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The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly known as Kampuchea, is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand to the west and northwest, Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. The geography of Cambodia is dominated by the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap.
Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire, ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863 and it became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953.
In April 1975, after a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At leat 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, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off almost 13 years of civil war. The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire. In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability under the form of a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy, Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia in 1993, but abdicated the throne in October 2004. His son, Prince Norodom Sihamoni was selected to succeed him. The stability established following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d'etat, but otherwise has remained in place.
Agriculture has long been the most important sector to the Cambodian economy, with around 59% of the population relying on this sector for their livelihood. Other important sectors include garments, construction and tourism. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial waters, and once commercial extraction begins in 2011, the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia's economy.
The long term development of the economy remains a daunting challenge. The Cambodian Government is working with bilateral multilateral donors to address the country's many pressing needs. The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be creating an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia's demographic imbalance. More than 50% of the population is less than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.
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