OFFICIAL NAME: Laos People's Democratic Republic
CAPITAL: Vientiane
SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT: Unitary Single Party Republic
AREA: 236,800 Sq Km (91,429 Sq Mi)

Direct Link to Political MapDirect Link to Physical MapLOCATION & GEOGRAPHY: Laos is a landlocked country located on the Indo-Chinese Peninsula of South East Asia. It is bound by Vietnam to the east, Myanmar (Burma) and China to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. The country is divided into three topographical regions. (1.) The northern mountains, which comprise 40% of the land area, are characterized by steep slopes and sharp crests. The Phou Bia Mountains are the country's highest point. (2.) The Plain of Jars named from the stone found in the Tran Ninh Plateau where it is located and (3.) the southern panhandle which is bound by the Eastern Annam Cordillera, a continuous range that cuts Laos off from Vietnam. To the west of this divide there is a series of plateaux which include the Khammouane and Boloven Plateaux. The principal river is the Mekong with its tributaries. Major Cities (pop. est.); Vientiane 178,200, Savannakhet 96,600, Louangphrabang 68,400 (1985). Land Use; forested 54%, pastures 3%, agricultural-cultivated 4%, other 39% (1993).

CLIMATE: Laos has a tropical climate with two seasons. A wet season during the SW Monsoon which occurs between May to October and a dry season during the NE Monsoon from November to April. Rainfall is at its heaviest in July and August with average annual precipitation varying from 1,270 mm (50 inches) to 2,290 mm (90 inches) depending on the region. Average temperature ranges in Vientiane are from 14 to 34 degrees Celsius (57 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit) all year.

PEOPLE: The principal ethnic majority are the Laotians who account for 67% of the population and are related racially to the Thai people. The Laotians are divided into four main groups, the Lao Lum, Lao Theung, Lao Thai and the Lao Soung. Other ethnic minorities include the Vietnamese and Chinese.

DEMOGRAPHIC/VITAL STATISTICS: Density; 18 persons per sq km (47 persons per sq mi) (1991). Urban-Rural; 19.0% urban, 81.0% rural (1993). Sex Distribution; 50.3% male, 49.7% female (1990). Life Expectancy at Birth; 50.0 years male, 53.0 years female (1993). Age Breakdown; 44% under 15, 26% 15 to 29, 16% 30 to 44, 9% 45 to 59, 4% 60 to 74, 1% 75 and over (1990). Birth Rate; 44.0 per 1,000 (1993). Death Rate; 15.0 per 1,000 (1993). Increase Rate; 29.0 per 1,000 (1993). Infant Mortality Rate; 96.0 per 1,000 live births (1993).

RELIGIONS: The Lao Lum and Lao Thai are mostly Buddhists while the Lao Theung are Animists and the Lao Soung are a mixture of Animists, Christians and Confucianists.

LANGUAGES: The official language is Lao which is a Sino-Tibetan language, although French is still used for diplomatic purposes. In addition, a variety of tribal languages are also spoken.

EDUCATION: Aged 25 or over and having attained: N/A. Literacy; literate population aged 15 or over 83.9% (1985).

MODERN HISTORY - WWII TO 1993: In 1945 after Japan's surrender the Lao Issara (Free Laos) Movement seized power and declared the country's independence. King Sisavang Vong was deposed after he announced his support for France's protectorate role. In early 1946 French troops regained power and reinstated the monarchy. In 1950 and 1951 Prince Souphanouvong formed the Pathet Lao (PL) who developed close links with the Hanoi forces in North Vietnam and his brother Prince Souvanna formed the Royal Lao Government (RLG). In 1954 Laos gained its independence and in 1957 the two brothers formed a coalition government which soon fell apart. In 1960 the country was divided into a neutral regime based in the Plain of Jars and a right wing regime in Vientiane. In 1962 another unsuccessful attempt was made to form a coalition government which resulted in increased fighting. The PL took advantage of the regional confusion and increased its territory by fighting along with the Vietcong. During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam used the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and Kampuchea (Cambodia) to move troops and supplies into South Vietnam, resulting in the start of US bombing of the trail in 1964. In 1971 South Vietnamese troops supported by US bombers and helicopters entered Laos to attack the communist supply routes. In 1973 the Laotian government and the PL agreed to a ceasefire and the formation of a another coalition government. In 1975 pro-communist demonstrations occurred and many non-communist government officials resigned, they were replaced by communists as the government came under communist domination. In April 1975 the Vietnam War ended when South Vietnam fell to the communists, resulting in closer ties being formed between the Vietnamese and Laotian governments. On Dec. 2, 1975 the Lao People's Democratic Republic was declared with Souphanouvong as President. In 1985 many border skirmishes broke out with Thailand. In March 1991 a meeting between Gen. Sisavat Keobounphanh and the Thai military commander Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon resulted in the withdrawal of Thai border forces around the areas where skirmishes broke out in 1985. Laos responded by increasing its electricity supply to Thailand and in June 1991 the two countries agreed to the repatriation some 60,000 Laotian refugees living in Thai camps by 1994. In Aug. 1991 acting President, Phoumi Vongvichit and Pres. Souphanouvong retired and was replaced Kaysone Phomvihan. In the same month the Supreme People's Assembly adopted a new constitution that removed all references to socialism and reinforced the position of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) as the sole legal party. In Sept. 1991 the government imposed a ban on commercial logging due to deforestation. Also in 1991 Laos and Vietnam agreed to trade in hard currency while Laos also had to pay for Soviet military purchases in hard currency from 1992 as well. In Jan. 1992 fighting broke out 100km (60 mi) west of the capital between government forces and an anticommunist rebel alliance of three groups, that included some officials of the pre-1975 royal government, which lasted for 3 days. As a result of the conflict hundreds of refugees, including the rebels, fled into Thailand while Thailand also agreed with the Laotian government that it would prosecute the rebel officers which intruded within its territory. In July 1992 a scandal involving the theft of US $2 million in UN money destined for Vientiane resulted in the arrest of two Thai police major generals, two colonels and some officials from both Thailand and Laos. In Oct. 1992 the rebel field commander, Vang Fung was deported by Thailand to the US. On Nov. 21, 1992 Pres. Phomvihan died and was succeeded by Nouhak Phoumsavan. In Dec. 1992 a new 85-member National Assembly was elected with Gen. Khamtai Siphandon continuing on as Prime Minister. Also during 1992 the US assistant Secretary of State visited Vientiane and promised further aid in food and money while work began on the construction of a bridge by the Australian government to cross the Mekong River near the capital, to link Vientiane to the Thai port city of Nong Khai. In Feb. 1993 the National Assembly announced plans for the complete creation of a free-market economy, although still remaining a single-party state. In Aug. 1993 the government announced that the privatization of state enterprises was virtually complete and in the same month the government established a committee to fight the increase in corruption. Foreign investment increased in 1993 with many Thai, US, Japanese and French firms establishing commercial business and operations. In June 1993 Thailand and Laos signed an agreement of understanding on the development of energy resources with plans for the further development of hydro-electric power plants along the Mekong River's tributaries. In 1993 the Australian government's gift "The Friendship Bridge" neared completion while relations with several surrounding countries soured with the government's reluctance to repatriate some 35,000 Hmong refugees.

CURRENCY: The official currency is the New Kip (KN) divided into 100 Ath.

ECONOMY: Gross National Product; USD $1,308,000,000 (1993). Public Debt; USD $1,948,000,000 (1993). Imports; USD $411,000,000 (1993). Exports; USD $232000,000 (1993). Tourism Receipts; N/A. Balance of Trade; USD -$179,000,000 (1993). Economically Active Population; 1,888,000 or 49.0% of total population (1989). Unemployed; 3.0% (1989).

MAIN TRADING PARTNERS: Its main trading partners are the UK, the former USSR, Thailand and Japan.

MAIN PRIMARY PRODUCTS: Coffee, Cotton, Hydroelectric Power, Maize, Rice, Tobacco, Timber, Tin, Vegetables.

MAJOR INDUSTRIES: Agriculture, Construction, Forestry, Mining, Ore Processing, Timber Milling, Textiles.

MAIN EXPORTS: Coffee, Hydroelectric Power, Timber, Tin.

TRANSPORT: Railroads; nil. Roads; length 27,527 km (17,104 mi) (1987). Vehicles; cars 17,000 (1989), trucks and buses 3,500 (1989). Merchant Marine; vessels 1 (1990), deadweight tonnage 1,469 (1990). Air Transport; passenger-km 18,000,000 (11,185,000 passenger-mi) (1986), cargo ton-km 2,000,000 (1,370,000 short ton-mi) (1986).

COMMUNICATIONS: Daily Newspapers; total of 3 with a total circulation of 14,000 (1994). Radio; receivers 500,000 (1994). Television; receivers 80,000 (1994). Telephones; units 8,600 (1993).

MILITARY: 37,000 (1994) total active duty personnel with 89.2% army, 1.4% navy and 9.4% air force while military expenditure accounts for 7.9% (1993) of the Gross National Product (GNP).

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