Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The fate of Cambodia shocked the world when the radical communist Khmer Rouge under their leader Pol Pot seized power in 1975 after years of guerrilla warfare.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the next three years, many from exhaustion or starvation. Others were tortured and executed.

Today, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on aid. Foreign donors have urged the government to clamp down on pervasive corruption.

Cambodia is burdened with the legacy of decades of conflict; unexploded munitions - thought to number in the millions - continue to kill and maim civilians, despite an ongoing de-mining drive.

Only now is the country beginning to put the mechanism in place to bring those responsible for the "killing fields" to justice. Cambodia and the UN have agreed to set up a tribunal to try the surviving leaders of the genocide years.

The tribunal held its first public hearing - a bail request by one of the defendants - in November 2007.

The first trial - of former prison warder Kaing Guek Eav, or Comrade Duch - started in 2009 and reached a guilty verdict in July 2010. The trial of four more Khmer Rouge leaders is expected to begin in 2011.

In pursuit of a rural utopia, the Khmer Rouge abolished money and private property and ordered city dwellers into the countryside to cultivate the fields.

The effects can still be seen today, with around 70% of Cambodia's workforce employed in subsistence farming.

The Mekong River provides fertile, irrigated fields for rice production.

Exports of clothing generate most of Cambodia's foreign exchange and tourism is also important.

The imposing temple complex at Angkor, built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings, is a UN heritage site and a big draw for visitors.

Well over half of Cambodia is forested, but illegal logging is robbing the country of millions of dollars of badly-needed revenue.

International watchdog Global Witness claims top officials are involved in the trade. The environment is also suffering, with topsoil erosion and flooding becoming prevalent.

The spread of HIV/Aids is another threat; however, public health campaigns have reduced the rate of infection.

Since 2009, Thai troops have sporadically clashed with Cambodian forces in several disputed areas along the two countries' border.

    * Full name: Kingdom of Cambodia
    * Population: 15 million (UN, 2010)
    * Capital and largest city: Phnom Penh
    * Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)
    * Major language: Khmer
    * Major religion: Buddhism
    * Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
    * Monetary unit: 1 riel = 100 sen
    * Main exports: Clothing, timber, rubber
    * GNI per capita: US $650 (World Bank, 2009)
    * Internet domain: .kh
    * International dialling code: +855

Head of state: King Norodom Sihamoni

The son of former king Norodom Sihanouk, King Sihamoni was sworn in as monarch on 29 October 2004. The former king had abdicated because of poor health.

Born in 1953, he studied in Czechoslovakia. He left Cambodia for France after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. He is a trained classical ballet dancer.

Cambodia's kings once enjoyed a semi-divine status; today, the monarch's role is mainly ceremonial.

Prime minister: Hun Sen
Hun Sen, one of the world's longest-serving prime ministers, has been in power in various coalitions since 1985.

He was re-elected by parliament in July 2004 after nearly a year of political stalemate. His Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won general elections in 2003, but without enough seats for it to rule alone.

It finally struck a deal with the royalist Funcinpec party, which at the time was led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in June 2004.

Hun Sen is no stranger to controversy. He seized power from his then co-prime minister, Prince Ranariddh, in 1997. More recently, some Western countries have said his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

Born in 1952, Hun Sen joined the Communist Party in the late 1960s and, for a time, was a member of the Khmer Rouge. He has denied accusations that he was once a top official within the movement, saying he was only an ordinary soldier.

During the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970s he joined anti-Khmer Rouge forces based in Vietnam.

From : BBC News