Heir to the ancient Khmer Empire, modern-day Cambodia is benefiting from two decades of relative stability, having endured civil war and the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
Painful memories still endure of the radical communist Khmer Rouge’s time in power under the leadership of Pol Pot between 1975 and 1978, when two million people died in the regime’s brutal pursuit of a rural utopia.
The economy is dominated by garment-making, but tourism is expanding, and Cambodia hopes to tap into offshore oil and gas reserves and draw in overseas investment to replace aid.
Corruption is deep-rooted and Cambodia is still one of the world’s poorest countries, with most of the workforce still employed in subsistence farming.
Head of state: King Norodom Sihamoni
King Sihamoni – a trained ballet dancer – was sworn in as monarch on 29 October 2004, after his father, the widely venerated and long-serving King Sihanouk, abdicated because of poor health.
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.
A former communist and – briefly – a member of the Khmer Rouge – he was last reappointed by parliament in September 2013 for a further five-year term, in the face of mass demonstrations and opposition allegations of fraud in the July elections.
Since seizing power from his then co-prime minister, Prince Ranariddh, brother of the then king, Sihanouk, in 1997, critics believe Hun Sen has become increasingly authoritarian, using a mixture of electoral fraud, corruption and intimidation to maintain quasi-dictatorial rule.
Many Cambodian newspapers and private broadcasters depend on support from political parties. Prime Minister Hun Sen and his allies control several outlets.
Imprisonment can be imposed for “spreading false information or insulting public officials”, Freedom House reports. Mam Sonando, the owner of Beehive Radio, one of the few outlets critical of the government, was jailed for 20 years in 2012 on charges he helped foment a secessionist rebellion.
Some key events in Cambodia’s history:
802-1431 – Khmer Empire centred on Angkor. After the empire’s decline, its heartland shifts south to Phnom Penh and becomes modern-day Cambodia.
1863-1953 – French colonial rule.
1941 – Sihanouk becomes king.
1941-45 – Japanese occupation.
1970 – Prime Minister Lon Nol mounts a successful coup against Sihanouk, who organises a guerrilla movement from exile.
1975-79 – Lon Nol is overthrown by the communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, who institute violent totalitarian rule until ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
1981 – The pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party wins elections, but its rule is not internationally recognised and later faces mounting guerrilla resistance.
1991 – A peace agreement is signed in Paris, ushering in a power-sharing administration. Sihanouk becomes head of state.
1997 – Hun Sen mounts a coup against the prime minister, Prince Ranariddh, effectively taking sole power.
- See full timeline
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