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Cambodia Flag


Full Country Name: The Kingdom of Cambodia
Country Profile: Cambodia


Cambodia Map



Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq mi)
Population: 11,438,000 (March 1998 census). 14.1m (UN, 2003)
Capital City: Phnom Penh (1m)
People: Khmer (90 to 95%), with the remainder being Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham or about one dozen other smaller ethnic groups.
Languages: Khmer/Cambodian
Religion(s): The population is largely Buddhist, with a small Islamic minority.
Currency: Riel
Major political parties: Cambodian People's Party (CPP), National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) (acronym from French initials), Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Head of State: King Norodom Sihamoni
Prime Minister: Hun Sen
Foreign Minister: Hor Namhong
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).


Cambodia, with an area of 69,898 square miles, is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and has a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand. Apart from the Cardamom Mountains in the South-west and uplands in the North-east, the country is predominantly flat. The scarp slope of the Dangrek Mountains marks much of the northern border with Thailand. In the centre of the country is the largest lake in South East Asia, the Tonle Sap. The capital, Phnom Penh, is located at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. Beyond the river valleys the land is frequently infertile, because rainfall is scant and there is little irrigation. Most Cambodians live in rural areas, cultivating rice as their staple crop.


Recent History

Cambodia was governed from Hanoi as part of French Indo-China from 1864 until 1954 when King Norodom Sihanouk, who had been placed on the throne by the French in 1941, achieved full independence. He ruled Cambodia until 1970, when Marshal Lon Nol ousted him in a coup. Prince Sihanouk, as he was known from 1955 to 1993, then linked up with the Khmer Rouge, an extreme left-wing party, led by Pol Pot which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 when it is estimated around 1.7m Cambodians (over 20% of the population) died from starvation, disease or execution. At the end of 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, later renamed the State of Cambodia (SOC).

The Khmer Rouge regrouped their forces along the Thai border and waged a war against the Phnom Penh government. The Vietnamese eventually withdrew their forces from Cambodia in 1989, paving the way for the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 and the establishment of UNTAC (the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia – the largest ever UN peacekeeping operation). FUNCINPEC (Royalists) won a narrow victory in the UNTAC organised democratic elections in 1993 and formed a coalition government with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) but heavy fighting broke out between the two coalition partners in 1997 in advance of the 1998 elections, won by CPP. A new coalition government between CPP and FUNCINPEC was formed in November 1998 with Hun Sen as Prime Minister. A Senate was established in 1998.

Longer Historical Perspective

The Khmer people have lived in the Indochina area for at least two thousand years. The Khmer Kingdom, with its capital at Angkor from around 900 AD, was the most powerful mainland Southeast Asian state for most of the period from 802 to 1432. The Kingdom enjoyed its heyday around 1200, when it included much of present-day Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. From 1432 the Kingdom declined, losing much territory to increasingly powerful neighbours.
This is an external link BBC Monitoring Timeline


Recent Political Developments

Inaugral local elections were held in February 2002 as part of the Cambodian government's drive towards decentralisation. CPP won a landslide victory. They also won the more recent National Elections which were held on 27 July 2003. CPP gained 73 of the 123 parliamentary seats, FUNCINPEC 26 and the SRP 24. But CPP failed to win the requisite two third majority in Parliament to form a new government. Negotiations to form a new coalition government concluded in July 2004 after nearly a year of political stalemate. The new coalition faces a backlog of work built up during the impasse.

During the past five years Cambodia has enjoyed much more political stability and territorial unity than for decades, with a greater sense of security amongst the general population. The government improved its image by successfully staging a number of high level international meetings, but then suffered a serious blow as a result of anti-Thai riots in January 2003 when the Thai Embassy and much Thai-owned property were destroyed by rioters. The Government is approaching the handling of the Khmer Rouge, who effectively collapsed as a significant threat in 1997/8, with greater confidence and on 6 June 2003 signed an Agreement with the UN on a Khmer Rouge Tribunal to try those Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for human rights abuses during Khmer Rouge rule (1975-1979). Despite international concerns over some aspects of the agreement it is hoped that with the good will of all sides these issues will be resolved and a Khmer Rouge Tribunal will be established soon. A legislative amendment was passed by the Cambodia parliament on 5 October allowing the formation of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal; discussions continue with the UN over key issues such as funding.


Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 3.8bn (2002)
GDP per head: US$278 (2002)
GDP (PPP) per head: US$1,446 (2000)
Annual Growth: 5% per annum (2003 estimate)
Inflation: 3.5% (2003)
Major Industries: Agriculture, fishing and forestry, mining, construction, garment manufacture
Major trading partners: United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
Exchange Rate: £1=7,180 Riel (January 2004)

Cambodia remains largely agrarian with one in three Cambodians living below the poverty line. Less than 54% of Cambodians are economically productive. The infrastructure is rudimentary and the country remains dependent on external donor funding for over a third of its expenditure. Since 1998 the economy has improved slowly, but there has been little noticeable improvement in rural areas. Total foreign investment in 2002 was US$236.6 million. Garment production is the largest manufacturing sector. Protracted problems of revenue collection, systemic corruption and smuggling remain.

Progress has been made with Thailand over territorial rights to the disputed oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand. It is hoped that Cambodia's membership of the World Trade Organisation will accelerate reform of the tax and customs systems and help promote fiscal and corporate governance generally.


Cambodia's Relations with Neighbours

Cambodia enjoys cordial bilateral relations with all its regional neighbours. Relations with Thailand however deteriorated sharply in January 2003 when anti-Thai riots erupted in Phnom Penh leading to the burning down of the Thai Embassy and the premises of a number of Thai businesses. Relations have now returned to normal. Since Cambodia joined the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999, its foreign policy has been largely regionally-focused.

Cambodia's Relations with the International Community

Cambodia benefited enormously from the involvement of the UN, in particular the UK and the other members of the Security Council, in reaching a settlement of its civil war in the early 1990s. Thereafter the international community particularly China, Japan, the US and the EU have invested heavily in the reconstruction of the country, which was severely damaged by 20 years of civil war.


The human rights situation has improved in Cambodia over the past ten years; for example the written press in Cambodia is one of the most open and free in Asia. There have been three free, multi-party elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003 and local elections in February 2002; opposition parties can campaign; and there is an active NGO community. But there are still many areas of major concern such as corruption and impunity coupled with the lack of an independent judiciary, land rights and the abuse of women and children. Investigations into the murder of five Britons by remnants of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990's. Some success has been achieved over the last two years in bringing to justice those responsible.


The average life expectancy at birth is 53.9 years for men and 58.6 years for women. This compares to 67.3 years for men and 73.2 years for women in neighbouring Thailand. More than 2000 mothers die of pregnancy and childbirth each year. More than 40,000 children die before they reach the age of 1. One child in every eight dies before reaching the age of 5. Malaria and dengue fever are widespread. HIV Infection rates have declined from 3.9% in 1997 to 2.8% in 2000 - 259,000 have been infected with HIV of whom 94,000 have died. An estimated 7,300 new infections will occur this year.

Cambodia has made great progress in the reduction of undernourishment. Between 1980 and 1996 the proportion of undernourished people declined from 62% to 33% of the population - the biggest reduction outside Africa. But 63% of young children and 58% of women are anaemic, 12% of school children have goitre due to iodine deficiency and 8% of pregnant mothers suffer from night blindness due to Vitamin A deficiencies.




There have been serious terrorist attacks in the region. Westerners were deliberately targeted in terrorist attacks in Bali (2002) and Jakarta (August 2003 and September 2004) deliberately targeted Westerners.

28 children were taken hostage by four gunmen at the International School of Siem Reap on 16 June. The siege has ended, with the death of one child. The hostage takers were all detained.

You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners. Please read Security & General Tips and Risk of Terrorism when Travelling Overseas on the FCO website for further information and guidance.

British institutions and businesses should keep their security arrangements under review. British and international schools should be especially careful.


You should be aware of the risk of armed robbery and other crime (including sexual assault) particularly in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville after dark. You should be on your guard against pickpockets and bag snatchers particularly when travelling on local transport. Foreigners walking or travelling as passengers on motorcycle taxis in downtown Phnom Penh and other cities have had bags snatched or have been robbed at gunpoint after dark and increasingly during daylight hours. Travel by car will significantly reduce the risk. There have been several violent incidents involving foreign nationals around Phnom Penh night spots that are popular with tourists, in particular the Heart of Darkness on Street 51.

There have been a small number of grenade / bomb attacks, although most have been linked to business or personal disputes. There is no evidence to suggest that British nationals, or Western interests more generally, have been the targets of these attacks. However, there is a danger foreigners might get caught up in any further attacks.

There have been attacks against ships in the South China Sea and surrounding seas. Mariners should be vigilant; reduce opportunities for theft; establish secure areas onboard; and report all incidents to the coastal and Flag State authorities.

Political Situation

You are advised to keep away from large gatherings, demonstrations and political meetings. You should also avoid expressing forcible opinions on Cambodian politics or culture.

Local Travel

Cambodia remains heavily affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Mined areas are frequently unmarked. You should therefore not stray off main routes in rural areas, including around temple complexes.

Seasonal flooding occurs both in Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia starting at the end of July or early August and continuing until November. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time.

Road Safety

The majority of roads in Cambodia are in a very poor condition. Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of an accident. Vehicles often do not have lights and cattle stray onto roads. Overloaded vehicles coupled with erratic driving skills make road traffic accidents (RTAs) potentially the greatest risk to visitors. Due to the high number of RTAs involving tourists on motorcycles in Siem Reap, the local police have banned rental outlets from hiring motorcycles to tourists. Furthermore, the police authorities are now stopping tourists on motorcycles to advise them to return bikes immediately.

Local legislation requires holders of International Driving permits to exchange these for Cambodian driving licenses. There is a fee for the exchange of US $25.

Sea/River Safety

Accidents have occurred due to overloaded or poorly maintained boats on all routes. Tourists report that boat owners continue to overload boats. Life-vests and other safety equipment are not routinely provided. Boat travel on rivers becomes difficult in the dry season (March – May)

Air Safety

There have been no civilian air crashes in Cambodia since 1997. However, there are doubts about the maintenance and safety of some Cambodian registered aircraft operating flights within Cambodia.

Rail Safety

We advise against travelling by train. Trains and rail track are poorly maintained which increases the risk of accidents.


You are advised to keep away from large gatherings, demonstrations and political meetings. You should also avoid expressing forcible opinions on Cambodian politics or culture.

The sexual abuse of children is a serious crime. The Cambodian government continues to crack down on those who commit such offences. Those arrested and convicted can expect to receive long sentences in a Cambodian prison where facilities are very poor. The UK has no prisoner transfer agreement with Cambodia and those found guilty can expect to serve their full prison term in Cambodia. Legislation in the UK, The Sex Offenders Act 1997, can be used to prosecute in the UK those who commit sex offences against children abroad and has already been used successfully in the case of a British national who committed such offences in Cambodia.

You should never get involved with drugs. Prison sentences can be long and served in grim conditions.

Homosexuality is illegal.

You should not take photographs in or near airports or military bases. You should ask permission before taking pictures of members of the public especially monks and other religious figures. When entering religious sites it is a courtesy to dress in appropriate clothing, avoiding shorts and torn clothing. You are expected to remove your shoes when entering temples and private accommodation.

Last updated: 2 November 2004


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