Country profile: Cambodia

The Southeast Asian nation has emerged from decades of conflict, but continues to face many challenges.

    Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. King Norodom Sihamoni has reigned since 2004.

    Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, which is practiced by around 96 per cent of the Cambodian population. The majority of Cambodians describe themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire. The country's minority include Cham, ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and various tribal groups.

    Three-quarters of Cambodians depend on the land to make a living and agriculture remains the most important sector. Many farmers have been forced to sell their land to cope with financial pressures in recent years and land grabbing is a major issue.  

    Facts

     Capital: Phnom Penh

     Religions: Buddhist 96.4 per cent, Muslim 2.1 per cent, other 1.3 per cent

     Government: Constitutional monarchy

     Languages: Khmer, French, English

     Population: 14,453,680 million

     Median age: 22.6 years

     Life expectancy: 62.28

    Oil and nature gas deposits were found in Cambodian waters in 2005. Extraction is set to begin in 2011 and is predicted to have a transformative effect on the country's economy.

    While there has been rapid economic growth in the past decade, this has come with a rising gap between the country’s poor and rich. Economic and political power remains in the hands of a small number of elites.

    Cambodia is ranked 136 out of 179 in UNDP's Human Development Index (2008), the lowest among East Asian countries. More than a third of Cambodia's population live on less than $1 per day.

    Illegal logging is prevalent throughout the country, leading to soil erosion and declining biodiversity. Fish stocks are also in decline because of overfishing.

    There are up to one million small arms and light weapons in circulation in Cambodia and weapons remain "dangerously easy to obtain" and selling for as little as $25, according to Oxfam, a UK-based international development NGO.
     
    Broadcast media is a mixture of state-owned, joint public-private, and privately-owned.

    Tragic past

    Cambodia was "protected" from its neighbours by the French from 1863, and became part of French Indochina in 1887.

    Occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, the country won independence from the French in November 1953.

    The Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, after five years of fighting.

    Executions, forced labour and starvation devastated the population. More than 1.5 million Cambodians died from atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

    The Vietnamese invaded in December 1978, driving the Khmer Rouge into the countryside. Vietnamese occupation was to last a decade and triggered 13 years of civil war.

    The Paris Peace Accords in 1991 mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, although the Khmer Rouge did not fully abide by it.

    Some surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial for crimes against humanity by a hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal supported by international assistance.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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