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Lao People's Democratic Republic
ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ
Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon
Flag Coat of arms
Motto"ສັນຕິພາບ ເອກະລາດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ເອກະພາບ ວັດທະນາຖາວອນ"
"Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity and Prosperity"
AnthemPheng Xat Lao
Location of  Laos  (green)

in ASEAN  (dark grey)  —  [Legend]

Capital
(and largest city)
Vientiane
17°58′N 102°36′E / 17.967°N 102.6°E / 17.967; 102.6
Official language(s) Lao
Official scripts Lao script
Demonym Laotian, Lao
Government Socialist republic,
Communist single-party state
 -  President Lt. Gen. Choummaly Sayasone
 -  Vice President Bounnhang Vorachith
 -  Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh
 -  President of National Assembly Thongsing Thammavong
 -  President of the People's Supreme Court Khammi Sayavong
Independence From France 
 -  Date 19 July, 1949 
Area
 -  Total 236,800 km2 (83rd)
91,429 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 2
Population
 -  2009 estimate 6,320,000[1] (101st)
 -  1995 census 4,574,848 
 -  Density 26.7/km2 (177th)
69.1/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $13.310 billion[2] (129th)
 -  Per capita $2,127[2] (137th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $5.374 billion[2] 
 -  Per capita $859[2] 
Gini (2008) 34.6 (medium
HDI (2007) 0.619[3] (medium) (133rd)
Currency Kip (LAK)
Time zone (UTC+7)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .la
Calling code 856

Laos (pronounced /ˈlɑː.oʊs/, /ˈlaʊ/, or /ˈleɪ.ɒs/), officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Laos traces its history to the Kingdom of Lan Xang or Land of a Million Elephants, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century.

After a period as a French protectorate, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended officially when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975, but the protesting between factions continued for several years. Forty-four percent of the population lived below the international poverty line of the equivalent of US$1.25 a day according to data from 2006, though the CIA World Factbook currently places this figure at 26%.[4]

Contents

Etymology

In the Lao language, the country's name is "Meuang Lao (ເມືອງລາວ)" which literally means "Lao Country." The French, who united the three separate lao kingdoms in French Indochina in 1893, spelled it with a final silent "s," to signify the unity of multiple lao kingdoms, hence "Laos" (the Lao language itself has no final "s" sound, so Lao people pronounce it as in their native tongue though some, especially those living abroad, use the pronunciation ending in "s"). The usual adjectival form is "Lao," e.g., "the Lao economy," not the "Laotian" economy—although "Laotian" is used to describe the people of Laos to avoid confusion with the Lao ethnic group. Since 1975 the official country name is Lao PDR.

History

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in the 14th century (1353) by Fa Ngum, himself descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracking back to Khoun Boulom. Lan-Xang prospered until the 18th century, when the kingdom was divided into three principalities, which eventually came under Siamese suzerainty.

In the 19th century, Luang Prabang was incorporated into the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina, and shortly thereafter, the Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of Vientiane were also added to the protectorate. Under the French, Vientiane once again became the capital of a unified Lao state.

Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence in 1945, but the French under Charles de Gaulle re-asserted their control and only in 1950 was Laos granted semi-autonomy as an "associated state" within the French Union. Moreover, the French remained in de facto control until 1954, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy.

Under a special exemption to the Geneva Convention, a French military training mission continued to support the Royal Laos Army. In 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

Laos was dragged into the Vietnam War and the eastern parts of the country followed North-Vietnam and adopted North-Vietnam as brother country. Laos allowed North-Vietnam to use its land as supplying route for its war against the South Vietnam. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The result of these actions were a series of coups d'état and, ultimately, the Laotian Civil War between the Royal Laotian government and the communist Pathet Lao.

In the Civil War the North Vietnamese Army, with its heavy artillery and tanks, was the real power behind the Pathet Lao insurgency. In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack to help the communist Pathet Lao to fight against the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing and leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand. The attack resulted in many lost lives.

Massive aerial bombardment was carried out by the United States. The Guardian reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the Second World War. Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xiangkhouang province, 80 million failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy.[5] It holds the dubious distinction of being the most bombed country in the world.

Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos

In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People's Army and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in captivity.

After taking control of the country, Pathet Lao's government renamed the country as the "Lao People's Democratic Republic" and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was requested in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of China, leading to isolation in trade by China, the United States, and other countries. The act of socialization has slowly been replaced by the relaxation of economic restrictions in the 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

Geography

Map of Laos

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 9,242 feet (2,817 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 monsoon.

There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakxe.

In 1993, the Laos government set aside 21% of the nation's land area for Habitat conservation preservation[citation needed]. The country is one of four in the opium poppy growing region known as the "Golden Triangle." According to the October 2007 UNODC fact book "Opium Poppy Cultivation in South East Asia," the poppy cultivation area was 15 square kilometres (3,700 acres), down from 18 square kilometres (4,400 acres) in 2008.

Government and politics

Laos is a communist single-party socialist republic. The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who also is secretary-general (leader) of the LPRP. The head of government is Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh. 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' first, French-written and monarchical constitution was promulgated on May 11, 1947 and declared it to be an independent state within the French Union. The revised constitution of 11 May 1957 omitted reference to the French Union, though close educational, health and technical ties with the former colonial power persisted. The 1957 document was abrogated on 3 December 1975, when a communist People's Republic was proclaimed. A new constitution was adopted in 1991 and enshrined a "leading role" for the LPRP.

The following year, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to five-year terms. This National Assembly, which essentially acts as a rubber stamp for the LPRP, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in April 2006. The assembly was expanded to 99 members in 1997 and in 2006 elections had 115.

Administrative divisions

Provinces of Laos

Laos is divided into 16 provinces (qwang) and Vientiane Capital (Na Kone Luang Vientiane):

The country is further divided into districts (muang).

Economy

A street market in Luang Prabang.
Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.
Buses connect the major cities

The Lao economy is heavily dependent on investment and trade with its neighbors, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China. Pakxe has also experienced growth based on cross-border trade with Thailand and Vietnam.

Much of the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, except a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, in particular Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads can be reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round. There is limited external and internal telecommunication, but mobile phones have become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is at least partly unavailable. Songthaews (pick-up trucks with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local public transport.

Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80 percent of employment. Only 4.01 percent of the country is arable land, and 0.34 percent used as permanent crop land[6], the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion.[7] Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80 percent of the arable land area used for growing rice.[8] Approximately 77 percent of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice.[9]

Through the development, release and widespread adoption of improved rice varieties, and through economic reforms, production has increased by an annual rate of 5 percent between 1990 and 2005[10], and Lao PDR achieved a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999[11]. Lao PDR may have the greatest number of rice varieties in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Since 1995 the Lao government has been working with the International Rice Research Institute to collect seed samples of each of the thousands of rice varieties found in Laos.[12]

The economy receives development aid from the IMF, ADB and other international sources, and foreign direct investment for development of the society, industry, hydropower and mining, most notably copper and gold. Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the country. Economic development in has been hampered by brain drain, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4 percent in 2000[13].

Laos is rich in mineral resources but imports petroleum and gas. Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to attract foreign investment to develop the substantial deposits of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper and other valuable metals. In addition, the country's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy. Of the potential capacity of approximately 18,000 megawatts, around 8,000 megawatts have been committed for exporting to Thailand and Vietnam.[14]

The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 14,400 tourists visiting Laos in 1990, to 1.1 million in 2005. Annual tourism sector revenues are expected to grow to $250–300 million by 2020.[15]

Demographics

Patuxay was built with USAID funds in Vientiane in the 1960s to celebrate the independence struggle.
In Luang Prabang, a young woman at the time of a Hmong Meeting Festival
A primary school in a village in northern rural Laos

69% of the country's people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. 8% belong to other "lowland" groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum.

Hill people and minority cultures of Laos such as the Hmong (Miao), Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos which include the Lua (Lua) and Khmu people who are indigenous to Laos. Today, the Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively, they are known as Lao Soung or highland Laotians. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Some Vietnamese, Chinese and Thailand Thai 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 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.

The predominant religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism which, along with the common animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. There also are a small number of Christians, mostly restricted to the Vientiane area, and Muslims, mostly restricted to the Myanmar border region. Christian missionary work is regulated by the government.

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, still common in government and commerce, is studied by many, while English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.

Health

Male life expectancy at birth was at 63.2 and female life expectancy was at 65.9 in 2007 [16] Healthy life expectancy was at 54 in 2006.[16] In 2006, two fifths of the population were not using an improved water resource. [16] Government expenditure on health is at about 4 % of the GDP.[16] Its amount was at US$ 18 (PPP) in 2006.[16]

Religion

Buddha statues at Vat Aham in Luang Prabang

Of the people of Laos 67% are Theravada Buddhist, 1.5% are Christian, and 31.5% are other or unspecified according to the 2005 census.[17] The proportion of Buddhists could be as high as 85%; that religion remains one of the most important social forces in Laos[18]

Culture

An example of Lao cuisine

Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in 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. Among the various lam styles, the lam saravane is probably the most popular.

The country has two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang and Vat Phou. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars.

Sticky Rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and religious significance to the Lao people. Sticky rice is mainly preferred over jasmine rice because Lao is the only country with the origin of sticky rice being eaten. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.[19]

Education

The adult literacy rate exceeds two thirds.[16] The male literacy rate exceeds the female literacy rate.[16] In 2004 the net primary enrolement rate was at 84 %.[16] The National University of Laos is the national university in Laos.

Media

All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San Pathet Lao, the country's official news agency, publishes English and French versions of its eponymous paper. Internet cafes are now common in the major urban centres and are popular especially with the younger generation. However, the government strictly censors content and controls access[citation needed].

International rankings

Organisation Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace [1] Global Peace Index[20] 45 out of 144
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 137 out of 157
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 164 out of 173
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 151 out of 180
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 133 out of 179

See also

Leaders of ethnic minorities in Laos

Notes and references

  1. ^ Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division (2009) (.PDF). World Population Prospects, Table A.1. 2008 revision. United Nations. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2008/wpp2008_text_tables.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Laos". International Monetary Fund. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/02/weodata/weorept.aspx?sy=2006&ey=2009&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=544&s=NGDPD%2CNGDPDPC%2CPPPGDP%2CPPPPC%2CLP&grp=0&a=&pr1.x=37&pr1.y=8. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  3. ^ "Human Development Report 2009. Human development index trends: Table G". The United Nations. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Complete.pdf. Retrieved 2009-10-05. 
  4. ^ Human Development Indices, Table 3: Human and income poverty, p. 35. Retrieved on 1 June 2009
  5. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/03/laos-cluster-bombs-uxo-deaths
  6. ^ Field Listing - Land use, CIA World Factbook
  7. ^ About Greater Mekong Subregion at Asian Development Bank
  8. ^ Rice, the fabric of life in Laos
  9. ^ Genuinely Lao, Rice Today, April-June 2006
  10. ^ FIFTEEN YEARS OF SUPPORT FOR RICE RESEARCH IN LAO PDR
    ^ ASIA BRIEF: FILLING THE RICE BASKET IN LAO PDR PARTNERSHIP RESULTS
    ^ Genuinely Lao, Prepared by IRRI’s International Programs Management Office
  11. ^ The Green Revolution comes to Laos
  12. ^ A Race Against Time
  13. ^ International Migration, Remittances & the Brain Drain
  14. ^ Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Preparing the Cumulative Impact Assessment for the Nam Ngum 3 Hydropower Project
  15. ^ Lao PDR Tourism Strategy 2006-2020
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_LAO.html
  17. ^ CIA the World Factbook
  18. ^ Zickgraf, Ralph. Laos (series: Major World Nations). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers (1999), pg. 9-10.
  19. ^ An Evaluation of Synthesis of Rice
  20. ^ "Vision of Humanity". Vision of Humanity. http://www.visionofhumanity.org/gpi/home.php. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 

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