-scale insurgency in early 1968, but they had not been able to move beyond their redoubts in remote corners of Cambodia or to gain mass support in their first two years. Their alliance with Sihanouk, in a broad resistance front called the National United Front of Kampuchea, transformed their forlorn rebellion, which was aided by Washington, into a war of national liberation against a puppet regime in Phnom Penh. At the same time, Sihanouk’s name attracted to the FUNK cause Cambodians of every political persuasion, including many people without communist antecedents.
The second development, one with equally serious consequences for the Khmer Republic, was that the North Vietnamese quickly undertook the training of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas to transform them into a conventional fighting force. While this training program was underway, North Vietnamese units temporarily assumed the burden of keeping the Khmer republican forces at bay, an effort that did not tax them unduly. By 1973 the Khmer Rouge were conducting most combat operations against the Phnom Penh government by themselves.
The ill-fated Khmer Republic was unable to defend itself. By 1971 it was on the defensive, and it was losing ground steadily. Fleeing the fighting in the countryside, peasant refugees crowded into the government’s shrinking strongholds around Phnom Penh and the provincial centers. Lon Nol’s inept and corrupt regime went from one military defeat to another. By early 1975, the situation of the Khmer Republic was so precarious that Phnom Penh itself was invaded, and government control was limited to the provincial centers and to a patch of territory in western Cambodia around the Tonle Sap. In the following months, the Khmer Rouge steadily tightened the noose around the capital until all escape routes were cut off, and resistance collapsed. The fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975 marked the end of the Khmer Republic.
For the Cambodian people, the entry of the Khmer Rouge into the capital began the grimmest period in Cambodia’s long history. The Khmer Rouge rulers of Democratic Kampuchea, as the regime that supplanted the Khmer Republic was called, envisioned a totally self-sufficient Cambodia. This self-sufficiency was to be achieved by accelerated agricultural production, which in turn would provide the wherewithal to develop the other sectors of the economy.
Self-sufficiency, however, was pursued with such single-minded ruthlessness that between 1 million and 3 million persons died because of purges, beatings, malnourishment, and overwork. To head off opposition to economic and social restructuring, the new regime hunted down and executed virtually anyone who had served the former government. The regime emptied the cities of inhabitants and forced the entire population into rudimentary, badly organized collectives in the countryside; untold numbers died, worked to death under slave labor conditions or executed for minor infractions of camp discipline. At the same time, the regime nurtured an acute paranoia that brooked no potential opposition but that prompted it to eradicate the educated middle class of Cambodia. When this eradication was accomplished, it turned on its own cadres at every echelon, torturing and executing thousands. The regime’s ruthless extermination of opponents, however, could not ensure its security; ultimately its own paranoia brought it down.
Regionally, the Khmer Rouge paranoia manifested itself in the exacerbation of tensions with Vietnam. During the war against the United States and its allies, commonalities of enemy and of ideology had enabled the Vietnamese and the Cambodians to bridge their mutual distrust. After April 1975, however, with the xenophobic Pol Pot factions of the KCP in control in Phnom Penh, the traditional Cambodian antipathy for the Vietnamese reemerged. The source of the friction was the recurrent cross-border forays by combatants from both sides into the Mekong Delta and the Parrot’s Beak area. The Khmer Rouge regime viewed itself as threatened, its territory violated by Vietnam. Hanoi in turn felt compelled to deploy substantial military assets along the border, as fighting continued to erupt on both sides of the frontier. By mid-1978 Hanoi’s patience was rapidly running out, as it became obliged to commit division-sized units to pacification missions along the Cambodian border.
Sometime in the fall of 1978, the leadership in Hanoi decided to mount a multi-division punitive expedition into Cambodia. To lend a veneer of political legitimacy to this military undertaking, Hanoi sponsored the establishment of an anti-Pol Pot movement called the Kampuchean (or Khmer) National United Front for National Salvation, made up of fugitive Cambodians who had fled the Khmer Rouge. Accompanied by token KNUFNS units, the Vietnamese launched their military campaign into Cambodia in late December 1978. The Khmer Rouge proved surprisingly vulnerable to the onslaught, and Phnom Penh fell to Hanoi’s forces in early January 1979. The Khmer Rouge, defeated militarily for the time being, but not destroyed, ignited a persistent insurgency in the remote regions of Cambodia. The country then embarked upon a decade-long period of fitful rehabilitation, made more precarious by the lack of resources, the enduring guerilla war, and the military occupation by Vietnam.
It was evident that the institutions of the new Cambodian regime, which called itself the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, were virtually identical to those of Vietnam. In the PRK, only a single, pro-Vietnamese political party was permitted. This party, the Kampuchean (or Khmer) People’s Revolutionary Party, was headed by a political bureau with a secretariat and a general secretary in charge. It also had a central committee with a control commission to handle day-by-day affairs. The party was backed by a mass movement–the successor to KNUFNS, the Kampuchean (or Khmer) United Front for National Construction and Defense and by a number of front organizations such as labor, women’s, and youth groups. As in Vietnam, party and government were intertwined: the same individuals held concurrent leadership positions in both sectors. The Council of State was the highest government body; it reserved to itself the major decision-making authority. A Council of Ministers exercised cabinet functions and was responsible to a National Assembly elected from KPRP members. The National Assembly heard reports from ministers and from the rest of national leadership, but appeared to exercise little legislative authority.
Cambodian rehabilitation and development were hampered by the civil war that plagued the country after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge. When the Vietnamese drove Pol Pot from power in their December 1978 invasion, they failed to administer the coup de grace to their adversaries, who regrouped their forces and initiated a guerrilla war against Hanoi’s occupation forces. Despite their odious reputation and their abominable human rights record, the Khmer Rouge were able to attract guerrilla recruits to their ranks. The Khmer Rouge applied the same coercive measures in the remote areas of Cambodia under their control as those they had used when they ruled all of Cambodia, and they cast themselves as the sole nationalistic force opposing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. In terms of the number of combatants they could muster, the Khmer Rouge, throughout the decade-long civil war, continued to be the largest single guerrilla force in the field.
For many Cambodians, however, the option of joining either the Khmer Rouge or the Vietnamese-installed regime was a Hobson’s choice. Consequently, soon after Hanoi’s invasion, two additional insurgent movements arose among the Khmer refugees who had fled both Hanoi’s and Pol Pot’s forces. One of these movements coalesced around the elderly nationalistic figure of Son Sann, a cabinet minister under Sihanouk. Son Sann’s movement took the name Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, and its armed wing was called the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces. In the meantime, a third insurgent force rallied under Sihanouk and his son Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Sihanouk’s political movement was called for the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia, and his armed wing, the Sihanouk National Army.
The three insurgent forces maintained their own separate structures; they initiated their own guerrilla campaigns against the PRK regime in Phnom Penh and its Vietnamese mentors. After several years of sustained pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to form a unified front against the Vietnamese occupiers, the Khmer insurgent movements came together in an uneasy union, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, in mid-1982. Sihanouk was chosen president of the CGDK; during the succeeding years, he launched an unending series of attempts to bring reconciliation to his divided country and to achieve some power-sharing arrangement agreeable to all four warring Khmer factions. Although the methods for achieving peace in Cambodia remained in dispute, there was agreement that the Vietnamese occupation forces must depart and that the Khmer Rouge must never again reimpose its brutal rule over Cambodia.
Cambodia’s civil war had an international dimension as well. Arrayed on one side were the PRK, its Vietnamese allies who did much of the fighting, and, by proxy, the Soviet Union. Arrayed on the other side were the CGDK, its ASEAN supporters, and China. Vietnam was involved because it had placed the PRK in power and because it feared being caught between a hostile China and a pro- Chinese Khmer Rouge regime. The Soviet Union was involved because of its treaty relationship with Hanoi and because it provided much of the military hardware used by the PRK and by the Vietnamese. ASEAN was involved because it feared a heavily armed, expansionist Vietnamese state, which might not stop at conquest of the Indochinese Peninsula. China was involved and became the chief supporter of the Khmer Rouge faction in the CGDK because it saw the PRK and Vietnam as two more links in the chain of Soviet client states being forged around it.
As the 1980s closed, there were hopeful signs that the situation in Cambodia might not be as intractable as it had seemed in previous years. For example, the international environment had changed considerably. Soviet withdrawals from Afghanistan and Mongolia, as well as the renewed dialogue between Moscow and Beijing, culminating in a Sino-Soviet summit in May 1989, allowed to some extent Beijing’s fears of encirclement by client states of Moscow. China itself stepped back from its support of the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea s the sole legitimate government of Cambodia, and seemingly accepted the Vietnamese- installed Phnom Penh regime as a partner in any postwar government. The United States continued to oppose the return of the Khmer Rouge to a position of dominance in a future government, but appeared to acquiesce in a power-sharing arrangement between the Phnom Penh regime and the non-communist resistance. Vietnam stepped up the pace of its troop withdrawal from Cambodia, ending its decade of occupation in September 1989–a year ahead of time.
Among the four competing Khmer factions who remained at an impasse over power–sharing in a post-occupation Cambodia, informal meetings in Jakarta in February and May 1989 produced a useful dialogue, but little agreement on matters of substance. The PRK, in an effort to attract the support of Prince Sihanouk and the non- communist resistance and to isolate the Khmer Rouge, amended the Constitution and changed the name of the country, the flag, and the national anthem in April 1989. The amended Constitution, however, upheld the dominant position of the incumbent Kampuchean, or Khmer, People’s Revolutionary Party, and made no provision for the establishment of a multi-party system in the newly named State of Cambodia. As a result of these cosmetic gestures, plus a series of meetings between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as conciliatory utterances by Khmer Rouge leaders, the differences among all sides seem to have narrowed, and the hopes for a successful resolution of the Cambodian situation seemed to have progressed sufficiently for the French government to convene the Paris International Conference on Cambodia from July 30 to August 30, 1989.
The optimism on the eve of the conference–attended by nineteen countries including the United States, as well as the UN Secretary General and the four rival Cambodian factions, proved to be ill- founded. The forum expired amid the intransigence of the Khmer factions on five basic issues: verification of the Vietnamese troop withdrawal; establishment of provisions for a ceasefire in the fighting; determination of the status of Vietnamese residents in Cambodia; official characterization of the Khmer Rouge period as a genocide; and the establishment of a power-sharing arrangement among the four factions. The latter issue proved to be the major stumbling block. The non-communist resistance headed by Prince Sihanouk lobbied for the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge on the grounds that they already exercised a decisive presence in Cambodian affairs and that their exclusion from a future government would lead inevitably to a civil war between them and the coalition that opposed them. The Phnom Penh regime countered that to include the Khmer Rouge in a postwar government would lead to a repetition of the cruelty and repression they wrought during the Democratic Kampuchea period. Thus, the impasse continued, and the failure of the Paris conference brought negotiations to an end for the time being. The State of Cambodia, in a preliminary fashion, however, cast about for a renewal of the dialogue by reconvening informal talks in Jakarta.
In the meantime, pessimistic forecasts of a civil war in Cambodia following the Paris conference, the Vietnamese troop withdrawal, and the end of the dry season, seemed to be borne out. On the western frontier with Thailand, Khmer resistance forces took to the field with renewed aggressiveness, capturing in succession a number of border towns. The single-minded purposefulness of the Khmer Rouge in the rebel offensive came as no surprise. What astonished foreign observers, however, was the unexpected combativeness of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces, which in previous years had been reduced to ineffectuality by the bickering of its leaders. As this book goes to press, the Thai-Cambodian border remains in turmoil, with the Phnom Penh regime in a defensive posture–increasingly hard-pressed to contain rebel actions and confronting increased speculation from foreign observers as to whether it can hold its own or indeed survive without outside help.
Economy – overview: Cambodia’s economy slowed dramatically in 1997-98 due to the regional economic crisis, civil violence, and political infighting. Foreign investment and tourism fell off. In 1999, the first full year of peace in 30 years, progress was made on economic reforms and growth resumed at 4%. GDP growth for 2000 had been projected to reach 5.5%, but the worst flooding in 70 years severely damaged agricultural crops, and high oil prices hurt industrial production, and growth for the year is estimated at only 4%. Tourism is Cambodia’s fastest growing industry, with arrivals up 34% in 2000. The long-term development of the economy after decades of war remains a daunting challenge. 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. On the brighter side, the government is addressing these issues with assistance from bilateral and multilateral donors.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $16.1 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 4% (1999 est.), 4% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $1,300 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
services: 37% (1998 est.)
Population below poverty line: 36% (1997 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.9%
highest 10%: 33.8% (1997)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 4.5% (1999 est.), 1.6% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 6 million (1998 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 80% (1999 est.)
Unemployment rate: 2.8% (1999 est.)
revenues: $363 million
expenditures: $532 million, including capital expenditures of $225 million (2000 est.)
Industries: garments, rice milling, fishing, wood and wood products, rubber, cement, gem mining, textiles
Electricity – production: 147 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 59.18%
other: 0% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 136.7 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (1999)
Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: rice, rubber, corn, vegetables
Exports: $942 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Exports – commodities: timber, garments, rubber, rice, fish
Exports – partners: Vietnam 18%, Thailand 15%, US 10%, Singapore 8%, China 5% (1997)
Imports: $1.3 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports – commodities: cigarettes, gold, construction materials, petroleum products, machinery, motor vehicles
Imports – partners: Thailand 16%, Vietnam 9%, Japan 7%, Hong Kong 5%, China 5% (1997)
Debt – external: $829 million (1999 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $548 million pledged in grants and concessional loans for 2001 by international donors
Currency: riel (KHR)