About Cambodia

Located in South East Asia, Cambodia is a small country of approximately 14.5 million people. It shares borders with Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. People from Cambodia call themselves and their language Khmer. Theravada Buddhism is the major religion of the country with as much as 96% of the population practicing it. Much of Cambodia is still underdeveloped and the economy is dominated by agriculture, with a majority of residents (over 70%) living in the countryside and earning income through farming, coal making and processing, or cutting and selling wood. The country also relies heavily on tourism, with somewhere around two million tourists visiting the Angkor Wat and Cambodia's other temples annually.

Cambodia sought protection from its neighbors and became a French colony in the late 19th century. It gained its independence in 1953 and was ruled relatively peacefully by King Norodom Sihanouk. In 1970, Sihanouk was ousted by a military coup led by general Lon Nol with the help of the United States.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge entered the capital city of Phnom Penh and took power from the Lon Nol government. The rebels sent Cambodian city-dwellers into the countryside to work in the fields. Under the leadership of Pol Pot and with the support of China and others, the regime attempted to violently restructure the country as an agrarian, communal society. Scholars still debate what actually happened, but most agree they tried to create their own society based on Maoism and a return to 11th century Angkorian civilization (although this is an oversimplification).  We do know the Khmer Rouge insisted on eliminating anything they deemed “Western"—schools were closed, hospitals and modern medicine was abandoned, libraries and books were burned. They viewed uneducated farmers as a true people, and professors, businessmen, lawyers, artists, and others who were educated were killed

During his three year, eight month, and twenty day reign, out of a population of between 8-13 million, at least 1-3 million Cambodians died of torture, execution, disease, exhaustion, and starvation (Most agree about ¼ of the population died).  No intervention was made to stop the effects of the genocidal "killing fields" until Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, ending the Khmer Rouge's rule.

The 1980’s were a time of insecurity and violence in Cambodia. Three different political factions ruled different parts of the country, and there was a constant struggle for power. While the Khmer Rouge was removed from power, it had strong support in many districts, especially in the countryside. They continued to operate (a Khmer Rouge representative even held Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations) and terrorized villages that did not support them. During the years from 1978-1989, over 200,000 Cambodian refugees fled their country. Constant attacks as well as sanctions from the United States and other Western countries (the US supported the Khmer Rouge into the 1990’s) destroyed Cambodia’s economy, keeping its citizens in poverty and preventing any sort of reconstruction.

In 1991, a peace settlement amongst parties was reached. The United Nations sent 26,000 peacekeepers, police and civilians to construct a temporary government and organize elections. After the elections, the Khmer Rouge resumed efforts to regain control but they were ultimately unsuccessful. After years of warfare and strife, Cambodians are still at work clearing thousands of land mines, creating commerce, and reviving their culture. As surprising as it sounds, 1999 was the first full year of peace in 30 years.

The current situation in Cambodia, while vastly better than the previous decades, still requires some outside help. Although things  are improving, 80% of Cambodians remain subsistence farmers or work for low wages in food processing and forestry. According to UNICFEF , 40% of the population lives on about $1.25 or less per day. In rural areas, some have no potable water, phones, electricity, or permanent jobs, and many have little food. Another study by UNICEF noted that 31% still lack access to improved clean water sources. There are only six national highways in Cambodia, and rural roads are often impassable even on foot.

Today, Cambodia continues to be financially and morally challenged by widespread corruption, the presence of one of Asia's highest HIV infection rates, and the support of thousands of victims of land mine injuries.  But things are improving everyday and Khmers are optimistic about their future.

 



Office: Vihea Chen Village,
Sangkat Svay Dangkum Siem Reap
Province, Cambodia.
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           +1 626 825 4445 (USA)
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