In April 1975, a five-year push by the Communist Khmer Rouge forces culminated with the capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. The subsequent evacuation of all cities and towns in the country led to one of the world’s greatest modern tragedies when about 1.5 million Cambodians were executed or died from exhaustion and starvation under the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot. In late 1978, Vietnamese forces drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside and began a ten-year occupation of the territory, marking the beginning of 13 years of civil war.
From 1991 onwards, a ceasefire and democratic elections mandated by outside forces including the United Nations restored some peace and normalcy to the country. However, it was not until early 1999 that the remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge finally surrendered. In October 2004, Prince Norodom Sihamoni succeeded to the royal throne. National elections in July 2008 were relatively peaceful. Meanwhile, some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders currently await or have been standing trial under a UN-sponsored tribunal for crimes against humanity that began hearings in 2009.
The garment industry currently employs more than 320,000 people and makes up over 85% of Cambodia’s exports. In 2005, exploitable oil deposits were found under Cambodia’s waters, representing a possible new revenue stream. The tourism industry has continued to grow rapidly with foreign arrivals exceeding 2 million annually in 2007-08. However, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer from the legacy of decades of war. Furthermore, the global financial crisis is weakening demand for Cambodian exports, and due to a shortage of credit, the long-term development of the economy remains a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government is currently working with donors including the World Bank and IMF, to address the country’s many pressing needs.
More than 50% of Cambodia’s population is under than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which lacks even basic infrastructure. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related industries. Corruption and lack of legal protections for investors continue to hamper economic opportunity and competitiveness. Most of Cambodia’s population does not have access to suitable drinking water and an estimated millions of undetonated landmines from the war continue to kill and seriously injure civilians, despite ongoing de-mining efforts.