Frontline World

Cambodia - Pol Pot's Shadow, October, 2002

Synopsis of "Pol Pot's Shadow"

In Search of Justice

Historical Analysis: The U.S. and Cambodia

The Rapper, the Dancer, and the Storyteller

Learn more about Cambodia

Genocide, War Crimes, Politics




Images of Cambodian people and architecture

• The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated in southeast Asia, with Thailand and Laos to the north and Vietnam to the east and south. At roughly 70,000 square miles, it is about the size of Missouri. Cambodia's capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, with a population of 1 million.

• Cambodia, a former French colony that won independence in 1953, was ruled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, then occupied by Vietnam, and is now a multiparty democracy led by King Norodom Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

• On May 25, 1993, U.N.-supervised elections were held in Cambodia. Nearly 90 percent of the populace turned out for the elections, resulting in the reinstatement of the constitutional monarchy in Cambodia, now known as the Kingdom of Cambodia.

• Cambodia is traversed by three mountain ranges -- the Cardamom Mountains in the west, the Elephant Mountains to the southwest and the Dankret Mountain Range in the north. It is home to three major rivers and southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake. There are still some virgin rainforests in its western and northeastern provinces.

• Cambodia's official languages are Khmer, English and French. Population
Cambodia has a population of roughly 11 million people.

• 84% live in rural areas.
• 42% are under 15 years old.
• 29% are from 12 to 22 years old.
• 35% are literate.
• 95% are Theraveda Buddhists.
• Cambodia is one of the world's poorest nations, with a per capita GNP (gross national product) of $280 (1999).

• More than a third of Cambodia's people live below the poverty line, and two-thirds of the people have no access to clean drinking water.

• The infant mortality rate in Cambodia is nearly 10 percent.

• Agriculture is made more difficult by the presence of between 4 million and 6 million land mines. These painful reminders of the nation's war-torn history are scattered throughout the countryside, where they still injure or kill as many as 90 people each month. More than 35,000 Cambodians are amputees as a result of land mine injuries.

• In 2000, Cambodia had a debt of $2 billion. That same year, its gross domestic product was $3 billion.

• Cambodia's chief industries and products are timber, rubber, shipping, rice milling, textiles and fishing.

• Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in Cambodia. In 2000, the country saw more than 351,000 visitors, an increase of 34 percent from the previous year. Culture
• The Khmer Rouge killed more than 2 million people between 1975 and 1979, and they did their best to destroy the country's rich and ancient heritage. Cambodia's most famous temples, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, remain relatively unscathed.

• Cambodia's beautiful and highly stylized royal ballet, perhaps the country's best-known art form, continues because of the determination of a few surviving dancers.

• Apart from Cambodian New Year, which features dancing and temple visits, the Water Festival is the most extravagant and exuberant festival in the Khmer calendar. Starting on the day of the full moon in late October or early November, up to a million people flock to the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers in Phnom Penh to watch traditional boats racing on a huge scale. More than 2,500 paddlers compete in a contest that dates back to the age of the powerful Khmer Empire, which was thought to have peaked during the 12th century.

• In the ninth lunar month, Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben, the 15-day-long Buddhist Festival of the Dead. Many families visit pagodas and temples to remember those tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge and to make offerings.

CIA Worldfactbook,
2001, National Institute of Statistics of Cambodia, Embassy of Cambodia, UNFPA/Personalizing Population,, UNICEF, UN WHO, Cambodia Mine Action Centre, American Red Cross, The World Bank Group, Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia