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Cambodian History

CAMBODIA. In the southwestern part of the Indochinese Peninsula of Southeast Asia is the country of Cambodia. The names Cambodia and Kampuchea are transliterations of the country's traditional name in the Khmer language, and both have been used for the name of the country. In 1970 the government abolished the colonial name Cambodia but retained the name Kampuchea. Nineteen years later the name Cambodia was readopted. The country is a remnant of the Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 15th century. Cambodia was a part of French Indochina from 1887 to 1953, when it gained independence. During the 1970s rival factions engaged in a bloody struggle for control of the country. One faction, supported by China, took over the government in 1975. Another, backed by Vietnam, overthrew the government in 1979 and controlled the country for the next decade.

Cambodia has an area of 69,898 square miles (181,035 square kilometers). It centers on a basinlike lowland that rises gently from the Gulf of Thailand in the south to the Dangrek Mountains in the north. In the Cardamom Mountains in the southwest rises the country's highest peak, Phnum Aoral, at 5,948 feet (1,813 meters). To the west a low divide separates Cambodia from Thailand. The Mekong River flows southward from Laos through eastern Cambodia.

  Approximately in the center of the lowland lies Tonle Sap, meaning "Great Lake," which serves as a natural flood reservoir for the Mekong River. From November to late April, the lake shrinks to an area of about 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers) and to a depth of no more than 5 feet (1.5 meters). From July to late October, when the Mekong floodwaters flow up the Tonle Sap River into the lake, the area of the lake expands and may cover almost 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) and the depth may reach 45 feet (14 meters).

  Cambodia has a tropical climate. It is always warm to hot in the lowlands, with temperatures seldom below 80o F (27o C). The rainy season comes with the summer monsoon, which lasts from May through October. The monsoon normally brings 50 to 80 inches (130 to 200 centimeters) of rain in the lowlands and about twice as much in the southwestern mountains.

  Three quarters of Cambodia consists of tropical evergreen forests, and about a fifth of the country is used for meadow, pasture, and agriculture. Away from the streams are sandy soils and course, eroded and infertile yellow or red earth. Along the many floodplains are narrow strips of good alluvial soil. The annually flooded banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers have fertile soils that are renewed by the silt of the flood season. Animals of Cambodia include monkeys, buffalo, elephants, tigers, panthers, leopards, civets, crocodiles, pheasants, and jungle fowl...

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