Cambodia's cultural and ethnic roots can be traced back to the Angkor Empire,which extended over Southeast Asia between the 10th and 13th centuries. The empire’s reach eventually declined, following conflicts between the Thai and Cham people. The French took over Cambodia in 1887, until its people gained independence in 1953.
By 1975, after years of civil war, the communist group, Khmer Rouge took control of the country. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities, targeting the educated, artists, writers, and religious leaders. Many people were forced to work in countryside and nearly 1.7 million died from torture and starvation. Three years later, Vietnamese forces invaded the country. The invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge government, but led to another decade of civil war. Peace agreements monitored by the UN resulted in coalition governments. The Khmer Rouge finally surrendered in 1999.
The current Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been a regular figure in the country’s politics for more than two decades. A former communist, he was a part of the Khmer Rouge, but spent most of the Pol Pot years in exile, with the opposition forces in Vietnam. In 2004, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk gave up the throne. He was succeeded by his son Prince Norodom Sihamoni.
Nearly 70% of Cambodian population is dependent on farming. The Mekong River provides fertile land for growing rice. Cambodian economy also depends on tourism. The Angkor Wat temple, which survived the decades of civil war, is an international heritage property monitored by the UN.
Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. As a result, it is placed on Tier 2 Watch List because it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, more recently, the Cambodian government is making significant efforts to comply with those minimum standards.
Last updated: July 7, 2010
Sources: BBC, UN Data, World Bank, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.