Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern part of the world's second largest island and is prey to volcanic activity, earthquakes and tidal waves. Linguistically, it is the world's most diverse country, with more than 700 native tongues.
Some 80% of Papua New Guinea's people live in rural areas with few or no facilities of modern life.
Many tribes in the isolated mountainous interior have little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, and live within a non-monetarised economy dependent on subsistence agriculture.
A very small proportion of the land can sustain cash crops, including coffee and cocoa. Abundant rainforests provide the raw material for a logging industry, which is dominated by Malaysian-owned companies. Conservation groups have criticised the social and environmental impact of the activity.
Mineral deposits - including gold, copper and nickel - are extensive, but the difficult terrain and poor infrastructure make exploitation slow. There are significant reserves of oil and natural gas and the country has pinned its hopes on becoming a significant energy exporter.
The separatist struggle in the neighbouring Indonesian province of Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, prompted the flight of thousands of Papuans into Papua New Guinea from the mid-1980s onwards. Many of them remain in border-area jungle camps.
The Papua New Guinean government has said it will not tolerate the use of its territory for separatist attacks on the Indonesian army.
Papua New Guinea had to deal with separatist forces of its own on the island of Bougainville in the 1990s. Up to 20,000 people were killed in the nine-year conflict which ended in 1997.
A peace deal signed in 2001 provided the framework for the election in 2005 of an autonomous government for Bougainville.
Papua New Guinea has strong ties with its southern neighbour, Australia, which administered the territory until independence in 1975. Canberra's substantial aid programme aims to relieve poverty and to boost development. Australia has also despatched police officers and civil servants to support their local equivalents.
The prevalence of HIV/Aids is on the rise. Some experts fear that Papua New Guinea is heading for a crisis similar to that in sub-Saharan Africa.
* Full name: The Independent State of Papua New Guinea
* Population: 6.9 million (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Port Moresby
* Area: 462,840 sq km (178,704 sq miles)
* Major language: English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu
* Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs
* Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 kina = 100 toea
* Main exports: Gold, petroleum, copper, coffee, palm oil, logs
* GNI per capita: US $1,300 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .pg
* International dialling code: +675
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General.
Prime minister: Peter O'Neill
Parliament voted Peter O'Neill, the former works minister, into office by 70 votes to 24 in August 2011, after government MPs joined the opposition to have the office declared vacant. He replaced the acting prime minister, Sam Abal.
The move followed months of turbulence, prompted by the suspension and absence of the founding father of independent Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare.
Born in the Southern Highlands Province in 1965, Mr O'Neill was a businessman before being elected to parliament in 2002. Two years later, he became leader of the opposition before crossing the floor in 2007 to join Sir Michael Somare's government as finance, treasury and works minister.
Mr Somare was suspended in April 2011, during his fourth term as prime minister, on charges of irregularities over financial returns. He subsequently went abroad for heart surgery.
Infighting ensued among ministers, paralysing the government and precipitating the vote that brought Mr O'Neill to power. Mr Abal launched legal action to challenge the move.
Known as "The Chief", Mr Somare led the country to independence from Australia in 1975 and had a reputation for capable administration.
He returned to power in 2002 after a violent and chaotic election, and was re-elected as prime minister after the 2007 polls.
His social challenges included crime, corruption, and rising rates of HIV and Aids.
From : BBC News