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- the People  -

The people of Cambodia
the People

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 in 1642.

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 distinctiveness.

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.

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