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Cambodia Brief History

Cambodia Information

Cambodia's modern-day culture has its roots in the 1st to 6th centuries in a state referred to as Funan, know as the oldest Indianised state in Southeast Asia. It is from this period that evolved Cambodia's language, part of the Mon-khmer family, which contains elements of Sanskrit, its ancient religion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Historians have noted, for example, that Cambodians can be distinguished from their neighbours by their clothing - checkered scarves known as karmas are worn instead of straw hats.

Funan gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. The following 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos

It was during this period that the Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world - the Angkor temple complex. This complex covers an area of 400 square kilometers in the province of Siem Reap. The area contains more that 100 temples and more than 1080 temples across the country. The most successful of the Angkor's kings, Jayavarman II and Jayavarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (gigantic man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use today.

As the Angkor period ended, Cambodia's capital moved south to Longvek, then to Oudong, and finally to the present-day capital pf Phnom Penh. Among the main features of the post-Angkorean era, besides the movement of the capital, was a widespread conversion to Theravada Buddhism, illustrated on temple carvings, where Buddhist features gradually replaced Hindu features. 

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The 15th to 17th centuries represented a time of foreign influence, when expansionist Siam and Vietnam fought over Cambodia.

By the mid-1800s, Cambodia, like most other countries in Asia, came under increasing pressure from European colonial powers. In 1863, King Norodom signed a Protectorate Treaty with France.

In 1945, the Japanese briefly ousted the Frence. Encouraged, King Sihanouk campaigned tirelessly and in 1953 he succeeded in winning independence for Cambodia, effectively ending 90 years under French protectorate. King Sihanouk abdicated the throne to his father and took the reins of government himself as head of state.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s Cambodia was self-sufficient and prospered in many areas. However, the quagmire of growing war in Vietnam spread relentlessly, and in 1970, as war spilled over into Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol.

On 17 April 1975, Lon Nol's weak-ended government was itself overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. They immediately emptied the capital of its residents and brought Prince Sihanouk back, only to hold him under house arrest. The ensuing four years "Reign of terror" under Pol Pot's democratic Kampuchea resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 milliion people.

In 1979, the Khmer Rouge was overthrown and the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. In 1989 the Vietnamese withdrew the last of their troops and the government renamed the country State of Cambodia. The SOC ruled independently until the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991 created the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC). Supported by the presence of some 22000 UN troops, UNTAC in May 1993 supervised general eletions in Cambodia. A second general election was held in 1998.

Cambodia today enjoys a parliamentary system with one prime minister, Hun Sen. A constitution was adopted in 1993, the same year King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the throne. His Majesty remains a symbol of national unity to his people.

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