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Cambodia

In 1975, after years of civil war, Cambodia suffered a devastating blow to its development as the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's vision for a Cambodia absent of any social institutions such as banks, universities, religions or any modern technology centered on a return to an agrarian communist society.

 

The Khmer Rouge guerilla organization sought to triple agricultural production in a year, as the population of Phnom Penh and every major city was "marched" into the countryside to begin a new life without the trappings of capitalism and free markets. The means of implementation were to begin exterminating anyone who didn't fit with or comply with this new ideal. The "new" nation was being turned back to "Year Zero", and intellectuals, businessmen, doctors, Buddhist leaders and foreigners were "purged." It is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people were killed during this time.

 

The "purging" continued unabated until Vietnamese troops, provoked by border skirmishes with the Khmer Rouge, invaded in 1979 and sent the Khmer Rouge back to the jungles. After a decade of occupation, the Vietnamese withdrew in 1989. In 1991, the United Nations established the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). In May, 1993, elections were held and a new coalition government was formed between the two leading parties, ushering in a period of relative political peace. The Khmer Rouge did not finally stop killing Cambodians until 1998, when Pol Pot died.

 

Cambodia continues on its road of recovery. One quarter of the population was killed between 1975 and 1979, and today, over 33% of the Cambodia's people are children. More than one third of the population lives on less that $1 a day. As the nation rebuilds its infrastructure and social mechanisms, massive inequality between the urban centers and the rural poor continues to grow. Over 75% of the population lives in rural communities characterized by malnutrition and limited access to health services. Rapid urbanization has caused stress on financial resources in an economy where it is estimated external donors supply about half the nation's budget. Today, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the region.

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