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Member Country: LAOS


The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a landlocked country in southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar (commonly known as Burma) and the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. From the 14th to the 18th century, the country was called Lan Xang or Land of A Million Elephants.

History
The early history of Laos was dominated by the wider Nanzhao kingdom, which was succeeded in the 14th century by the local kingdom of Lan Xang that lasted until its decline in the 18th century, after which Thailand assumed control of the separate principalities that remained. These came under French influence during the 19th century and were incorporated into French Indochina in 1893. Following the Japanese occupation during World War II, the country became independent in 1949 as the Kingdom of Laos, under the leadership of King Sisavang Vong.

Political unrest in neighbouring Vietnam dragged Laos into the Second Indochina War (see also Secret War), a destabilising factor that contributed to civil war and several coups d'état. In 1975 the communist Pathet Lao backed by the Soviet Union and communist Vietnamese overthrew the royalist government backed by the US and France, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on December 2, 1975. After taking control of the country, they promptly renamed it the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialisation were replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the late 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

Politics
The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is the president, elected by parliament for a five-year term. The head of government is the prime minister, appointed by the president with parliamentary approval. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful nine-member Politburo and the 49-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

Laos adopted a new constitution in 1991. The following year, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to 5-year terms. This unicameral parliament, expanded in the 1997 elections to 99 members, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in February 2002 when the assembly was expanded to 109 members.

Remnants of a Hmong group allied with the United States during the Vietnam War have been in armed conflict with the communist regime since 1975. With recent surrenders reported in the international media, this conflict appears to be on the wane. Most Hmong are integrated into or at least at peace with society, with some occupying high-ranking positions in the state system.

Attacks continue to take place sporadically throughout the country, but are difficult to attribute to a specific political movement. All dissent in Laos is suppressed, so information is difficult to obtain.

Provinces
Laos is divided into 16 provinces (khoueng), 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon), and 1 special zone** (khetphiset):

  • Attapeu
  • Bokeo
  • Borikhamxay
  • Champassack
  • Houaphan
  • Khammouane
  • Louang Namtha
  • Louangphabang
  • Oudomxay
  • Phongsaly
  • Saravane
  • Savannakhet
  • Vientiane *
  • Vientiane Province
  • Sayaboury
  • Saysomboun **
  • Xekong
  • Xieng Khouang

Geography
Laos is a landlocked country in southeast Asia and the thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia at 2817 m, with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Chain form most of the eastern border with Vietnam.

The climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane, and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse.

In 1993, the government set aside 21% of the nation's land area as National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (NBCA), which may be developed into a national park system. If completed, it is expected to be the most comprehensive and one of the finest national park systems in southeast Asia.

A number of animal species have been discovered or re-discovered in Laos in recent years. These include the striped or Annamite rabbit, the saola, and most recently the Laotian rock rat or kha-nyou.

Economy
The government of Laos - one of the few remaining official communist states - began decentralising control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% in 1988-2004 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. As in many developing countries, the major urban centers have experienced the most growth. The economies of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet in particular have experienced significant booms in recent years. Pakxe has also experienced some growth as well.

Much of the country, however, lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, although a short link is planned to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. The major roads connecting the major urban centers, mainly forming Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages that are far from major roads are accessible only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round. There is limited external and internal telecommunication, particularly of the wireline sort, but cell phone usage has become widespread in urban centers. In many rural areas electricity is either not available or only during scheduled periods. Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy receives aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food-processing and mining, most notably of copper and gold. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the country. Economic development in general is hampered by a serious case of brain drain. A 2005 World Bank study reported that 37% of its educated citizens lived abroad, putting it in 5th place for worst brain drain.

In late 2004, Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US, allowing Laos-based producers to face lower tariffs on their exports; this may help spur growth.

Demographics
68% of the country's people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao are descended from the Tai people who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. Hill people such as the Hmong (Miao), Yao (Mien), Black Thai, Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain tribes of mixed ethnolinguistic heritage are found in northern Laos. Collectively, they are known as Lao Sung or highland Laotians. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or midslope Laotians, predominate. Some Vietnamese and Chinese minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left in two waves; after independence in the late 1940s and again after 1975.

The term Laotian does not necessarily refer to the ethnic Lao language, ethnic Lao people, language or customs, but is a political term that also includes the non-ethnic Lao groups within Laos and identifies them as "Laotian" because of their political citizenship. In a similar vein the word "Lao" can also describe the people, cuisine, language and culture of the people of Northeast Thailand (Isan) who are ethnic Lao.

The predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism which, along with the common Animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. There also is a small number of Christians and Muslims. However, religion is strictly controlled, and the government will generally side with Buddhism over a minority religion. In 2004, Open Doors ranked Laos as the fourth-worst persecutor of Christians, behind North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The largest Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eglise évangélique du Laos and the Mission évangélique au Laos.

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, once common in government and commerce, has declined in usage, while knowledge of English—the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—has increased in recent years.

Culture
Theravadan Buddhism has contributed greatly to Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in lam, the dominant style of folk music; there are several different styles of lam, the most popular being lam saravane.

The country has two World Heritage sites — Luang Prabang and Wat Phou — while the government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars..

 

 
Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Flag of Laos Coat of Arms of Laos
Flag Coat of Arms

National motto: Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity and Prosperity

National Anthem: Pheng Xat Lao

Location of Laos
Official language Lao
Capital Vientiane
President Khamtai Siphandon
Prime Minister Boungnang Vorachith
Independence
- Date
From France
July 19, 1949
Area
- Total
- % water
Ranked 80th
236,800 km
2%
Population
- Total (2005)
- Density
Ranked 101st
6,217,141
24/km
HDI (2003) 0.545 (133rd) medium
Currency Kip
Time zone

not observed (UTC+7)
Internet TLD .la
Calling code +856
 
 

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