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A Closer Look at Cambodia
Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks from surrounding kingdoms weakened the empire, which went into a long period of decline until the king placed the country under French protection in 1863, becoming part of French Indochina in 1887.
Following Japanese occupation during World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In April 1975, after a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured the capital city, Phnom Penh. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot.
A December 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, starting a 10-year Vietnamese occupation and touching off almost 13 years of civil war. The Paris Peace Accords in 1991 mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge.
United Nations-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 and a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. Remaining Khmer Rouge elements surrendered in early 1999. Elections in the last decade have been relatively peaceful.
With a population of almost 15 million, Cambodia is slightly smaller than Oklahoma. Its climate is tropical with rainy monsoon and dry seasons with little seasonal temperature variations. The terrain is mostly low, flat plains with mountains in the southwest and north. Ninety percent of its population is Khmer, with five percent Vietnamese, one percent Chinese and four percent "other." Buddhist is the official state religion (96.4 percent of the population) with 2.1 percent Muslim and 1.5 percent "other."
Natural resources include oil and gas, timber, gemstones, iron ore, manganese, phosphates and hydropower potential. Its top industries are tourism, garments, construction, rice milling, fishing, wood and wood products, rubber, cement, gem mining and textiles. Agricultural output includes rice, rubber, corn, vegetables, cashews, cassava (manioc) and silk.
The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia's demographic imbalance; more than 50 percent of the population is less than 25 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure. The Cambodian government is working with the World Bank and IMF to address the country's many pressing needs.
Rubber exports increased about 50 percent in 2011 due to continued demand for raw rubber. And, the tourism industry has continued to grow rapidly with foreign arrivals exceeding two million per year since 2007.
Cambodian textile producers are competing with lower-priced Asian countries. The garment industry employs more than 300,000 people (about five percent of the work force) and constitutes more than 70 percent of Cambodia's exports
But in 2005, exploitable oil deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial waters, representing a potential revenue stream for the government when commercial extraction begins. Mining also is attracting significant investor interest, particularly in the northern parts of the country. The government has said opportunities exist for mining bauxite, gold, iron and gems.
Source: Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook
Featuring the traditional Cambodian colors of red and blue, the flag represents Angkor Wat as a white, three-towered temple outlined in black in the center of the red band. It's the only national flag to incorporate an actual building in its design. Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world.