Cambodia: Country Overview
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a successor state to the vast Angkor Empire which ruled the Indochinese Peninsula between the 11th and 14th centuries. From 1863 till 1953 it was a French protectorate.
Cambodia's 14 million people are largely Buddhist; their major economic activity is agriculture - chiefly rice cultivation.
The country's modern history has been bloody. Millions perished during the American bombing of 1968-73, the 1970-75 civil war, the Pol Pot regime (1975-79), and the twenty-year Khmer Rouge insurgency which followed.
This era of conflict and genocide has caused fundamental damage to Cambodia, from which the country may still be suffering 'one hundred years from now', according to US State Department Asia specialist Richard Holbrooke.
The US bombing (ostensibly aimed at a Communist insurgency) killed up to 600,000 civilians, most of them on the country's highly productive central rice plain.
A 1970 coup replaced King Sihanouk with rule by an incompetent and murderous general (Lon Nol), which paved the way for the Communist revolution. This succeeded five years later in 1975.
The effects of the Khmer Rouge era on today's Cambodia are hard to over-estimate. Pol Pot abolished education and religion wholesale, and emptied the cities of people. Most teachers and university lecturers, monks, civil servants, businesspeople and artists were liquidated. This left mostly a poorly-educated peasantry, and former Communist soldiers, to run the regime which came about when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
When Pol Pot's armies retreated to the country's margins, a long insurgency began which took 20 years to quell. The last fighting subsided only in 1999.
This quarter-century of war has left Cambodia backward and poor. The country ranks 136th of 179 countries on the UN's Human Development Index; 130th of 176 in its Education Index; 102nd of 167 in The Economist's Democracy Index; and 162nd of 179 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
During the successive periods of conflict, tens of millions of landmines were sown across Cambodia. As a result, thousands of innocent Cambodians have been killed and disabled.
Across Cambodia, mine-clearing is being pursued by the Mine Action Group and other organisations, but it is a slow business, and there are still scores of fresh victims each year.
For 20 years, from the tourist strips of Phnom Penh to the dusty streets of the country towns, there has been no more common sight in Cambodia than amputee beggars.