Cambodia Overview

Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos. It was during this period that Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world – the Angkor temple complex. The most successful of Angkor’s kings, Jayavarman II, Indravarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays  (gigantic man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use today.

Between the early 9th century and the early 15th century, 26 monarchs ruled successively over the Khmer kingdom (known as Angkor, the modern name for its capital city). The successors of Jayavarman II built the great temples for which Angkor is famous. Historians have dated more than a thousand temple sites and over a thousand stone inscriptions (most of them on temple walls) to this era. Notable among the Khmer builder-kings were Suyavarman II, who built the temple known as Angkor Wat in the mid-12th century, and Jayavarman VII, who built the Bayon temple at Angkor Thum and several other large Buddhist temples half a century later. Jayavarman VII, a fervent Buddhist, also built hospitals and rest houses along the roads that crisscrossed the kingdom. Most of the monarchs, however, seem to have been more concerned with displaying and increasing their power than with the welfare of their subjects

Forces of the Thai kingdom of Ayudhya sacked Angkor in 1431, leaving the Khmers plagued by dynastic rivalries and continual warfare with the Thais for a century and a half. The Spanish and Portuguese, who had recently become active in the region, also played a part in these wars until resentment of their power led to the massacre of the Spanish garrison at Phnom Penh in 1599. A series of weak kings ruled from 1600 until the French arrived in 1863. After some gunboat diplomacy and the signing of a treaty of protectorate in 1863, the French went on to force King Norodom to sign another treaty, this time turning his country into a virtual colony in 1884.

 




Flag of Cambodia

Royal Arms



Modern History

Following the arrival of the French, a relatively peaceful period followed (even the peasant uprising of 1916 was considered peaceful). In 1941 the French installed 19-year-old Prince Sihanouk on the Cambodian throne, on the assumption that he would prove suitably pliable. This turned out to be a major miscalculation as the years after 1945 were strife-torn, with the waning of French colonial power aided by the proximity of the Franco-Viet Minh War that raged in Vietnam and Laos. Cambodian independence was eventually proclaimed in 1953, the enigmatic King Norodom Sihanouk going on to dominate national politics for the next 15 years before being overthrown by the army.

In 1969 the United States carpet-bombed suspected communist base camps in Cambodia, killing thousands of civilians and dragging the country unwillingly into the US-Vietnam conflict. American and south Vietnamese troops invaded the country in 1970 to eradicate Vietnamese communist forces but were unsuccessful; they did manage, however, to push Cambodia’s leftist guerillas (the Khmer Rouge) further into the country’s interior. Savage fighting soon engulfed the entire country, with Phnom Penh falling to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.

Over the next four years the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot’s leadership, systematically killed an estimated two million Cambodians (targeting the educated in particular) in a brutal bid to turn Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. Currency was abolished, postal services were halted, the population became a work force of slave labourers and the country was almost entirely cut off from the outside world. Responding to recurring armed incursions into their border provinces, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, forcing the Khmer Rouge to flee to the relative sanctuary of the jungles along the Thai border. From there, they conducted a guerilla war against the Vietnamese-backed government throughout the late 1970s and 80s.

In October 1991 Cambodia’s warring factions, the UN, and a number of interested foreign nations signed an agreement in Paris intended to end the conflict in Cambodia. The agreement provided for a temporary power-sharing arrangement between a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and a Supreme National Council (SNC) made up of delegates from the various Cambodian factions. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former king and prime minister of Cambodia, served as president of the SNC.

In mid-1993, UN-administered elections led to a new constitution and the reinstatement of Norodom Sihanouk as king. The Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections, rejected peace talks and continued to buy large quantities of arms from the Cambodian military leadership. In the months following the election, a government-sponsored amnesty secured the first defections from Khmer ranks, with more defections occurring from 1994 when the Khmer Rouge was finally outlawed by the Cambodian government. A royalist party, known by its French acronym FUNCINPEC, won the most seats in the election, followed by the CPP, led by Hun Sen. Reluctant to give up power, Hun Sen threatened to upset the election results. Under a compromise arrangement, a three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk’s sons, became first prime minister, while Hun Sen became second prime minister.

Pol Pot death in April 1998 from an apparent heart attack, and by early 1999 most of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and leaders had surrendered. Rebel troops were integrated into the Cambodian army. In 1999 two Khmer Rouge leaders were arrested and charged with genocide for their part in the atrocities

 Recent history

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni is the son of His Majesty Norodom Sihanouk, former King of  Cambodia and of Her Majesty Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk of Cambodia.

Sihamoni’s selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king’s brother), both members of the throne council. He was crowned in Phnom Penh on October 29. Sihamoni remains a bachelor and has no children, which means he does not have a direct successor if one were to be required. However, this should not be a problem as the King in Cambodia is selected by the throne council.
Norodom Sihamoni speaks Khmer, French, Czech, English and Russian. He is the first Czech speaking monarch after Ferdinand I of Austria.

Other Fact View

Population: 15 million (UN, 2010)

Capital: Phnom Penh

Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)

Major language: Khmer,English French

Major religion: Buddhism

Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)

Monetary unit: 1 riel = 100 sen

Main exports: Clothing, timber, rubber

GNI per capita: US$880 (World Bank, 2012)

Voltage: 220v/50Hz

Internet domain: .kh

International dialing code: +855

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