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Historical Background - Cambodia
Landmine Basics
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Mission/Vision Organization History

(SEARDF)

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
(Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher, 570 - 490 BC)


 

                                                                Background
 
                                                                General Situation in Cambodia

In the early 1970's, Cambodia plunged into civil war. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructuring of society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a Maoist peasant agrarian cooperative, with China as advisor. One wonders what lessons, if any, China has learned from this profound failure. Within two weeks of coming to power, the entire population of the capital and provincial towns, including everyone in the hospitals was forced to march out into the countryside. There they were organized into mobile work teams to do slave labor, plowing the fields, digging irrigation canals etc., for 12 to 15 hours per day. Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution. The murderous regime left 1.7 million people dead through starvation, overwork and execution. The Memorial Stupa at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh stands as shocking testimony to the slaughter. The Central Bank was blown up, currency was abolished and postal services were halted. The country was fragmented and millions of people were forcibly displaced from their homes. Across the border in Thailand refugee camps were set up to house the people fleeing the fighting and genocide. Cambodia's educated and wealthy were systematically imprisoned or killed. Infrastructure fell into disrepair. The economy all but disintegrated. The armies of both sides of the conflict planted millions of anti-tank and anti-personnel land mines, many of which are still buried and tragically being discovered on a "step by step" basis. These insidious inventions recognize no cease-fire, and continue killing and maiming their unfortunate victims every day.

After the Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to fight a guerilla war that unraveled only a decade ago and ended with a tacit agreement to let several of the former leaders live quietly in the country.

Recently, a tribunal, backed by the United Nations, has been established to investigate abuses committed during the time when the communist Khmer Rouge held power. The tribunal was created in 2006, after seven years of contentious negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia. The tribunal investigates abuses committed by the communist Khmer Rouge. The judges of this tribunal are to charge Khmer Rouge leaders 'for crimes against humanity and war crimes.' After Nuon Chea, the top aide to late leader Pol Pot, was arrested at his home, Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching Khmer Rouge crimes, stated: "Now the time has come for Nuon Chea to share his version of the history of Khmer Rouge before the court of law. --- So many people have died. The facts are everywhere. There are plenty of mass graves, prisons, documents, photographs that can show what he did  at that time."  The trials are expected to begin in 2008. Cambodian judges already hold a majority in desision-making matters, but under the tribunal's rules, they need at least one vote from a foreign counterpart to make rulings. The tribunal is being operated under the Cambodian judicial system, often described by critics as weak, corrupt and susceptible to political manipulation. 

For the last several years, the general situation in Cambodia has been characterized by the end of armed conflicts, the restoration of peace, the rehabilitation and capacity building of repatriated and former Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and the commitment of the government to alleviate poverty. The Royal Cambodian Government has emphasized the importance of economic growth, which provides potential resources to meet the needs of the nation in the post-conflict situation, and to help improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

In 1998, the formation of the new coalition government, after the second general election, paved the way for a better future. The political climate in the country today is characterized by good co-operation between the legislative and executive bodies. The commitment to ensure peace by prominent leaders of the two main rival political parties for the sake of country’s development, stabilization, and peace for the people is commendable. As a result, the country gained its seat in the United Nations, and was admitted 10th official member of the ASEAN Regional Grouping. The International Community and potential donors resumed their assistance to the development projects of the country, the tourism industry, and investment opportunities have returned to normal. People again enjoy a peaceful life and earn their living with a sense of hope
for the future and a better life. However, the economic crisis has hindered the progress of economic growth in Cambodia.

In 1998, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for Cambodia as a whole was US$280. About 36% of the Cambodia population live below the poverty line. There are a plethora of vulnerable groups: returned refugees, war widows, orphans, victims of natural disasters and disabled people affected by wars and landmines. One in every 250 Cambodians is disabled; one in every 384 people is an amputee. The great loss of usable agricultural land due to landmines causes a major shortage of agricultural land and products. The vulnerable groups gravitate to the capital, Phnom Phen, in the hopes of a better life. The squatter population increased from 80,000 in 1990 to 200,000 in 1997 in the slum communities surrounding the capital. Squatters have caused increased health risks linked to unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, easy transmission of all kinds of epidemics, and insecure social order.

The Cambodian population is exposed to many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) and HIV/AIDs/STDs. Treatment is frequently unavailable due to lack of medicine or lack of funds to pay for it. HIV prevalence is the highest in Asia, with 4% of the adult population ages 15-49 infected. The majority of HIV cases under age 20 are female. Programs have been put in place to expand access to health facilities, to strengthen immunization, and to disseminate additional preventive and educational programs. In addition to these life-threatening ailments, there are numerous less serious ailments. Most of these have been eliminated in the West, but remain a common occurrence in Cambodia, such as warts, head lice, intestinal worms, scabies (a microscopic worm which tunnels through the skin, causing rash and severe itching), and others rarely seen in the Western World

Natural disasters (flood, drought, crop failure, and fire) are common occurrences in Cambodia. Floods are the most common of all natural disasters. A large segment of the population lives and farms the fertile flood planes of the major rivers. Villages situated along the banks of the Mekong River, for example, remain flooded for considerable periods of time. In other areas, people are dependent on rain, with drought looming as another natural catastrophe for the country. Water management plans are few.

Cambodia is in great need of financial and technical assistance to enable the buildup of infra structure and improvement of living standards.

The Kingdom of Cambodia (IPA: [kæmˈbəʊdɪə], formerly known as Kampuchea (IPA: [ˌkæmpuˈtʃiːə], , transliterated: Preăh Réachéanachâkr Kâmpŭchea) is a country in Southeast Asia with a population of over 13 million people. Phnom Penh is the capital city. Cambodia is the successor state of the once powerful Hindu and Buddhist Khmer Empire, which ruled most of the Indochinese Peninsula between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.

A citizen of Cambodia is usually identified as "Cambodian" or "Khmer," the latter of which strictly refers to ethnic Khmers. Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists of Khmer extraction, but the country also has a substantial number of predominantly Muslim Cham, as well as ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and small animist hill tribes.

The country borders Thailand to its west and northwest, Laos to its northeast, and Vietnam to its east and southeast. In the south it faces the Gulf of Thailand. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong river (colloquial Khmer: Tonle Thom or "the great river") and the Tonlé Sap ("the fresh water lake"), an important source of fish. Much of Cambodia sits near sea level, and consequently the Tonle Sap River reverses its water flow in the wet season, carrying water from the Mekong back into the Tonlé Sap Lake and surrounding flood plain.

Cambodia's main industries are garments and tourism. In 2006, foreign visitors had surpassed the 1.7 million mark. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial water, and once commercial extraction begins in 2009 or early 2010, the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia's economy.