According to the General Population Census
of 1998 the total population of Cambodia is 11.4 million, with an annual
growth rate of some 2.8 per cent. The population density is
approximately 45 people per square kilometre.
An estimated 1.2 million people reside in the capital, Phnom Penh. Other
major centres of population include Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, Battambang,
Takeo, Kompong Cham and Kompong Thom.
Ethnic Khmers make up some 96 per cent of Cambodia's total population.
The largest single minority group is that of the Cham-Malays, who are
settled mainly along the Mekong to the north of Phnom Penh. Descended
from the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Champa in what is now
southern coastal Việt Nam, they adopted their faith and script from the
Malays who settled in Kampot at the invitation of Muslim Khmer King Chan
Partly urbanised, often educated and much involved in trade and
commerce, the Cham were severely persecuted during the Pol Pot years and
their present population of just over 200,000 compares to a figure of
over 800,000 during the 1950s and 1960s.
Numbering around 50,000, the ethnic Chinese constitute another important
ethnic group in Cambodia, although, as in neighbouring Thailand, they
have been assimilated to a greater degree than in many other parts of
South East Asia. As such they may be contrasted with the community of
some 95,000 ethnic Vietnamese, which mostly retains its cultural
Cambodia is also home to some 20 culturally distinct hill tribes, most
of which occupy the mountainous districts of the north east.
The majority of these hill tribes hail from the Mon-Khmer group of the
Austro-Asiatic language family and their traditional homeland straddles
the border with southern Laos and the central highlands of Việt Nam.
Most numerically significant of Cambodia’s hill tribe ethnicities are
the Kui of Preah Vihear Province; the Pnong (or Mnong) of Mondulkiri,
Ratanakiri, eastern Kratie and south east Stung Treng Provinces; the
Brau with their sub-groups the Kravet and the Krung of Ratanakiri and
eastern Stung Treng Provinces; the Tampuan, Jarai and Rhade (or Ede) of
Ratanakiri Province; and the Stieng of Kratie Province.
Nearly 85 per cent of the Cambodian people are involved in subsistence
farming, living in small villages of stilted huts with exterior and
partition walls made of palm mats and floors of woven bamboo strips
resting on bamboo joists. Swidden ('slash-and-burn') farming techniques
practiced by many of the hill tribes of the north east and illegal
logging carried along on the border with Thailand continue to pose a
serious threat to the environment, whilst landmines remain a serious
hindrance to agricultural development. As in neighbouring Laos, poverty,
disease and malnutrition are widespread amongst outlying rural
communities, although in recent years the government has been making
strenuous efforts to redress this situation.