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Geography and Climate

Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 square kilometres in the southwestern part of mainland South-East Asia, sharing borders with Thailand, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Vietnam. Cambodia also has a coastline of 803 kilometres along the Gulf of Thailand. An estimated 20 percent of land is used for agriculture and five percent consists of rivers and lakes. Prominent features of the Cambodian landscape are the large Tonle Sap (Great Lake), the Bassac River systems, and the Mekong River. The Tonle Sap is linked to Phnom Penh, the capital city, by a 100-kilometre long river.
Cambodia is composed of 20 provinces, three of which have maritime boundaries, two municipalities, 172 districts, and 1,547 communes.
Cambodia’s climate, like the rest of South-East Asia, is dominated by the monsoons. The cooler, dry monsoon season runs from November to February; the hot season lasts from March to May; and the rainy season lasts from June to October.


Cambodia's roots can be traced back to the 1st century, when the Indianized state of Funan took hold and lasted until the 6th century. Cambodia had one of the world's greatest ancient civilizations during the Angkor Empire, which was established in 802 by King Jayavarman II. Angkor, symbolized by the famed Angkor Wat, became South-East Asia's most powerful empire and represents the pinnacle of Khmer civilization in terms of culture, engineering, and administration.
The country's modern history is in stark contrast to the glorious Angkor Kingdom and is characterized by conflict and tragedy. After becoming a French protectorate in the 19th century, Cambodians struggled for their independence in the first half of the 20th century, finally obtaining it in 1953. The charismatic King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated his thrown in 1955 in order to enter politics, and Cambodia functioned as a multiparty democracy in the 1950s and '60s. The pressures of the war in Vietnam and the Lao People's Demcratic Republic inevitably affected Cambodia, and in 1970 General Lon Nol overthrew Prince Sihanouk.
The Lon Nol regime was short-lived, as the communist Khmer Rouge took control in 1975.
The Khmer Rouge years were Cambodia's darkest time, as 1.7 million people died. In early 1979 the Khmer Rouge were overthrown and replaced by a Vietnamese-backed government.
The Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, but the country continued to be plagued by civil strife.
Finally, in 1991 a political settlement paved the way for a peacekeeping mission called the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Elections were held in 1993 under the authority of UNTAC, marking Cambodia's transition to a newly emerging multiparty democracy. Cambodia is now a constitutional monarchy under King Sihanouk, who returned as head of state as part of the settlement.
In April 1999 Cambodia became a full member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which fulfilled the long-awaited goal of having all ten South-East Asian countries join the regional grouping.


Cambodia’s population is approximately 11 million, with over one million people living in the capital, Phnom Penh. The population is relatively homogeneous with over 90 percent being ethnic Khmer. Other groups include the Chinese (one percent), Vietnamese (one percent), Cham Muslims, and a small number of indigenous minorities.
Approximately one-quarter of Cambodia's population is in the 10-14 year old age bracket, and nearly 45 percent is under the age of 14, providing the potential for a strong labour force in the coming years. One of the challenges, however, is to overcome the high level of poverty and illiteracy so that this forthcoming labour force can be utilized to its maximum potential.


The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, which is spoken throughout the country with very few regional variations. Some of the older generation still speak French, but English is now widely used in business, government, and especially with the younger generation. Chinese is also fairly common. Additionally, the hill tribes have their own local languages.


The Cambodian economy was decimated by the decades of war, which officially ended in the late 1990s. As a result, the economy has only had a chance to fully develop over the past few years. Compounding matters is the legacy of the Khmer Rouge years, when the economy was completely dismantled in an attempt to build an agrarian society.
In light of these setbacks, Cambodia's economy has made tremendous achievements in a very short time. Starting in 1993, the government moved toward restoring fiscal and monetary discipline and establishing good working relations with international financial institutions Cambodia now has one of the most liberal economies in Asia and some of the most generous investment incentives. Foreign investors are warmly welcomed in almost any sector, and unlike other countries in the region, Cambodia does not have the burden of a large stateowned economic sector. Several multinational firms operate in Cambodia to take advantage of the business opportunities and natural resources, and local businesses are springing up throughout the country.
In order to spur investment, the government in January 1999 unveiled a reform programme that commits to "strengthening the institutions responsible for promoting investments, notably in order to improve the approval procedures for investment applications, to strictly enforce the rules in effect and banish illegal activities and corruption."
Cambodia remains, however, a major recipient of foreign assistance and aid from multilateral agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations, but it also receives assistance from bilateral donors around the world.


The new constitution was adopted in September 1993, establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia as a constitutional monarchy with King Sihanouk as the head of government. The National Assembly contains 120 members, with elections to be held every five years. The current Prime Minister is Hun Sen, and the President of the national Assembly is Prince Ranariddh, King Sihanouk's son. The most recent elections were held in 1998. Cambodia has 21 government ministries. The country is divided into 21 administrative units: 20 provinces and the capital, Phnom Penh.
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