/lah"ohs, lows, lay"os/; Fr. /lann aws"/, n.
a country in SE Asia: formerly part of French Indochina. 5,116,959; 91,500 sq. mi. (236,985 sq. km). Cap.: Vientiane.

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Introduction Laos -
Background: In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a six-century-old monarchy. Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with a gradual return to private enterprise, an easing of foreign investment laws, and the admission into ASEAN in 1997. Geography Laos
Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
Geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 105 00 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 236,800 sq km water: 6,000 sq km land: 230,800 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Utah
Land boundaries: total: 5,083 km border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mekong River 70 m highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m
Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones
Land use: arable land: 3.47% permanent crops: 0.23% other: 96.31% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 1,640 sq km note: rainy season irrigation - 2,169 sq km; dry season irrigation - 750 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: floods, droughts Environment - current issues: unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water Environment - international party to: Biodiversity, Climate
agreements: Change, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: landlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand People Laos -
Population: 5,777,180 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.5% (male 1,233,659; female 1,219,872) 15-64 years: 54.2% (male 1,543,246; female 1,591,419) 65 years and over: 3.3% (male 86,375; female 102,609) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.47% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 37.39 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 12.71 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.84 male(s)/ female total population: 0.98 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 90.98 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 53.88 years female: 55.87 years (2002 est.) male: 51.95 years
Total fertility rate: 5.03 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.05% (1999 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 1,400 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 130 (1999 est.)
Nationality: noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s) adjective: Lao or Laotian
Ethnic groups: Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong ("Meo") and the Yao (Mien) 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/ Chinese 1%
Religions: Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40% (including various Christian denominations 1.5%)
Languages: Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 57% male: 70% female: 44% (1999 est.) Government Laos -
Country name: conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic conventional short form: Laos local short form: none local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
Government type: Communist state
Capital: Vientiane Administrative divisions: 16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural), 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon, singular and plural), and 1 special zone** (khetphiset, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xaisomboun**, Xekong, Xiangkhoang
Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France)
National holiday: Republic Day, 2 December (1975)
Constitution: promulgated 14 August 1991
Legal system: based on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures, and Socialist practice
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Gen. KHAMTAI Siphandon (since 26 February 1998) and Vice President Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 27 March 2001) head of government: Prime Minister BOUNGNANG Volachit (since 27 March 2001); First Deputy Prime Minister Maj. Gen. ASANG Laoli (since NA May 2002), Deputy Prime Minister THONGLOUN Sisolit (since 27 March 2001), and Deputy Prime Minister SOMSAVAT Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998) cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president, approved by the National Assembly elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term; election last held 24 February 2002 (next to be held NA 2007); prime minister appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly for a five-year term election results: KHAMTAI Siphandon elected president; percent of National Assembly vote - NA%
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly (109 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; note - total number of seats increased from 99 to 109 for the 2002 election) elections: last held 24 February 2002 (next to be held NA 2007) election results: percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - LPRP or LPRP-approved (independent, non- party members) 109
Judicial branch: People's Supreme Court (the president of the People's Supreme Court is elected by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee; the vice president of the People's Supreme Court and the judges are appointed by the National Assembly Standing Committee) Political parties and leaders: Lao People's Revolutionary Party or LPRP [KHAMTAI Siphandon, party president]; other parties proscribed Political pressure groups and noncommunist political groups
leaders: proscribed; most opposition leaders fled the country in 1975 International organization ACCT, ARF, AsDB, ASEAN, CP, ESCAP,
participation: FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, ITU, NAM, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO (observer) Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador VANG Rattanavong FAX: [1] (202) 332-4923 telephone: [1] (202) 332-6416 chancery: 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador Douglas
US: A. HARTWICK embassy: 19 Rue Bartholonie, B. P. 114, Vientiane mailing address: American Embassy, Box V, APO AP 96546 telephone: [856] (21) 212581, 212582, 212585 FAX: [856] (21) 212584
Flag description: three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band Economy Laos
Economy - overview: The government of Laos - one of the few remaining official Communist states - began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 7% in 1988-2001 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a primitive infrastructure; it has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food-processing and mining.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $9.2 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 5% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $1,630 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 53% industry: 22% services: 25% (2000 est.) Population below poverty line: 40% (2001 est.) Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: 3.2%
percentage share: highest 10%: 30.6% (1997) Distribution of family income - Gini 37 (1997)
index: Inflation rate (consumer prices): 10% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 2.4 million (1999) Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 80% (1997 est.)
Unemployment rate: 5.7% (1997 est.)
Budget: revenues: $211 million expenditures: $462 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY98/99 est.)
Industries: tin and gypsum mining, timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, tourism Industrial production growth rate: 7.5% (1999 est.) Electricity - production: 1.02 billion kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 1.96% hydro: 98.04% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 690.6 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 400 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 142 million kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton; tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
Exports: $325 million (2001 est.)
Exports - commodities: wood products, garments, electricity, coffee, tin
Exports - partners: Thailand 20%, France 7.5%, Germany 5.9%, UK 4.1%, Belgium 4% (2000)
Imports: $540 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel
Imports - partners: Thailand 52%, Singapore 3.9%, Japan 1.6%, Hong Kong 1.5%, China 0.8% (2000)
Debt - external: $2.53 billion (1999) Economic aid - recipient: $345 million (1999 est.)
Currency: kip (LAK)
Currency code: LAK
Exchange rates: kips per US dollar - 9,467.00 (December 2001), 8,954.58 (2001), 7,887.64 (2000), 7,102.03 (1999), 3,298.33 (1998), 1,259.98 (1997)
Fiscal year: 1 October - 30 September Communications Laos - Telephones - main lines in use: 25,000 (1997) Telephones - mobile cellular: 4,915 (1997)
Telephone system: general assessment: service to general public is poor but improving, with over 20,000 telephones currently in service and an additional 48,000 expected by 2001; the government relies on a radiotelephone network to communicate with remote areas domestic: radiotelephone communications international: satellite earth station - 1 Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region) Radio broadcast stations: AM 12, FM 1, shortwave 4 (1998)
Radios: 730,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: 4 (1999)
Televisions: 52,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .la Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 6,000 (2001) Transportation Laos -
Railways: 0 km (2001)
Highways: total: 14,000 km paved: 3,360 km unpaved: 10,640 km (1991)
Waterways: 4,587 km approximately note: primarily Mekong and tributaries; 2,897 additional km are intermittently navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 m
Pipelines: petroleum products 136 km
Ports and harbors: none
Merchant marine: total: 1 ship (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 2,370 GRT/3,110 DWT ships by type: cargo 1 (2002 est.)
Airports: 51 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 9 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 5 914 to 1,523 m: 3 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 42 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 15 under 914 m: 26 (2001) Military Laos -
Military branches: Lao People's Army (LPA; including Riverine Force), Air Force, National Police Department Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 1,365,027 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 734,945 (2002 est.)
service: Military manpower - reaching males: 64,437 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $55 million (FY98)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 4.2% (FY96/97)
GDP: Transnational Issues Laos - Disputes - international: demarcation of boundaries with Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam is nearing completion, but with Thailand, several areas including Mekong River islets, remain in dispute; ongoing disputes with Thailand and Vietnam over squatters
Illicit drugs: world's third-largest illicit opium producer (estimated cultivation in 2001 - 22,000 hectares, a 5% decrease over 2000; estimated potential production in 2001 - 200 metric tons, about the same as in 2000); potential heroin producer; transshipment point for heroin and methamphetamine produced in Burma; illicit producer of cannabis; growing methamphetamine abuse problem

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officially Lao People's Democratic Republic

Country, Southeast Asia.

Area: 91,429 sq mi (236,800 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 5,777,000. Capital: Vientiane. Laos's major ethnic groups include the Lao-Lum (valley Lao), who make up two-thirds of the population; the Lao-Tai, a highland tribal people; the Lao-Theung (Mon-Khmer), descendants of the region's earliest inhabitants; and the Lao-Soung group, including the Hmong and Man. Languages: Lao (official), English, Vietnamese, French. Religions: Theravada Buddhism (much of the population), animism. Currency: kip. Laos is largely mountainous, especially in the north; its highest point is Mount Bia (9,245 ft, or 2,818 m). Tropical forests cover more than half of the country's total land area; only a tiny portion of its total area is suitable for agriculture. The floodplains of the Mekong River provide the country's only lowlands and its major wet-rice fields. Laos has a centrally planned economy based primarily on agriculture (including rice, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, cassava, and opium) and international aid. It is a people's republic with one legislative house; its chief of state is the president and its head of government is the prime minister. The Lao people migrated into Laos from southern China after the 8th century AD, displacing indigenous tribes now known as the Kha. In the 14th century Fa Ngum founded the first Laotian state, Lan Xang. Except for a period of rule by Burma (1574–1637), the Lan Xang kingdom ruled Laos until 1713, when it split into three kingdoms
Vientiane, Champassak, and Luang Prabang. During the 18th century the rulers of the three Laotian kingdoms became vassals of Siam. France gained control of the region in 1893, and Laos became a French protectorate. In 1945 Japan seized control and declared Laos independent. The area reverted to French rule after World War II. By the end of the First Indochina War, the leftist Pathet Lao movement controlled two provinces of the country. The Geneva Conference of 1954 unified and granted independence to Laos. Pathet Lao forces fought the Laotian government and took control in 1975, establishing the Lao People's Democratic Republic; about one-tenth of the population fled into neighboring Thailand. Laos held its first election in 1989 and promulgated a new constitution in 1991. Although its economy was adversely affected by the regional economic recession beginning in the mid-1990s, it realized a longtime goal in 1997 when it joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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▪ 2009

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2008 est.): 5,963,000
Chief of state:
President Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government:
Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh

      Laos, which spent much of 2008 preparing to host the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, saw the event as heralding the country's further integration into the group of Southeast Asian countries. The regime's desire for regional recognition, however, bore a cost that the country could not manage alone. Thus, in exchange for a 50-year concession of 1,640 ha (4,052 ac) of wetland in the north of the capital, a Chinese-led joint venture agreed to build a sports complex on the outskirts of Vientiane in preparation for the Games. This agreement between the government and Chinese investors was received very poorly by the population living in the capital; residents of the affected area, as well as some Lao officials, expressed their concerns over the Chinese plans to construct a residential, commercial, and industrial complex that would be located in close proximity to That Luang, the Buddhist monument that was the country's national symbol. Faced with public discontent—relayed and amplified by foreign nongovernmental organizations and media—Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad gave a rare news conference in February in an attempt to clarify the terms of the agreement. Although work had yet to begin on That Luang marsh, the size of the area also became unclear (some unofficial reports indicated that the area had been reduced to 200–1,000 ha (about 494–2,471 ac).

      Land concessions had emerged as a serious and complex issue over the past few years in Laos. Though such concessions officially involved long-term leases of state land to investors, they often covered village lands, owing to poorly defined and enforced regulations governing land rights. The most controversial aspect of land concessions concerned the lease of vast areas of cultivable land to foreign investors (mainly from Vietnam, Thailand, and China) for the commercial production of crops (notably rubber and cassava). Violent protests in early 2007 involving villagers in Salavan and Champasak provinces, whose lands and crops had been encroached upon by a commercial tree plantation, resulted in the government's proclaiming (May 9, 2007) an indefinite moratorium on large land concessions for industrial trees, perennial plants, and mining. This unprecedented decision might help to slow down the development of large-scale commercial agricultural schemes and to lessen their impacts on farmers' livelihoods; it was unlikely, however, that the government would cease to pursue its strategy of attracting foreign investment by facilitating access to the country's “unexploited” natural resources.

Vatthana Pholsena

▪ 2008

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2007 est.): 5,859,000
Chief of state:
President Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government:
Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh

 The economy of Laos continued to grow steadily in 2007, with a growth rate that was expected to remain at about 7%. This expansion was driven to a large extent by foreign direct investment (FDI), particularly in the natural resource and industry sectors through the ongoing construction of a number of large hydropower dams ( Nam Theun 2, Nam Ngum 2, and Se Kaman 3) and the development of mining activities. (The largest mines in the country, Sepon Mine in the south and Phu Bia Mine in the north, were both operated by Australian companies.) The main foreign investors included Thailand, Vietnam, China, Australia, France, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea, followed by relatively recent newcomers such as Singapore, Taiwan, India, and Russia. The impact of these projects was enormous. Without these large hydropower and mining projects, Laos's GDP growth rate would have averaged nearly 2 points lower between 2003 and 2006. The continued rapid growth of the mining industry was expected; in its five-year plan (2006–11), the Ministry of Trade and Handicrafts envisioned annual growth of nearly 11.5% in mineral production. The negative social and environmental impacts of these projects were of concern, however. The creation in July 2007 of a new governmental agency, the Water Resources and Environment Agency may have signaled the government's renewed commitment to a more holistic approach to the country's development.

      FDI had also been crucial over the previous few years for the growth of the agricultural sector in Laos, mainly through the production of rubber, eucalyptus, and cash crops (such as sugarcane and coffee). China, Vietnam, and Thailand were lead investors in this sector. Vietnamese companies were largely present in the south (Champassak, Sekong, Saravane, and Attopeu), while Chinese investors were very active in the northern provinces, mainly Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, and Phongsaly. Thai companies were mainly located in the central (Vientiane, Bolikhamxay) and southern (Khammouane, Savannakhet) regions. The development of export-driven commercial agriculture, through long-term land concessions (up to 50 years, in some cases renewable) and based largely on foreign investments and loans from international lending agencies (e.g., the Asian Development Bank), constituted an important instrument in the government's ambitious plans to modernize the countryside. Whether the benefits of such a top-down strategy would outweigh the costs remained to be seen. The very rapid transformation of upland farming in Laos was already raising much concern; many farmers were still ill-prepared to cope with the transition from subsistence to market-based livelihoods.

Vatthana Pholsena

▪ 2007

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2006 est.): 5,751,000
Chief of state:
Presidents Khamtay Siphandone and, from June 8, Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Boungnang Vorachith and, from June 8, Bouasone Bouphavanh

 A major reshuffle at the top political level marked the year 2006 in Laos; the move was formalized in proceedings held March 18–21 at the eighth Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, the Communist Party's most important event in the political calendar. During the closed-door event, 498 delegates, representing 148,590 party members, gathered to review past policies and finalize the sixth National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2006–10). The congress endorsed the departure of Khamtay Siphandone, 82, as the party's secretary-general and his replacement by Gen. Choummaly Sayasone, 70, former defense minister and vice president since 2001. Khamtay also stepped down from his position as head of state. In April parliamentary elections, 175 candidates—all but 2 were party members—contested 115 seats, and the party's tight control over the executive and the legislature was maintained. On June 8 the new National Assembly appointed General Choummaly as the country's new president, and Bouasone Bouphavanh, 52, recently promoted in the Politburo rankings, was named the new prime minister, replacing Boungnang Vorachith, who became vice president. Though these moves suggested that the leadership might be striving for more efficient governance, the reshuffle did not result in a complete generational change. The old guard retained power by remaining in command of the Politburo.

       Hydropower projects and electricity sales to neighbouring countries (especially Thailand) constituted a major vector of the government's export and development strategy. In May the construction of the 615-MW Nam Ngum II project in Vientiane municipality was officially launched with the signing of power-purchase, financial, and construction agreements between the Thai-Lao venture (involving Electricité du Laos and private Thai construction companies) and the Laos government. The power plant was expected to be operational by 2013 and its electricity ready to be sold to Thailand. Meanwhile, construction began at the end of 2005 on the highly contested Nam Theun II Dam in central Laos; the 1,070-MW hydroelectric project was located on the Nam Theun River in Nakai district, Khammouane province. Protests (mainly outside the country) against the project continued, and opponents of the project stressed the social and environmental costs of such construction to the local population. The dam's proponents pointed out the economic benefits and development opportunities for a country that was in dire need of hard currency.

Vatthana Pholsena

▪ 2006

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2005 est.): 5,924,000
Chief of state:
President Khamtay Siphandone
Head of government:
Prime Minister Bounngang Vorachith

      For Laos 2005 was a year for self-congratulation. On Nov. 29–30, 2004, for the first time since joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1997, Laos hosted the annual ASEAN summit. This brought together not only the leaders of the 10 member states but also leaders of countries with official dialogue status (China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand). This was followed by the 38th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane on July 26, 2005.

      Both meetings taxed the capacity of Vientiane to the maximum in terms of accommodations and security. Four small explosions were reported in the days leading up to the summit, all well outside the city limits and causing no casualties or significant damage. Security was understandably tight for both occasions, with limits imposed on the movement of people and vehicles. Elsewhere in the country, the Hmong insurgency seemed to have all but collapsed as bedraggled remnants gave themselves up to authorities.

      The importance of these international meetings for Laos lay not just in the agreements signed—notably the Vientiane Action Programme (VAP), designed to reduce the socioeconomic gap between the wealthier ASEAN states and the poorer ones, including Laos—but also in the international attention Laos received and the boost given to the country's self-esteem. Establishment of an ASEAN Development Fund under the VAP was especially likely to benefit Laos.

      Confidence was also boosted by the agreement of the World Bank finally to back construction of the massive $1.2 billion Nam Theun II Dam in central Laos. The dam would produce 1,070 MW of power when completed in six years. Income from the project was to be earmarked for the country's poverty-reduction program.

      Laos was also looking forward to increased revenue from mining. In early 2005 copper production began at the Australian-owned mine in southern Sepone province. Other new mines were in the planning stage elsewhere in the country. The government expected revenue from mining taxes and royalties to reach $460 million annually by 2020, a figure almost double the country's total revenue for 2003–04.

Martin Stuart-Fox

▪ 2005

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2003 est.): 5,657,000
Chief of state:
President Khamtay Siphandone
Head of government:
Prime Minister Bounngang Vorachith

      Issues of regional integration were topmost among the priorities for Laos in 2004. In November, for the first time, Laos was host of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—an event that was, despite the logistic and financial challenges, a landmark for Laos's relations with its neighbours. In March, the first Thai-Lao joint cabinet retreat had taken place in Pakse, southern Laos, led by the two countries' prime ministers. The meeting marked the official start of the construction of the second Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge between the towns of Savannakhet, Laos, and Mukdahan, Thai.; the first Friendship Bridge connected Vientiane with Nongkhai. Earlier in the same month, the Thai government approved partial funding for the construction of a third bridge, linking Huay Xai, Laos, and Chiang Rai, Thai. Additional investment was expected from China. The Laotian government and various donors (notably the Asian Development Bank) hoped that the building of such infrastructure would turn Laos into the transportation hub of mainland Southeast Asia. Perhaps as a consequence of warmer relations between the two countries, the 16 Lao dissidents who participated in an attack against a customs checkpoint in southern Laos in 2000 were extradited to Laos in July.

      In late February there appeared to be some respite in the conflict between the Laotian government and groups of what it called Hmong resistance fighters, with Hmong surrendering allegedly in exchange for amnesty and allotments of land. The Hmong people had clashed with the Lao army over many years for reasons that were linked both with the government's development projects and with past history (some Hmong were entangled in a proxy alliance with the United States and fought against the Lao communists during the Vietnam War). Reports of the brutal killing of Hmong teenagers by a group of Laotian soldiers in September reignited serious concerns within the international community over authorities' handling of the Hmong issue.

      The World Bank hosted an unprecedented series of public consultations between August and September in five capitals (Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris, Washington, and Vientiane) over Laos's controversial Nam Theun 2 hydropower project. A final decision was expected from the bank by early 2005.

Vatthana Pholsena

▪ 2004

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2003 est.): 5,657,000
Chief of state:
President Khamtay Siphandone
Head of government:
Prime Minister Bounngang Vorachith

      Laos made headlines in 2003 when a Belgian reporter, a French photographer, and their interpreter (an ethnic Hmong U.S. citizen) were given 15-year prison sentences after a two-hour trial in late June; they were deported two weeks later following intense diplomatic pressure. While reporting on the remaining members of a Hmong hill-tribe army who had been resisting the government since 1975, the trio had been caught in a skirmish in which a village official was killed. Support for the insurgents by U.S.-based Hmong exiles gained sharper focus during the year as the U.S. and Laos moved toward “normal trade relations.”

      In February, 2 European cyclists and 10 bus travelers died in an ambush on Highway 13, which links Vientiane with the ancient capital, Luang Prabang. Another bus attack in February was followed by an ambush in April in which 12 were killed, a bomb explosion on a bus in the south in June, a border-post gunfight in July, a bomb explosion at a Vientiane bus station and reported clashes in the northwest in August, and grenade attacks in two markets in late October. Dismissed by the government as “bandits,” the shadowy perpetrators nevertheless caused embassies to renew travel warnings. In September two men were sentenced to life imprisonment for bombings in 2000 and 2001, and a third was sentenced to 14 months for not having reported the crimes. In October Bouasone Bouphavanh, a close aide to Pres. Khamtay Siphandone, was appointed deputy prime minister responsible for home affairs, which included tackling insurgency.

      Aid-dependent Laos, battered by “donor fatigue,” security concerns, a weakening currency, and a regional downturn in tourism, was shaken in July by the withdrawal from the Nam Theun-2 hydroelectric power plant project of its largest shareholder, EdF International, a subsidiary of state-owned Electricité de France, one day before a power purchase contract was to be signed with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. In October the French reversed course and Lao officials insisted that the project would be completed in 2009. Prime Minister Bounngang Vorachith told the Fourth National Assembly that GDP growth for 2002–03 was 5.9%, higher than the 5.5% estimated by international agencies but close to projections for 2004.

      Thailand approved assistance for a 3.5-km (2.2-mi) railway from its Nong Khai border to Tha Na Lueng in Laos; a 49-km (30-mi) road into northern Laos; cooperation on border security, drugs, and human trafficking; and a tourism tie-up in the Emerald Triangle, which links Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. The national carrier changed its name to Lao Airlines and leased its first Airbus. In October Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavad assured colleagues at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that Laos, which still lacked a completed five-star hotel or convention centre, would be ready to host their 10th summit in 2004.

John Beaumont Ash

▪ 2003

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2002 est.): 5,777,000
Vientiane (Viangchan)
Chief of state:
President Khamtai Siphandon
Head of government:
Prime Minister Boungnang Vorachith

      The elections on Feb. 24, 2002, for the 109-seat National Assembly returned many members of the ruling Central Committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, as well as one noncommunist among the 166 candidates—Justice Minister Khamouane Boupha, a confidant of Pres. Khamtai Siphandon. In April the Assembly met to reelect the 78-year-old Khamtai unanimously for another five years. Prime Minister Boungnang Vorachith, promoted from finance minister in 2001, was reappointed, which thereby confounded predictions that Khamtai would turn instead to foreign-investment-friendly Thongloun Sisoulith, deputy prime minister and president of the Committee for Planning and Cooperation. In September the Assembly met again to hear typically rosy economic predictions for 2003. Boungnang visited Indonesia and the Philippines in April, while Khamtai was received in the Vietnamese capital the following month.

      Soubanh Sritthirath, chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Supervision and Control, claimed in June that in four years opium poppy cultivation in the country had been reduced by 50% to 14,000 ha (34,600 ac). In August Laotian and Thai drug-eradication forces swapped names of known drug traders. A lingering dispute with Bangkok over the repatriation of Laotians involved in the July 2000 storming of a border post remained unresolved. Thai Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told his Laotian counterpart, Douangchai Phichit, that the matter would have to await a court decision. By September Laos had dropped its objection to the repatriation from Thailand of Hmong refugees but insisted that troublemakers first be weeded out. In July London-based Amnesty International accused Vientiane of using torture and arbitrary detention. Laos asked Thailand in May to give its citizens preferential treatment for foreign-labour permits in view of close language and cultural ties.

      Ambitious plans for a highway from China through Laos to the Thai road network and port systems seemed likely to get a green light by the year's end. Vientiane revived a plan to lease its allotted communications-satellite position to Western media companies. A Thai-French-Laotian consortium in October agreed upon a long-stalled hydroelectricity project to sell power to Thailand. Malaysian investors discussed building a railroad network. In October the National Assembly set an optimistic goal for gross domestic product growth of 6–7% for 2003, partly encouraged by an International Monetary Fund report praising Laos's efforts in fighting inflation, stabilizing the economy, rekindling interest from foreign investors, reducing dependence on electricity exports, and encouraging tourism.

Robert Woodrow

▪ 2002

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2001 est.): 5,636,000
Vientiane (Viangchan)
Chief of state:
President Khamtai Siphandon
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Sisavath Keobounphanh and, from March 27, Boungnang Vorachith

      The seventh congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party was opened on March 12, 2001, by Pres. Khamtai Siphandon, who, as anticipated, was unanimously reelected party chairman. Contrary to widespread predictions that Vientiane's increasingly market-oriented policies would lead to a more reform-minded leadership, most of the secretive political and military chiefs retained their positions. On March 27 the compliant National Assembly chose Finance Minister Boungnang Vorachith to replace Sisavath Keobounphanh as prime minister, but Sisavath kept his seat on the all-powerful Political Bureau. President Khamtai was uncharacteristically frank about the failure of the previous government to bring about increased prosperity and outlined an ambitious 20-year program for economic growth and better education, health, and living standards. Few impartial observers, including analysts at the international lending agencies, put much faith in the promised outcome, however, pointing out that Laos's dependence on foreign aid had doubled over the previous 15 years to about half of the annual budget in 2001. In April the International Monetary Fund approved a $40 million loan for financial stability.

      Laos and Thailand signed an agreement in March to construct a second bridge over the Mekong River at Savannakhet, about 500 km (310 mi) downstream from the existing bridge near Vientiane. New roads were envisaged to promote trade with Vietnam. In August Laos and Cambodia approached Japan for financial backing for yet another Mekong bridge. Laos's largest source of foreign exchange—the income from selling hydroelectricity to Thailand—was dealt a blow when Bangkok, blaming an economic slowdown, reduced the number of purchases it promised to make. In June the problem of refugees was addressed at a UN-sponsored conference in Louangphrabang, the old royal capital. Human rights groups in the U.S. heavily criticized the continuing forced repatriation of refugees from Thailand. A simmering row over the detention of two Australian business executives for what Vientiane claimed to be fraud in a gem-mining business threatened to damage relations with one of the country's leading aid donors. Eventually the two were released to the Australian ambassador. During the course of this controversy, Vientiane introduced new controls over both local and foreign media.

Robert Woodrow

▪ 2001

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(2000 est.): 5,497,000
Vientiane (Viangchan)
Chief of state:
President Khamtai Siphandon
Head of government:
Prime Minister Sisavath Keobounphanh

      A spate of bombings beginning March 30, 2000, at a restaurant in Vientiane and continuing throughout the year caused much puzzled speculation in Laos. No organization claimed responsibility for the acts, and the government blamed no rebel groups. This led to unverified suspicions that rival factions within the secretive top leadership were engaged in a struggle for power. Tellingly, the 25th anniversaries of events leading to the 1975 communist takeover were allowed to pass with little fanfare. The explosions, mostly causing only minor injuries, were at public places, including the capital's main post office, market, bus terminal, and airport. On September 28 a quasi curfew after midnight was imposed. Tourism in the country was inevitably affected, especially given that 2000 had been designated “Visit Laos Year,” with a target of one million visitors and $100 million in revenue. On July 3 a bizarre attack on a southern border post, involving hired gunmen from Thailand, caused a furor on both sides of the border. Six of the raiders were killed and 28 arrested by Thai police as they fled into Thailand.

      The Paris-based royal family, led by Prince Regent Sauryavong Savang and his nephew, heir apparent Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, began assuming a higher profile during the year. They had talks with U.S. congressional leaders in advance of a U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos in June and were received at the French Foreign Ministry in September for the first time since their exile. Khamxay Souphanouvong, a government minister and son of the late Laotian president Prince Souphanouvong, was absent from his duties beginning in April, and though the government insisted that nothing was amiss, Thai authorities implied that he was seeking political asylum there. By early December, Souphanouvong had not returned to Laos.

      Though not as badly hit as neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos suffered from record flooding of the Mekong River basin in September. The UN World Food Programme pledged aid to 30,000 farming people from among the 100,000 whose crops had been lost in the inundation of 25,000 ha (61,750 ac) of rice paddies. These and other economic problems were addressed at a plenary session of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party in mid-September. Ambitious plans for improving literacy, hygiene, communications, energy, and transportation were outlined. Most foreign analysts, however, considered the proposed timescale unrealistic. With a chronically unstable kip, skepticism also greeted the government's claim in October that inflation in Laos was down to 10% and the country was on course for gross domestic product growth of 6% for the year.

Robert Woodrow

▪ 2000

236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)
(1999 est.): 5,407,000
Vientiane (Viangchan)
Chief of state:
President Khamtai Siphandon
Head of government:
Prime Minister Sisavath Keobounphanh

      In a speech to the Lao People's Revolutionary Party in Vientiane on March 9, 1999, Laotian Pres. Khamtai Siphandon urged the people to overcome the national crisis brought about by regional economic instability. Circumstances worsened, however, as trade and foreign investment declined, inflation raged, and local traders shunned the plummeting kip for the stable Thai baht. In August the secretive Politburo replaced both the finance minister and the central bank governor. Deputy Prime Minister Boungnang Volachit, former governor of Vientiane, took over the Finance Ministry, but Prime Minister Sisavath Keobounphanh increasingly took direct charge, steering the country toward market-oriented policies. Although ties with communist Vietnam were championed by President Khamtai during a visit to Hanoi in October, Laos accelerated its ongoing process of aligning the economy with Thailand's. A major worry for communist leaders was a growing reverence for the Thai king among ordinary Laotians. In the face of this threat to national identity, the government was unexpectedly restrained when the Paris-exiled pretender to the Laotian throne, Prince Soulivong Savang, called for a referendum to reestablish the monarchy. In March Prime Minister Sisavath paid a low-key visit to Bangkok to discuss bilateral ties. A fall in demand in Thailand for Laos-generated electricity, the largest source of foreign exchange, triggered a request by Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavat for continued power purchases as a gesture of friendship. Meanwhile, the Thai company that had planned to link the Laotian capital with Thailand's rail network announced that the scheme was no longer viable.

      Much hope was pinned on “Visit Laos Year,” the government's drive to attract more tourists. Visas were made easier, and new border-crossing points opened. France promised to pay for staff training for the tourism industry and Thailand for expansion of the airport at Luang Prabang, the old royal capital.

      Among the important developmental achievements in 1999 were the extension of the telephone network, new irrigation pumps, and completion of more stages of the massive Mekong River hydroelectric power project. In May the Asian Development Bank extended a $60 million low-interest loan to Laos and offered an additional $5 million annually in technical assistance. The ADB also helped reorganize the country's banking sector with the merger of three commercial banks in March.

Robert Woodrow

▪ 1999

      Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 5,261,000

      Capital: Vientiane (Viangchan)

      Chief of state: Presidents Nouhak Phoumsavan and, from February 24, Gen. Khamtai Siphandon

      Head of government: Prime Ministers Gen. Khamtai Siphandon and, from February 24, Sisavath Keobounphanh

      During the first week of January 1998, results of the elections held on Dec. 21, 1997, became known. The communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party won all but one of the 99 seats in the National Assembly. Four noncommunist candidates approved by the Lao Front for National Construction had been allowed to run. The first plenary session of the Assembly met at the end of February to elect the nation's leaders. As expected, Pres. Nouhak Phoumsavanh retired and was replaced by Khamtai Siphandon, prime minister since 1991. Khamtai retained his position as head of the Politburo and thus greatly consolidated his power. Vice Pres. Sisavath Keobounphanh, who had been sidelined in 1991 and rehabilitated in 1996, was promoted to prime minister.

      The second session of the National Assembly met September 29 to consider the budget and economic development. Earlier, in what promised to be a change in foreign relations, President Khamtai had replaced the ambassadors to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, and the U.S.

      On May 25 a military plane normally used by President Khamtai crashed in northern Laos, killing Vietnam's visiting vice-defense minister, Gen. Dao Trong Lich. In June the European Union called for Laos's admission to the World Trade Organization within one year and offered further economic and humanitarian assistance while urging additional free-market reforms. In August, amid much controversy, Thailand began preparations to repatriate thousands of ethnic Hmong Laotian refugees, including anticommunist dissidents.

      The East Asian financial crisis affected Laos badly. By October the kip had depreciated by more than 200%. Inflation, up from 8% in 1997, was approaching 100%, and no economic growth was anticipated. In June the International Monetary Fund severely criticized Laos's handling of its economy, but the IMF's rehabilitation measures met strong resistance from the nation's central bank and Finance Ministry. Compounding the problem was the economic slowdown in neighbouring Thailand, which resulted in the postponement of planned investments in industrial infrastructure and a railway link. In October the Asian Development Bank warned that the ambitious Mekong River Basin economic development plan was also adversely affected. Japan, however, pledged to proceed with financing the construction of a second Mekong River bridge at Savanakhet.


▪ 1998

      Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 5,117,000

      Capital: Vientiane (Viangchan)

      Chief of state: President Nouhak Phoumsavan

      Head of government: Prime Minister Gen. Khamtai Siphandon

      On July 23, 1997, Laos realized a longtime goal when it became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Laos also joined the ASEAN Free Trade Area and undertook to integrate intraregional and external trade tariffs by 2007. While other ASEAN members pledged to lend the country technical and administrative support, Laos in turn agreed to permit citizens of ASEAN states to travel visa-free within its borders. In early September the Laotian legislature was accepted into the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization. A flurry of high-level state visits to Vientiane commemorated the country's new status: President Suharto of Indonesia traveled to Laos in February, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in March, Cambodia Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen in April, Thailand Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in June, Vietnam Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet in August, and Philippines Pres. Fidel Ramos in October. Laotian Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandon paid visits during the year to Myanmar (Burma), Cuba, and India.

      In February a concession was granted to a Thai company to build and operate Laos's first railway, a 1,500-km (930-mi) network linking Vientiane to neighbouring countries. A 20-km (12-mi) stretch between the capital and Nong Khai, Thai., via the existing Mekong River Bridge was to be completed by late 1998. An accord to build a second Mekong bridge, financed by Japan and joining the southern Laotian province of Suvannakhet with the Thai border town Mukdahan, was signed on May 1. In July Vientiane was host of a World Bank meeting on building the long-delayed $1.2 billion Nam Theun-2 Dam along a tributary of the Mekong. The dam's proposed 615-MW hydroelectric power station was fiercely resisted by environmentalists and human rights activists from other countries who opposed the relocation of hill-tribe people. Consequently, the World Bank asked the government to do additional environmental impact studies before the project could go forward.

      The economy was inevitably hurt by the monetary crises that beset Southeast Asia in 1997. The devaluation of the Thai baht after July 2 resulted in a black market in currency dealings in Vientiane as the government tried in vain to prevent the kip from plunging with the closely tied Thai unit.

      In elections during December for members of the National Assembly, candidates of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party won 98 of the 99 seats. The party, which tolerated no organized opposition, allowed four independents to contest the vote.

      This article updates laos, history of (Laos).

▪ 1997

      A landlocked republic, Laos is in the northern part of the Indochinese Peninsula. Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 5,023,000. Cap.: Vientiane (Viangchan). Monetary unit: kip, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a controlled rate of 920 kip to U.S. $1 (1,449 kip = £1 sterling). President in 1996, Nouhak Phoumsavan; prime minister, Gen. Khamtai Siphandon.

      The sixth congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, which took place in late March 1996, was the setting for a long-expected showdown between proponents of reform and the communist old guard. In the end the hard-liners triumphed, though not without having to make concessions. Nouhak Phoumsavan, a hard-liner, was retained as president but dropped from the Politburo. A new post of vice president was created, and it was filled by Agriculture Minister Sisavat Keobounphan. The standard-bearer of the reform group, Deputy Prime Minister Khamphoui Keoboualapha, who had supervised the free-market reforms of recent years, was ousted from both the Politburo and the party's Central Committee, though he retained his ministerial rank. Khamphoui's chief rival, Lieut. Gen. Choummali Saignason, enhanced his position as minister of defense in a reshuffled Politburo, of whom two-thirds were in the military. Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandon reaffirmed one-party rule but called for more economic deregulation, efficiency, and growth.

      In late October President Nouhak welcomed Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and called for a strengthening of ties between the two socialist nations. It was, however, amicable relations with capitalist Thailand that provided more concrete gains. The neighbours planned to begin demarcation of their disputed boundary in December. Thailand promised to address what the culturally and linguistically related Laotians perceived as its condescension toward them but was thanked by Laos for refusing requests by the United States to allow broadcasts from its territory by the anticommunist Radio Free Asia. Alarmed by a likely exodus following Thailand's relaxation of restrictions against foreign labour, Laos prohibited workers from seeking jobs in labour-starved factories across the border. (ROBERT WOODROW)

      This article updates laos, history of (Laos).

▪ 1996

      A landlocked republic, Laos is in the northern part of the Indochinese Peninsula. Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 4,882,000. Cap.: Vientiane (Viangchan). Monetary unit: kip, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a controlled rate of 920 kip to U.S. $1 (1,454 kip = £1 sterling). President in 1995, Nouhak Phoumsavan; prime minister, Gen. Khamtai Siphandon.

      Laotian Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavat surprised delegates at the ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held in Brunei in late July and early August when he announced that Laos would seek full membership within two years. It was recognized that financial and logistic assistance would have to be extended to Laos, which would otherwise be unable to attend some 200 ASEAN meetings each year or to employ translators. Later in the year, Laotian diplomats began attending training seminars at the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta, Indon.

      A visit by Pres. Nouhak Phoumsavan to Myanmar (Burma) in May continued to improve relations between the neighbouring states, both of which were turning away from socialism. Agreements were reached on trade, transport, and agricultural cooperation. A border demarcation pact signed the previous year was ratified. The following week Winston Lord, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Vientiane, where he announced the lifting of a ban on U.S. aid. It had been in place since the Vietnam War.

      In April Laos joined Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in setting up a commission to manage the resources of the Mekong River. Because China and Myanmar did not attend the first meeting in Phnom Penh, no effective policies could be implemented. Laos announced that it would join the 128 other nations supporting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Eighteen areas of natural forest totaling 2.5 million ha (6.2 million ac) were designated protected areas. It was acknowledged that Laos lacked both the funds and the trained personnel to implement the program effectively, however. Both Vietnam and Thailand pressed Laos to give priority to building Road 9, which would connect Thailand's Savanakhet province to the city of Quang Tri in Vietnam. Laos, however, favoured Road 8, which led to the Vietnamese port of Vinh.

      Laos's economy was troubled by the progressive weakness of the kip. This accentuated the trade deficit and caused rising prices of imported goods, especially oil products. Because the government was reluctant to allow retail prices to climb, higher inflation and a larger budget deficit resulted, which thus made Laos less attractive to foreign investors. Some confidence was restored in August when the Asian Development Bank granted an interest-free loan of $20 million for urban infrastructure. (ROBERT WOODROW)

      This updates the article laos, history of (Laos).

▪ 1995

      A landlocked republic, Laos is in the northern part of the Indochinese Peninsula. Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 4,743,000. Cap.: Vientiane. Monetary unit: kip, with (Oct. 7, 1994) an official rate of 720 kip to U.S. $1 (1,145 kip = £ 1 sterling). President in 1994, Nouhak Phoumsavan; prime minister, Gen. Khamtai Siphandon.

      The defining event of 1994 was the opening on April 8 of the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, built with U.S. $30 million in aid from Australia. Laotian Pres. Nouhak Phoumsavan and King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand jointly cut the ribbon in the presence of the prime ministers of Laos, Thailand, and Australia. The 1,170-m (3,840-ft) link across the Mekong River, 19 km (12 mi) downstream from Vientiane, not only opened the way for more trade and investment from Laos's richer southern neighbour but dramatically symbolized the swift realignment of Laos away from its colonial and Cold War ally Vietnam. The pace of reconciliation with Thailand, with which Laos shared a broad ethnic identity, approached cultural and economic absorption. Thai-owned banks, media companies, transport firms, and factories overwhelmingly dominated new investment in an economy that had shed virtually all its socialist principles.

      On March 14 the National Assembly passed a foreign-investment law codifying rules for joint ventures and foreign-owned companies. It also eliminated business by contract, a vestige of the planned-economy system. It lowered corporate profit tax and reduced import duties on capital equipment from 5% to 1%. A new labour law guaranteed the rights of trade unions and established rules on workers' probation, dismissal, and overtime. The economy was expected to grow 7%. Prospects for large increases in export revenues from hydroelectricity and lumber worried some environmentalists. Tourism grew rapidly from a very modest base. The entire old royal city of Louangphrabang was declared a national heritage site to be preserved intact.

      Political openness, however, had no place in this social reconstruction. The leadership in Vientiane, though committed to free-market forces, adhered resolutely to its communist identity. Poverty remained widespread. A poor 1993 rice harvest of 1.25 metric tons, down 17% from the previous year, caused serious 1994 food shortages. The European Union, Japan, and Australia purchased grain in Thailand for emergency relief. Only 33% of rural children were receiving five years or more of schooling. An ambitious program for upgrading teachers' qualifications got under way, with the goal of retraining 40% of educators by 1996.


      This updates the article laos, history of (Laos).

▪ 1994

      A landlocked republic, Laos is in the northern part of the Indochinese Peninsula. Area: 236,800 sq km (91,429 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 4,533,000. Cap.: Vientiane. Monetary unit: kip, with (Oct. 4, 1993) an official rate of 720 kip to U.S. $1 (1,094 kip = £ 1 sterling). President in 1993, Nouhak Phoumsavan; prime minister, Gen. Khamtai Siphandon.

      The 85-member National Assembly, elected in December 1992, met in February with a mandate to make "fundamental changes" in society. But the sweeping transformation that followed, or rather continued, owed little to the legislature. The communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party, though wholly committed to abolishing the command economy, remained firmly in control. It would stay in power "forever," a party official said after the election. Pres. Nouhak Phoumsavan and Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandon proceeded apace with the creation of a full-scale market economy.

      A government official visiting Bangkok, Thailand, in August was able to report that the sale of state-owned factories to private enterprise was virtually complete. A Thai firm had acquired the national telephone system and television broadcasting facilities. A senior World Bank official called this transformation truly amazing. In August a nine-man committee was set up to fight rising corruption.

      Neighbouring Thailand was by far the largest source of foreign investment, although firms from the U.S., Japan, and France also injected capital. Thai ventures that won approval included hotels, gas stations, industrial estates, mining operations, and cement marketing. Thai commercial banks opened many branches, while the Bank of Thailand taught the Laotian central bank how to regulate a market economy. Work also continued on a new investment law. In June, Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai signed a memorandum of understanding on development of energy resources. Electricity, the country's most profitable export, was set to expand enormously with the harnessing of hydropower on tributaries of the Mekong River. A study in May indicated that seven new power stations could increase the country's current generating capacity of 195 MW to 2,690 MW within eight years. In addition, a Thai company agreed to develop a 150-MW lignite-fired plant.

      The Friendship Bridge across the Mekong—which linked Vientiane, the Laotian capital, and the Thai port city of Nong Khai—neared completion. A gift of the Australian government, the bridge was designed to accommodate future railroad lines. Studies were also under way for a highway crossing Laos from Thailand to a Vietnamese port. In July Cambodian officials offered alternative access to the sea for Laotian exports. Relations with the U.S. remained good. Laotian authorities cooperated fully as the U.S. continued its search for the remains of 514 servicemen still listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War. The reluctance of Vientiane to accept back tens of thousands of Hmong who had fled the country after the Communist takeover had become a source of friction with several countries. Thailand, for example, reported that some 35,000 Hmong refugees were still living within its borders. (ROBERT WOODROW)

      This updates the article laos, history of (Laos).

* * *

Laos, flag of  landlocked country of northeast-central mainland Southeast Asia. It consists of an irregularly round portion in the north that narrows into a peninsula-like region stretching to the southeast. Overall, the country extends about 650 miles (1,050 km) from northwest to southeast. The capital is Vientiane (Lao: Viangchan), located on the Mekong River in the northern portion of the country.

 The geologically diverse landscape of Laos, with its forested mountains, upland plateaus and lowland plains, supports an equally diverse population that is united largely through agriculture, particularly the cultivation of rice. Interactions—sometimes hostile, sometimes hospitable—with the neighbouring Khmer (Cambodian), Siamese (Thai), and Myanmar (Burmese) kingdoms between the 5th and the mid-19th century indirectly imbued Laos with elements of Indian culture, including Buddhism, the religion now practiced by most of the population. Both Buddhist and Hindu (Hinduism) lores have shaped the visual, performing, and literary arts of the country. Many of the indigenous and minority peoples of the remote highland slopes and mountainous regions, however, have maintained their own idiosyncratic ritual and artistic traditions.

      Colonization by the French from the late 19th to the mid-20th century infused Laos with a European cultural element, which intensified throughout the country's embroilment in World War II and the Indochina wars, as well as a civil war of its own in the second half of the 20th century. Guided by Marxist-Leninist ideology, Laos emerged from the turmoil in 1975 as a communist country. Economic reforms of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the development of tourism, have strengthened Laos's economy, gradually shrinking the country's debt and diminishing its dependence on international aid.

       Laos is bounded to the north by china, to the northeast and east by Vietnam, to the south by Cambodia, to the west by Thailand, and to the northwest by Myanmar (Burma).

 Dominating the landscape of Laos are its inhospitable forest-covered mountains, which in the north rise to a maximum elevation of 9,245 feet (2,818 metres) above sea level at Mount Bia and everywhere constitute an impediment to travel. The principal range lies along a northwest-southeast axis and forms part of the Annamese Cordillera (Chaîne Annamitique), but secondary ranges abound. On the Xiangkhoang Plateau in north-central Laos, the Plain of Jars (Jars, Plain of) (Thông Haihin; the name derived from large prehistoric stone jars discovered there) consists of extensive rolling grasslands rather than a true plain and provides a hub of communications. The karst landscapes of the central provinces of Bolikhamxay and Khammouan contain caverns and severely eroded limestone pinnacles. In the south the Bolovens Plateau, at an elevation of about 3,600 feet (1,100 metres), is covered by open woodland and has generally fertile soil. The only extensive lowlands lie along the eastern bank of the Mekong River.

      The general slope of the land in Laos is downhill from east to west, and all the major rivers—the Tha (Tha River), Beng, Ou (Ou River), Ngum, Kading, Bangfai, Banghiang, and Kong—are tributaries of the Mekong (Mekong River) (Mènam Khong). The Mekong flows generally southeast and south along and through western Laos and forms its boundary with Myanmar and most of the border with Thailand. The course of the river itself is severely constricted by gorges in northern Laos, but, by the time it reaches Vientiane, its valley broadens and exposes wide areas to flooding when the river breaches its banks, as it did most notably in August 1966. A few rivers in eastern Laos flow eastward through gaps in the Annamese Cordillera to reach the Gulf of Tonkin (Tonkin, Gulf of); the most important of these is the Ma River, which rises in the northeast, just inside the Vietnam border.

      Soils in the floodplains are formed from alluvium deposited by rivers and are either sandy or sandy clay with light colours or sandy with gray or yellow colours; chemically, these are neutral to slightly acidic. Upland soils derived from crystalline, granitic, schistose, or sandstone parent rocks generally are more acidic and much less fertile. Southern Laos contains areas of laterite (leached and iron-bearing) soils, as well as basaltic soils on the Bolovens Plateau.

      Laos has the typical tropical monsoon (wet-dry) climate of the region, though the mountains provide some variations in temperature. During the rainy season (May to October), the winds of the southwest monsoon deposit an average rainfall of 50 to 90 inches (1,300 to 2,300 mm), with totals reaching some 160 inches (4,100 mm) on the Bolovens Plateau. The dry season (November to April) is dominated by the northeast monsoon. Minimum temperatures average between 60 and 70 °F (16 and 21 °C) in the cool months of December through February, increasing to highs of more than 90 °F (32 °C) in March and April, just before the start of the rains. In the wet season the average temperature is 80 °F (27 °C).

Plant and animal life
      Laos has tropical rainforests of broad-leaved evergreens in the north and monsoon forests of mixed evergreens and deciduous trees in the south. In the monsoon forest areas the ground is covered with tall, coarse grass called tranh; the trees are mostly secondary growth, with an abundance of bamboo, scrub, and wild banana. Laos is also home to hundreds of species of orchids and palms.

      The forests and fields support a wealth of wildlife, including nearly 200 species of mammals, about the same number of reptiles and amphibians, and some 700 varieties of birds. Common mammals include gaurs (wild oxen), deer, bears, and monkeys. Elephants, rhinoceroses, and tigers, as well as several types of wild oxen, monkeys, and gibbons, are among the country's endangered mammals. Geckoes, snakes, skinks, and frogs are abundant; several types of turtles are threatened. The canopy and floor of the forest are inhabited by countless warblers, babblers, woodpeckers, and thrushes, as well as an array of larger raptors. Numerous water birds live in the lowlands. Several dozen species of Laos's birds are threatened, including most hornbills, ibises, and storks.


Ethnic groups and languages
       Laos is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country. The official language of Laos is Lao, although various foreign languages have often been used by the elite. French was once the language of the Lao upper classes and of the cities, but by the 1970s English had begun to displace it. Under the leadership of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, Vietnamese became the third language of the elite.

      Before the Indochina wars, sources commonly identified more than 60 different population groups; after the wars, which displaced (or killed) a large segment of the population, that number had been significantly reduced, with some communities amounting to only a few hundred persons. By the late 20th century the various peoples of Laos were officially grouped primarily by language and location into one of three categories: Lao Loum (“Lowland Lao”), Lao Theung (“Lao of the Mountain Slopes”), and Lao Soung (“Lao of the Mountain Tops”). These groupings have simplified administration, and even individuals in the remotest villages now typically identify themselves to visitors with this nomenclature. The scheme does not, however, reflect the intricacy of the country's cultural and linguistic composition. For example, the language spoken by the Lao of Vientiane, a Lao Loum group, bears closer resemblance to that spoken by the Thai across the river than to languages spoken by some other Lao Loum peoples such as the Tai Dam (Black Tai; so named for their black clothing) in the northeast. Beyond the government's three Lao groupings are communities of Chinese and Vietnamese, both of which are concentrated primarily in the large towns.

      The Lao Loum generally live on the banks of the Mekong and its tributaries and in the cities. All speak Tai languages of the Tai-Kadai family. The Lao Loum constitute roughly two-thirds of the population, with the ethnic Lao by far the largest component. Other prominent Lao Loum communities include the Phuan of the northeast, the Lue of the northwest, and the Phu Tai of the south. Also subsumed under the Lao Loum rubric are those peoples who were once classified as Lao Tai, including the Tai Dam and Tai Deng (Red Tai; so named after their red clothing), among others.

      Prior to the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) in 1975, the Lao Loum peoples had a distinct pattern of culture and dress. They also had a well-defined social structure, differentiating between royalty and commoners. Members of the elite included only a few outsiders of nonnoble descent. Most of the elite lived in the cities, drawing their incomes from rural land rents or from urban occupations. After 1975 a new elite emerged, representing the victorious leftist forces. Many of that group, however, were of aristocratic origin.

      Lao Tai peoples of the Lao Loum group also once had a clear political hierarchy and a stratified social structure. Black Tai tribal organization, for instance, had three levels: the village, which was the smallest unit; the commune, which comprised several villages; and the muong, which embraced multiple communities and villages. Each muong was led by a chao muong, a hereditary ruler and member of the nobility. While communes were also ruled by nobles, villages were headed by commoners selected from the heads of households. The muong were ethnically diverse social and administrative units. Among the Black Tai, for instance, the nobility consisted of two descent groups, the Lo and the Cam, who provided the rulers of the muong. Religious leaders came from two other descent groups, the Luong and the Ka. The Red Tai had a similar social and political structure, with an additional council of five to aid the chao muong. The nobility owned the land and had the right to request service from the commoners.

      The Lao Theung peoples are scattered throughout Laos and speak Austroasiatic (Austroasiatic languages) (Mon-Khmer) languages. They are probably the original inhabitants of the country, having migrated northward in prehistoric times. Unlike the Lao Loum, the Lao Theung had no political or social structure beyond the village. They were led by a village headman, who was their link to the central government, but his role in the village was not clear. Major ethnic groups within the Lao Theung category include the Khmu (Kammu) and Lamet in the north, the Katang and Makong in the center, and the Jru' (Loven) and Brao (Lave) in the far south. The Lao Theung constitute about one-fourth of the population.

      The Lao Soung group includes peoples who have migrated into northern Laos since the early 19th century and speak Hmong-Mien (Hmong-Mien languages) (Miao-Yao) or Tibeto-Burman (Tibeto-Burman languages) languages. Among the most prominent of those communities are the Hmong, Mien (also called Man or Yao), Akha (a subgroup of Hani peoples), and Lahu. The Lao Soung account for roughly one-tenth of the population.

      Among the Lao Soung, the Hmong maintained a tradition of large-scale social organization with a king and subchiefs, although these figures were of little significance at the village level. The village consisted of several extended families belonging to one or more clans. If all the heads of households were members of a single clan, the head of the clan was the headman of the village. Where several clans resided together in a large village, there were several headmen, one being the nominal head and the link to the government. The headman had real authority in the village and was aided by a council. The Hmong activated their organization beyond the village for military purposes.

 The predominant religion of Laos is Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism was the state religion of the prerepublic kingdom of Laos, and the organization of the community of monks and novices, the clergy (sangha), paralleled the political hierarchy. Buddhists—largely lowland Lao—account for about half the country's people. Some two-fifths of the population, primarily the Lao Theung and Lao Soung groups, follow non-Buddhist local religions. Buddhism and local religion are not necessarily mutually exclusive, however; there is both a syncretic practice of and a general tolerance for local religious traditions within the broader Buddhist community.

      Similarly, some of the upland peoples, especially those who have migrated from southern China, mix Confucian ideas with Buddhism and local religions. The Vietnamese, who live both in the cities and in the northeastern rural areas, practice a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism.

      Other smaller religious communities include Christians, Muslims, and followers of the Bahāʾī faith. Although the country'sconstitution provides for freedom of religion in theory, the government restricts this right in practice, particularly with respect to the minority religions. Since some heavy-handed attempts in the aftermath of 1975 to take over the sangha, which was perceived as a rival grassroots organization, and the subsequent flight of many monks abroad, the government has treaded carefully. The regime has patronized a revival of Buddhist culture and merit making and has also tolerated the practice of many unique religious traditions that it earlier had publicly discouraged as “superstitious.”

Settlement patterns
      Laos is predominantly rural and agricultural. The numerous isolated valley communities preserve a variety of traditions, languages, and dialects. Lowland villages usually are located close to rivers and roads that give the people access to itinerant traders as well as to each other. Most of the settlements are laid out around a main street or open area, with farmlands adjacent to the residential areas. Every lowland village, if it can, has a Buddhist temple and supports at least one monk. The temple compound typically includes a public building that serves as a school and a meeting hall. Village leadership is usually divided, the headman overseeing secular matters, the monk having authority in religious ones.

      The upland and midland peoples—the Lao Soung and Lao Theung, respectively—are largely organized along clan lines and live in smaller groupings. Most cultivate swiddens (i.e., fields that are cleared and cultivated for a few years before being abandoned and allowed to revert to forest), hunt game, and collect various edible and nonedible forest products. Among some peoples, particularly the Hmong, shifting cultivation has prevented the establishment of permanent villages. Midland peoples living closer to the lowland areas have tended more readily to acquire the languages and cultures of their neighbours and to engage in trade with them; those living at higher elevations remain less obviously acculturated.

      Urban life in Laos is limited mainly to the capital, Vientiane, the former royal capital, Louangphrabang, and four or five other large towns. With the exception of Louangphrabang, all are located in the floodplain area near the Mekong River. Their populations are predominantly Lao, with smaller groups of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indians.

Demographic trends
      The country has remained overwhelmingly rural, with the bulk of the population living in villages ranging from just a few to several hundred households. Laos has the lowest population density of any country of Southeast Asia, and its population is also one of the most youthful. A high birth rate is offset by a high rate of infant mortality, as well as by a life expectancy that is significantly below the world average. About half the people are concentrated in the lowlands, and only about one-fourth are urban dwellers. There has been a considerable out-migration of people from Laos since the mid-1970s, including not only survivors of the Hmong “secret army” from the Vietnam War (1954–75) but also many of the country's educated and professional elite. Large communities of Lao and Hmong now live in the United States, Australia, and France.

      The economy of Laos is primarily agricultural and since the late 20th century has remained heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment. The disruption during the civil war period (late 1950s to 1975) and the economic policies of the early years of the Lao People's Democratic Republic—notably the attempt to collectivize agriculture—resulted in economic stagnation in the country. By 1980, however, the government had begun to pursue more pragmatic development policies, and in 1986 it introduced market-oriented reforms. Since then private and state enterprises have operated side by side, and foreign investment has been encouraged. A number of nongovernmental organizations, including some from the United States, have been assisting the government, mainly in the fields of rural development and public health.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of Laos. In the early 21st century the sector generated nearly half the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and employed some three-fourths of the population. The expansion of land under cultivation has been impeded, however, largely by the vast quantities of unexploded bombs—dropped mostly by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War—that litter potential farmlands. Consequently, only a small portion of the country's total arable land area is cultivated. The great majority of Laos's farmers are engaged in rice agriculture. Lowland farmers generally plant irrigated paddy fields, while upland dwellers cultivate rain-fed swiddens. Frequent floods and droughts cause significant year-to-year fluctuation in agricultural yields. Although such weather calamities affect the lowlands more severely, those regions have been more productive than the uplands, owing largely to accessibility of new technologies, pesticides, fertilizers, more solid infrastructure, and market networks. Many farmers in the uplands practice subsistence agriculture; however, a shift toward market-based production has been gaining momentum, propelled primarily by government modernization initiatives. In years with “normal” harvests, Laos is self-sufficient in rice production.

      Principal crops other than rice include sweet potatoes, sugarcane, corn (maize), assorted vegetables and fruits in smaller quantities, and tobacco. Coffee is cultivated mainly on the Bolovens Plateau and is the only crop produced for export in substantial volume. Opium production began decreasing dramatically in the late 20th century as a result of aggressive eradication programs implemented by the government. Although opium poppies are still grown in some hill areas, poppy cultivation for export is illegal.

      Roughly two-fifths of Laos is forested, and the country's forest resources have provided for several important wood-processing industries. Timber extraction, however, has been banned periodically by the government for environmental reasons. Rapid deforestation has been attributed primarily to logging operations and to the cutting of wood for fuel—activities that have been further blamed for the erosion of hillsides, the silting of rivers, and, ultimately, the increased severity of droughts and floods. The government has also viewed swidden farming in the uplands as a major contributor to deforestation and has adopted measures to encourage conversion to sedentary agricultural practices.

      Fishing is particularly important for lowland dwellers, and aquaculture has been increasing in the early 21st century. Principal pond-raised fish include tilapia and various types of carp. Raising of livestock—especially pigs, cattle, water buffalo, and chickens—has also been growing in significance.

Resources and power
      Laos has considerable mineral reserves. Tin has been mined commercially since colonial times and has remained a major resource; gypsum has become important since the last decades of the 20th century. Gold mining expanded significantly in the early 21st century, with substantial foreign investment. Foreign companies have also worked the country's granite and limestone deposits. Other minerals mined in notable quantities include copper and precious stones. Laos is also rich in iron and lead, but these and many other mineral deposits have yet to be exploited systematically. The remote locations of deposits, the lack of a trained labour force, and the vast quantities of unexploded ordnance contaminating the countryside are among the factors that have discouraged foreign investment and hindered exploration.

      Although much coal is mined in Laos, the country draws almost all its energy from hydroelectric (hydroelectric power) sources. Dams on the Ngum River north of Vientiane supply the bulk of domestic energy needs. Electricity is also one of Laos's most valuable exports. A number of other dams, such as those on the Theun River in central Laos, produce electricity primarily for export to neighbouring countries, especially Thailand. Additional hydroelectric projects have been under way, although concern about their environmental impact has slowed the planning process.

      Although manufacturing has been growing faster than any other sector since the economic reforms of the late 20th century, it still has provided less than one-fourth of Laos's GDP. Aside from energy production and mining, the country's main manufacturing activities are food processing (rice milling and beverage production—mostly beer and soft drinks), sawmilling, the production of building materials (e.g., nails and brick), and the manufacture of a variety of light consumer goods (primarily plastic products, tobacco and cigarettes, and detergents). Garment production, largely for export, has been expanding rapidly. Handicrafts are also an important component of Laos's manufacturing sector.

      Until the late 1980s the government controlled all banking activities. Since then it has fostered the development of a private banking sector. Foreign investment and joint ventures with foreign companies have been officially encouraged. The central bank, Banque de la RDP Lao, issues the national currency, the kip; regulates and supervises commercial and regional banks; maintains foreign exchange reserves; licenses financial services; and manages the monetary and credit system. A number of commercial banks promote private investment.

      During the Asian economic crisis of the late 20th century, the value of the kip declined by more than half in 1998 alone. This, among other factors, led much of the population to remain cautious about depositing money in savings accounts. People have since tended to store their savings in gold, foreign currencies, and, in rural areas, farm animals. Regional disparity in per capita income has been widening.

      Laos has been a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) trade organization since 1997 and has enjoyed normal trading relations (formerly known as most-favoured-nation) status with the United States since 2004. Laos's chief exports are garments, electric power, timber and other forest products, coffee, and various metals and minerals. Major imports include foodstuffs, construction and electrical equipment, materials for the garment industry, machinery, and mineral fuels. The country's main trading partners are Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Singapore. To a lesser extent, Laos engages in trade with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Imports have consistently exceeded exports in value, leaving a significant trade deficit; the gap typically has been filled by foreign aid.

      The service sector in Laos, including trade, accounts for roughly one-fourth of GDP. Since the late 1990s the government has been actively promoting tourism, which has been emerging rapidly as an important contributor to the country's economy, despite being hampered by insufficient accommodations, unreliable transportation, unsafe infrastructure, and intermittent bombings. The great majority of tourists to Laos come from Thailand and Vietnam. Smaller but nonetheless significant numbers come from the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

Labour and taxation
      Nearly three-fourths of the population of Laos between the ages of 18 and 64 work for a living. However, a considerable portion of this labour force is engaged in subsistence farming and is therefore not formally employed. The working population consists about equally of men and women.

      Laos derives the bulk of its revenue from taxes. Excise and turnover taxes (taxes applied to various stages of production) increased significantly in the early 21st century to become the country's primary sources of tax revenue. Timber royalties, on the other hand, declined sharply.

      A major obstacle to the economic and social development of Laos has been its lack of a good transportation system. Rivers and roads are the major avenues of communication, supplemented by air transport. Laos itself has no railway system, but Thailand's railways funnel goods and passengers to Laos. The Mekong River is the major north-south commercial artery. However, its navigability for international traffic is impeded by the Khone Falls, a series of interlocking falls and cataracts spanning the far southern border of Laos with Cambodia, and by smaller falls between Vientiane and the border with China. Most of the remaining stretches of the Mekong are navigable for at least part of the year. Large barges ply the deeper sections of the rivers between towns, but most of the water traffic is carried in smaller craft.

      During French rule a rudimentary network of roads was created. The main artery joined Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City, Viet.) with Louangphrabang, and several lesser roads led eastward through mountain passes into Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, road building and improvement were undertaken by the United States, China, and what was then North Vietnam; the best-known of these works was the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex of roads, fords, and ferries in the Annamese Cordillera. Only a small portion of those and other roads have since been paved, and passage even on the main roads is often difficult during the rainy season. Bridges across the Mekong at Vientiane and near Savannakhét have greatly improved transportation between Laos and Thailand. However, many of the country's villages remain inaccessible to motor vehicles.

      Wattay International Airport in Vientiane is the principal airport and the home of Lao Airlines, the country's commercial carrier. Smaller international airports are located in Louangphrabang and in Champassak province. Several regional facilities offer domestic flights.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
      Since its establishment in December 1975, the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) has been effectively controlled by the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). This party, in alliance with the Vietnamese communists, carried out the revolution that ended in its seizure of power and the abolition of the monarchy. Top government positions—beginning with the president, who is head of state, and the prime minister, who is the head of government—are selected from high-ranking party members who constitute a Central Committee with the Politburo at the head.

      The constitution of 1991, which declares the party to be the “leading nucleus” of the political system, provides for a National Assembly, the members of which are elected to five-year terms. The National Assembly elects the president and vice president and approves presidential appointments of the prime minister and members of the cabinet (Council of Ministers). The president and ministers serve five-year terms.

Local government
      The country is divided into some 16 provinces, as well as the Vientiane municipality and the Xaisomboun special zone; the provinces are subdivided further into districts and villages. Governors of provinces and the mayor of Vientiane are appointed by the president, and lower-level local administrators, including deputy provincial governors, deputy mayors, and district chiefs, are named by the prime minister. Villages are led by village heads. At each level of local government, there are party committees and administrative committees, often headed by the same individuals. Local administrations have considerable autonomy in economic matters.

      The judicial system is headed by the People's Supreme Court, the president of which is elected by the National Assembly on recommendation of its own Standing Committee. Below the People's Supreme Court are provincial, municipal, district, and military courts. Judges for these courts are also appointed by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly.

Political process
      Laos is a communist country, and the only legal political party is the LPRP. Although the party controls all branches of government, independent candidates have on occasion been elected to the National Assembly. A handful of groups stand in armed opposition to the communist government, some of them associated with particular ethnic communities (e.g., the Hmong); others operate from outside the country. The number of women elected to the National Assembly has been increasing since the 1990s, and, by the early 21st century, women had become a significant minority in the legislature. Laos has universal adult suffrage for all citizens who are at least 18 years old.

      Laos maintains a small, minimally funded military force consisting almost entirely of the Lao People's Army, with a smaller air unit. Military service is compulsory for men from age 15, with conscription lasting a minimum of 18 months. Internal security measures have been strictly enforced, as the regime fears political opposition linked to a large exile population and sporadic armed resistance within the country. Paramilitary self-defense forces vastly outnumber the army.

Health and welfare
      Medical care in general is inadequate and unevenly distributed in Laos, with most of the health care facilities located in urban areas. Communicable diseases (e.g., influenza), cardiovascular diseases, injuries, accidents, violence, cancers, and respiratory diseases are the major health problems and causes of death. The departure of most of the country's physicians after 1975 created a serious problem for the new government. In response, the government began to build village infirmaries and dispensaries in most of the provinces and to train medical workers. These village medical workers, often using only traditional medicinal herbs, have continued to provide much of the country's primary health care.

      In the past the teaching of much cultural lore and reading and writing took place in Buddhist temples and was available only to men. The French introduced European-style education in the early 20th century, and over the next several decades the number of elementary school students reached hundreds of thousands. The LPDR government assumed responsibility for education in 1975 and inaugurated a program to bring primary education to all areas of Laos within a decade. The new regime also launched a major adult literacy campaign in the mid-1980s. Although literacy has increased considerably since that time, it has been difficult to maintain in rural areas where there is limited reading material.

      During the early years of the LPDR, the government's primary concern in education was a political one, with the dissemination of knowledge of the party's policies being the main aim of the new Laotian curriculum. Reassessment of the curriculum began in the 1980s following the collapse of communist regimes in eastern Europe and the return to Laos of young people who had been sent to those countries for higher education. Textbooks were revised to downplay ideological rhetoric and to increase the relevance of their content to the socioeconomic realities of contemporary Laos. A new curriculum came into operation throughout Laos in 1996.

      Since the late 20th century, the educational system of Laos has continued to struggle with underfunding, inadequate teacher training, and insufficient facilities. Nevertheless, the literacy rate has risen substantially, and the number of primary and secondary schools, teachers, and students has increased dramatically. The National University of Laos in Vientiane was established in 1995 through the consolidation of several tertiary institutions and a centre for agriculture; this supplanted the royal government's former university, which had been disbanded by the communist regime.

Cultural life

Cultural milieu
      Among the lowland Lao, traditions of Buddhism and the boun (festival)—historically associated with village life but now also practiced in urban areas—guide everyday life. The merit-making ritual of giving alms to monks during their morning rounds, once discouraged by the government, has remained a prominent practice.

      Among the upland peoples, traditional rituals also persist, although some groups, such as the Hmong, do not feel the same attachment to the village as a spatial or social unit that the lowland Lao do. To the Hmong the primary foci of social identification are the household, the group of close relatives, and the clan, irrespective of any temporary or even permanent settlement. The Hmong cosmos is inhabited by a wide array of spirits, including medicine spirits, nature spirits, and shamanic spirits. Both social and spiritual life, then, vary markedly between the lowland and highland regions of Laos.

Daily life and social customs
      Most families in Laos are involved in farming. Members of households work the land together, with a division of labour by gender. In wet rice cultivation, men plow and prepare the seedbed, control water flow to the fields, and thresh the crop. Women transplant the seedlings, weed the fields, and carry the sheaves of rice to the threshing place. In upland rice cultivation, men cut and clear the swiddens, while women do the sowing and weeding. Wet rice cultivation begins with the onset of the rains in April or May and ends with the harvest in October and November. In upland areas, fields are burned and cleared at the end of the dry season in February and March, and harvesting takes place in November. Cultivation of secondary crops is interspersed with rice cultivation; gardening on river banks, for example, follows the drop in water level at the end of the dry season.

      In addition to strictly agricultural activities, the daily lives of rural people involve a number of other tasks, such as fetching water from wells, hunting for game, and gathering various forest products. Common forest products include small game, birds and eggs, fruit, honey, spices, medicines, resins, latexes, dyes, and wood for fuel and for making charcoal, as well as structural materials such as rattan, bamboo, wooden poles, and various fibres. The important tasks of gathering and processing of forest products are associated with women.

      The ethnic Lao ritual of the baci, in which strings are tied around a person's wrist to preserve good luck, has indeed been elevated in Laos to the place of a national custom. The baci is associated with transitions, namely, giving birth, getting married, entering the monkhood, going away, returning, beginning a new year, and welcoming or bidding farewell to foreign guests. The practice has retained an important place in state ceremonies of all kinds. A prominent ritual among the upland Hmong is the sacrifice of a chicken or pig to the household spirit at the new year.

      The Laotian government observes a number of holidays that are generally secular in nature. Among these are New Year's Day (New Year festival) (January 1), Pathet Laos Day (January 6), Lao New Year (April 13–15), Liberation Day (August 23), Freedom from the French Day (October 12), and National Day (December 2). The three-day Lao New Year celebration in Louangphrabang takes place with much pomp and colour. A central feature of this festivity is the parading of the holy relic and palladium of the former kingdom from the Royal Palace Museum to the Wat May temple. For holidays celebrated by particular ethnic groups, leave is usually granted to those concerned, most of whom work in the capital and urban areas. The traditional holidays of the lowland rural regions revolve around the Buddhist temples and the agricultural cycle; these calendars operate beyond the reach of the state.

The arts
      The visual, dramatic, musical, and literary arts of Laos draw primarily from religious and local traditional sources. However, in contemporary times many towns—especially those along the Mekong River—have been exposed to other cultures and traditions, largely through Thai mass media. In the south, Khmer influences on the peoples of Laos are strong; in the north, Myanmar and Thai influences are readily apparent. As elsewhere in Southeast Asia, religious symbols, stories, and themes have been modified and localized. The snake, for example, representations of which adorn religious and royal buildings, symbolizes the benevolent spirit of the water and the protector of the king.

      Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism have been major influences on the cultural and intellectual life of Laos. The story of the Buddha and Hindu myths are the subjects of the carvings and sculptures found in all religious places. Dance dramas similarly have drawn many of their themes from ancient Indian epics, such as the Ramayana, that have religious significance. Such dramatic performances have historically marked religious celebrations and important holidays.

      The Laotians have a variety of regional and rural art forms, including weaving, basketmaking, wood and ivory carving, silverwork, and goldwork. There are a number of musical instruments that are characteristic of the rural Lao as well as the midland and upland minority communities. The most widely known of such instruments is the khene, a wood-and-bamboo mouth organ that is used by various rural peoples. Other instruments include assorted flutes, plucked and bowed lutes, drums, and cymbals. The country also has a wealth of regional vocal music traditions—most of which are designated by some form of the term khap or lam. Performance of such vocal music often takes the form of a spirited battle of knowledge, wit, and artistry between the sexes. Most music is not written down but is transmitted through oral tradition.

      Prior to 1975 Laos had a viable tradition of classical court music that was similar in sound and structure to styles associated with the royal courts of neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia. Instruments of the Lao classical ensemble were generally distinct from those of rural and regional traditions. Among the most prominent melodic instruments of the classical ensemble were tuned circular sets of gongs (khong vong), xylophones (lanat), and a quadruple-reed wind instrument (pi kaeo). Following the establishment of the LPDR, classical music and its practitioners were considered to be antithetical to ideals of the new communist regime. The royal musicians and dancers from Louangphrabang emigrated as refugees and moved to the United States, where they were resettled as a group in Nashville, Tenn.; those from the Natasin School (also called National School of Dramatic Arts) near Vientiane similarly were sent to Des Moines, Iowa; those who remained in Laos retreated to the Laotian countryside. Only since the late 20th century has the classical music tradition begun to resurface as a positive emblem of Lao identity. Regular performances have been reinstated by local musicians at the Royal Palace Museum in Louangphrabang.

      Laotian literature is predominantly religious and is linked to the Buddhist tradition. There is also a literary stream that, while secular, is based on themes of the Hindu epic poems; an example of this is the Laotian epic the Sin Xay, written between the mid-16th and the late 17th century. The most popular poems and songs are often satiric.

Cultural institutions
  The government of Laos has maintained and renovated a number of historic structures, particularly in Vientiane. The That Luang (Grand Stupa), originally built in the 16th century by King Setthatirath, is the site of a great fair held every November. During that time, people stream toward the site by the thousands to pay homage. An image of the stupa has been incorporated into the country's national crest. A former hotel, built by the French colonial government in the early 20th century, is home to the Lao National Museum. The 16th-century Ho Phakeo temple also houses a museum and serves as a repository for carvings, engravings, and other cultural artifacts of Laos. A popular destination for tourists as well as religious devotees is the 19th-century Sisaket temple, renowned for its wall with thousands of niches, each containing an image of the Buddha. The triumphal Patuxai Arch (completed 1969) in Vientiane commemorates Laotians lost in the battle for independence from the French.

      Beyond Vientiane, the Royal Palace in Louangphrabang, built by King Sisavang Vong in the first decade of the 20th century, has been converted into an important cultural museum. The city of Louangphrabang itself has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site (1995) for its unique blend of Laotian and colonial architecture. The ancient temple complex and Hindu planned landscape in Champassak province were jointly added to the World Heritage list in 2001. An unusual historical site in north-central Laos is the Plain of Jars, so named for the enormous stone jars (perhaps funerary urns), some of them estimated to be nearly 2,000 years old, that dot the terrain.

Sports and recreation
      Sports have long been part of ritual and recreational life in Laos. The That Luang festival, for instance, has always included a traditional game of field hockey, played with bamboo sticks and a ball made of roots. However, in an effort to be globally competitive, traditional contests like this one, as well as the boat races on the Mekong River, have been “modernized.” Football (soccer) has become a popular spectator sport. Laos has competed in the Summer Olympic Games since 1980, and the country was one of the founding participants in the Southeast Asian Games in 1959.

Media and broadcasting
      The government controls all aspects of the media, including the press, broadcasting, and the Internet. The largest-circulating daily newspaper is Pasaxon (“The People”), published in Vientiane; it is the official organ of the ruling party. Also published in Vientiane is the party's quarterly journal Aloun Mai (“New Dawn”). The official news agency is Khaosan Pathet Lao (KPL). Lao National Radio broadcasts in a number of languages, principally Lao, English, Hmong, and French; a few small stations broadcast locally. Not subject to government control are the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, and Radio Free Asia, which include news of events in Laos. Resistance forces have been broadcasting antigovernment programs illegally in Lao and Hmong since the late 20th century. The government fully owns and operates Lao National Television, and a second station, Laos Television 3, is owned jointly by the government of Laos and a Thai corporation.

Josef Silverstein Arthur J. Dommen

      This section focuses specifically on the history and development of the area and country now known as Laos. For a discussion of the history of Laos in its broader, regional context, see Southeast Asia, history of.

      The Lao people, the predominant ethnic group in present-day Laos, are a branch of the Tai peoples who by the 8th century AD had established a powerful kingdom, Nanchao (Nanzhao), in southwestern China. From Nanchao the Tai gradually penetrated southward into the Southeast Asian mainland; their migration was accelerated in the 13th century by the Mongol invasions of southern China by Kublai Khan. The Lao, together with other Tai peoples, gradually supplanted various indigenous groups collectively known as Kha (“Slaves”). Since the 5th century these Kha communities had lived in what is now Laos under the suzerainty of the Khmer empire of Cambodia. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Tai established the principality of Muong Swa (now Louangphrabang), which was ruled by various Tai leaders and the history of which survives in Laotian legend and myth.

      Recorded Laotian history begins with Fa Ngum, the ruler who founded the first Laotian state, Lan Xang (“Kingdom of the Million Elephants”), with the help of the Khmer sovereign at Angkor. Fa Ngum was a great warrior, and between 1353 and 1371 he conquered territories that included all of present-day Laos and much of what is today northern and eastern Thailand. He extended the Khmer civilization, which was heavily Indianized, to the upper Mekong River and introduced Theravada Buddhism, which had been preached by Khmer missionaries from Angkor.

      In 1373 Fa Ngum was succeeded by his son Oun Hueun (Sam Saen Thai) (reign name Sam Sen Thai), who did much to organize the pattern of administration and defense for the kingdom. After his death in 1416, a long period of calm—broken only by a Vietnamese invasion in 1479—allowed his successors to complete the work of organizing Lan Xang. This period of peace and tranquility ended with Photisarath (ruled 1520–48), who involved Lan Xang in a struggle against Myanmar (Burma) and the Siamese (Thai) kingdom of Ayutthaya (Ayudhya) that lasted two centuries. Photisarath waged three wars against Ayutthaya and succeeded in placing his son Setthathirath (Setthathirat I) on the throne of the Tai state of Chiang Mai (Chiengmai), marking Lan Xang's maximum territorial expansion. On Photisarath's death Setthathirath returned to rule as Setthathirath I (ruled 1548–71). His reign was marked by the loss of Chiang Mai to the kingdom of Myanmar, by the transfer of the capital from Luang Prabang (Louangphrabang) to Vien Chan (now Vientiane), and by the repulsion of two invasions that took place about 1565 and 1570.

      When Setthathirath died (1571), Myanmar seized Vien Chan (1574) and ravaged the country, which lapsed into anarchy until Souligna Vongsa (Suliyavongsa) ascended the throne in 1637 and restored order. He fixed the frontiers with Vietnam and Siam ( Thailand) by means of treaties and led two victorious expeditions against the principality of Chieng Khouang in the south. A defender of Buddhism and a patron of the arts, Soulingna Vongsa embellished Vien Chan and made it a vibrant intellectual centre. His reign is considered by many Laotians to have been a golden age.

      When Souligna Vongsa died in 1694, one of his nephews seized the throne with the help of a Vietnamese army, thus placing Lan Xang under Vietnamese rule and initiating a period of chaos. Members of the royal family who controlled the northern provinces refused to accept Vietnamese vassalage. They declared themselves independent (1707) and established the separate kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vien Chan. The south seceded in turn and set itself up as the kingdom of Champassak (1713). Split into three rival kingdoms, Lan Xang ceased to exist.

Under foreign rule
      During the 18th century the three Laotian states, which were continually at loggerheads, tried to maintain their independence from the Myanmar and Siamese kingdoms, both of which were contending for control of the western segment of continental Southeast Asia. Disunity weakened the Laotian kingdoms and inevitably caused them to fall prey to the Siamese.

      Vien Chan, which had sided with Myanmar, was invaded (1778), annexed, and made a state subject to the Siamese (1782). Luang Prabang, which had supported Siam, was invaded by Myanmar (1752), which imposed its rule on it until being supplanted by the Siamese in 1778. In the south, Champassak, which had supported a Myanmar revolt against the Siamese, also was invaded (1778) and was transformed into a dependency of Siam. Each of these Lao kingdoms was placed under the control of a Siamese commissioner. The kings of Champassak, Vien Chan, and Luang Prabang were allowed to rule in their respective kingdoms but had to pay tribute to Bangkok. Their appointments to the throne were made in Bangkok.

      The last king of Vien Chan, Chao Anou (Anu, Chao) (also called Anouvong; ruled 1805–28), attempted to shake off this yoke. First, he strengthened the bonds of allegiance between Vien Chan and Vietnam (1806), whose influence in the region had grown to rival that of Siam. Next, he persuaded Bangkok to give his son the governorship of Champassak, thus extending his frontiers as far as the old southern boundaries of Lan Xang. Thinking that the British, who had just defeated Myanmar, were going to attack Siam, he led three armies against Bangkok (1827). The Siamese, however, regrouped their forces, marched on Vien Chan, and defeated Anou, who fled to Vietnam. Vien Chan was pillaged and destroyed. In 1828 Anou attempted another attack but was again defeated. Vien Chan was made a Siamese province.

      For the Siamese the annexation of Vien Chan was the first step toward the creation of a great empire. They next extended their domain to the eastern bank of the Mekong to protect themselves from an eventual Vietnamese expansion westward, garrisoned Champassak (1846) and Luang Prabang (1885), and stationed troops as far as the Annamese Cordillera. Siamese expansion toward the northeast—where the mountain states were placed under the cosuzerainty of Vietnam and Luang Prabang—provoked the protests of the French, who had established a protectorate over Vietnam. France entered into negotiations with Bangkok (1886) to define the Siamese-Vietnamese frontier and won the right to install a vice-consul in Luang Prabang. The office was entrusted to Auguste Pavie (Pavie, Auguste), who, partly because of his popularity with the Laotians, succeeded in winning Luang Prabang over to France. After a number of Franco-Siamese incidents in the Mekong River valley, French ships made a show of strength off Bangkok in 1893. Later that year, on the advice of the British, Siam withdrew from the eastern bank of the Mekong and gave official recognition to the French protectorate in the evacuated territory. French annexation was completed by treaties with Siam (called Thailand from 1939) in 1904 and 1907.

      The French organized this territory as a protectorate (what came to be known as Indochine, or French Indochina), with its administrative centre at Vientiane, and allowed it autonomy in local matters. The kingdom of Luang Prabang survived, but the other provinces were placed under the direct authority of a French official. France paid little attention to Laos until the Japanese invaded mainland Southeast Asia during World War II; in 1941, under Japanese pressure, the Vichy government of German-occupied France restored to Thailand the territories France had acquired in 1904. In March 1945 the Japanese took outright administrative control of the remainder of French Indochina, and the following month the independence of Laos was proclaimed.

      Two movements sprang up at that time. The first was anti-Japanese and was represented by the court of Luang Prabang and Prince Boun Oum of Champassak; the second was anti-French (the Free Laos movement, or Lao Issara), was located in Vientiane, and was led by Prince Phetsarath Ratanavongsa (Phetsarath Ratanavongsa, Prince). These two movements remained in conflict until French troops returned, which in early 1946 compelled the supporters of the Lao Issara to flee to Thailand. France, in a temporary agreement, recognized the internal autonomy of Laos under the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong. Finally, after a constitution was promulgated and general elections were held, a Franco-Laotian convention was signed in July 1949 by which Laos was granted limited self-government within the French Union. All important power, however, remained in French hands.

      Although many of the Lao Issara leaders were prepared to work with the French under this new arrangement, their decision was opposed by a more radical group led by Kaysone Phomvihan and Prince Souphanouvong. Under Souphanouvong's leadership a new political movement, the Pathet Lao (“Land of the Lao”), was proclaimed (1950); it joined forces with the Viet Minh of Vietnam in opposing the French. The Pathet Lao remained unreconciled when the French took further steps toward granting independence to Laos in October 1953 while still retaining control of all military matters in the kingdom. Between 1950 and early 1954 the Pathet Lao gained strength in northeastern Laos, and it had a firm grip on two of the country's provinces when the peace conference in Geneva brought the First Indochina War (Indochina wars) to an end.

Pierre-Bernard Lafont Milton Edgeworth Osborne

Laos after the Geneva Conference, 1954–75
      The Geneva Accords of 1954 marked the end of French rule in Southeast Asia. The participating countries (including France, Great Britain, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union) at the Geneva Conference agreed that all of Laos should come under the rule of the royal government and should not undergo partition (as did Vietnam). The agreements, however, did provide for two “regroupment zones” in provinces adjacent to what was then North Vietnam to allow the Pathet Lao forces to assemble. This resulted in the de facto control of those areas by the Laotian communists, while the rest of the country was ruled by the royal government.

      The uneasy peace in Laos was short-lived, as hostilities broke out between leftist and rightist factions in 1959. Another conference in Geneva in May 1961 culminated in an agreement in July 1962 that called for the country to become neutral and for a tripartite government to be formed. The new government consisted of factions from the left (the Pathet Lao, who were linked to North Vietnam), the right (linked to Thailand and the United States), and neutrals (led by Prince Souvanna Phouma). Once again, however, the cease-fire was brief. The coalition had split apart by 1964, and the larger war centred in Vietnam (Vietnam War) subsequently engulfed Laos. In that expanded war Laos, like Cambodia, was viewed by the major protagonists as a sideshow.

 An agreement negotiated in January 1973 by the United States and North Vietnam at Paris called for a cease-fire in each of the countries of mainland Southeast Asia, but only in Laos was there peace. In February, just a month following the agreement, the Laotian factions signed the Vientiane Agreement, which provided again for a cease-fire and for yet another coalition government composed of factions from the left and right, presided over by Souvanna Phouma. As political control in Vietnam tipped toward the communists following the American departure from that country, the Pathet Lao gained political ascendancy in Laos. When the Vietnamese communists marched into Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City, Viet.), and Phnom Penh, Camb., the right-wing forces in Laos lost heart, and most of their leaders fled, permitting a bloodless takeover by the Laotian communists in mid-1975. Though out of office, Souvanna Phouma remained an adviser to the new regime until his death in 1984. The Laotian communists proclaimed an end to the 600-year-old monarchy and established the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) in December 1975.

The Lao People's Democratic Republic
      The politics of the newly established republic were guided by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP; called the Lao People's Party until 1972), the communist party of Laos. Its Politburo was dominated by a small cohesive band of revolutionaries who had founded the party in 1955 and had engaged in persistent revolutionary activity until their takeover in 1975. These leaders had a long and intimate relationship with their Vietnamese communist allies. Prior to founding the party, they had been members of the Indochina Communist Party. Most spoke Vietnamese, and some had family ties with Vietnam. The party's general secretary, Kaysone Phomvihan, had a Vietnamese father; second-ranked Nouhak Phoumsavan and third-ranked Prince Souphanouvong had Vietnamese wives. Their worldview had been shaped by their shared revolutionary struggle with Vietnam. Moreover, the Vietnamese had numerous channels—party, military, and economic—through which they directly conveyed their influence. Thus, the new state was intimately linked to Vietnam and closely followed that country's policy line until the late 1980s.

      In the early years of the LPDR, the leadership declared its twin economic goals to be “socialist transformation with socialist construction.” Following the Vietnamese communist model, the party leaders attempted to create agricultural collectives in the countryside and to nationalize the limited industry and commerce in the towns. Former members of the Royal Lao Army and of the deposed government—perhaps as many as 30,000—were incarcerated in “reeducation” camps. These and other repressive political measures and the grim economic conditions in Laos compelled some 10 percent of the country's population to flee across the Mekong River to Thailand after 1975.

      As LPRP leaders consolidated their revolutionary victory by the end of the 1970s, they implemented limited policies of economic and social liberalization. In 1986 they inaugurated a major reform called the New Economic Mechanism (NEM), which followed the introduction of perestroika (“restructuring”), a similar economic reform program in the Soviet Union. The NEM introduced market incentives and began decentralizing government economic enterprise. With the collapse of communist regimes in eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union itself in the late 1980s and early '90s and the implementation of economic reforms under the doi moi (“renovation”) initiative in Vietnam, Laos moved more rapidly to open its economy. Private investment and joint ventures were encouraged, and, to the relief of Lao peasants, attempts at collectivizing agriculture were abandoned in favour of family-operated farms. The ruling party retained unchallenged control, curbing any attempts at organized opposition. Nevertheless, there was some enlargement of political freedom and participation. A new constitution was promulgated in 1991. Citizens were permitted to move about their country more freely and even to cross the Mekong to Thailand with fewer impediments.

      Kaysone was elevated to heroic status following his death in 1992. Nouhak succeeded Kaysone as paramount leader, serving as president until forced by illness to resign in 1998; Gen. Khamtai Siphandon, a veteran revolutionary and (from 1991) prime minister, then moved from the premiership to the presidency. Although Khamtai oversaw further economic liberalization, he resisted political reforms. The LPRP continued to control the National Assembly, allowing few independents to contest elections. At the same time, the exiled Laotian royal family began to assume a higher profile, calling for a referendum to reestablish the monarchy; though the government generally stifled any dissent and threat to its rule, it took a measured response, particularly because of a growing reverence among ordinary Laotians for the Thai king.

      By the mid-1990s Laos was experiencing significant economic growth, with per capita GNP rising gradually—if from a very low base. The country had replaced aid from the Soviet Union with more substantial assistance from Japan, western Europe, Australia, and other bilateral donors, as well as from international organizations (including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). In addition, neighbouring Thailand became by far the largest source of foreign investment. In 1994 a bridge opened between Thailand and Laos across the Mekong River at Vientiane, paving the way for greater trade between the two countries and symbolizing a political realignment for Laos away from its colonial and Cold War ally Vietnam; a second bridge across the Mekong between the two countries, farther downstream, officially opened in 2006. To diversify the economy, which depended heavily on the export of electricity (in addition to financial aid), the government began to open up Laos to visitors by developing tourism. Despite adopting such economic reforms, however, Laos continued to wrestle with underdeveloped fiscal and planning organizations, a weak central bank, and fragile financial institutions.

      In 1997 the country realized its longtime goal of becoming a full member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). However, its economy was subsequently damaged by the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. The kip (the Lao currency), closely linked to the Thai baht, plummeted in value by more than 75 percent, and inflation soared. Business investment, primarily from Thailand and Malaysia, declined, and Lao exports to its neighbours diminished. Although the Thai and Malaysian economies recovered in the early 21st century, Laos's economic growth remained slow-paced.

      The LPRP continued in the early 21st century to rely on leaders who participated in the revolution prior to 1975, even as the ranks of those senior officials were increasingly depleted by old age and illness. By 2000 most members of the Politburo, largely former military officers, were already over age 70. Throughout shifts in membership and leadership, however, the party has maintained a remarkable level of cohesion in the Politburo, with steady promotion in rank closely associated with longevity.

      Laos's foreign policy has undergone significant alteration since the collapse of the Soviet Union and of communist regimes in eastern Europe, but important continuities have remained. The government has retained its official commitment to Marxism and Leninism and has expressed fraternity with its two communist neighbours, Vietnam and China, both of which have continued to exert substantial political and economic influence on Laos. At the same time, Laos has expanded its economic reliance on the industrialized West and on Japan, and it has continued its formal association with the Francophone community of countries. However, the number of Laotians who speak French has been diminishing rapidly as the older generation—whose elite were educated in French—passes from the scene and English becomes the country's second language. Many in the old guard of the LPRP and National Assembly have continued to support closer relations with Vietnam, while younger members have steered more toward China, and proponents of greater economic and political reform have looked toward Thailand and the West.

Joseph J. Zasloff

Additional Reading

Andrea Matles Savada (ed.), Laos: A Country Study, 3rd ed. (1995), is a general survey. Grant Evans, Lao Peasants Under Socialism (1990), treats ethnography and economics. Martin Stuart-Fox, Laos: Politics, Economics, and Society (1986), is a standard work, with good chapters on the early economic system and domestic policies. Mya Than and Joseph L.H. Tan (eds.), Laos' Dilemmas and Options: The Challenge of Economic Transition in the 1990s (1997), also deals with economic issues. Joseph J. Zasloff and Leonard Unger (eds.), Laos: Beyond the Revolution (1991), examines political, economic, social, and foreign policies. Jacqueline Butler-Diaz, New Laos, New Challenges (1998), contains articles on politics and culture, as well as bibliographic essays. Grant Evans, The Politics of Ritual and Remembrance: Laos Since 1975 (1998), and Grant Evans (ed.), Laos: Culture and Society (1999), offer excellent treatments of culture in a historical context. Carol Ireson, Field, Forest, and Family: Women's Work and Power in Rural Laos (1996), is an analysis based on field research. Helen Cordell (compiler), Laos (1991), remains the essential guide to literature on Laos.Arthur J. Dommen

Arthur J. Dommen, Laos: Keystone of Indochina (1985), is a brief general history, and his Conflict in Laos, rev. ed. (1971), a political history, focuses primarily on the period from the early 1950s to 1970. Also useful is Martin Stuart-Fox, Historical Dictionary of Laos, 2nd ed. (2001). Hugh Toye, Laos: Buffer State or Battleground (1968, reprinted with corrections 1971), depicts Laos's historical position between Vietnam and Thailand. Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff, North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao: Partners in the Struggle for Laos (1970), addresses the role of communist North Vietnam in the origin and development of the Lao communist movement. Joseph J. Zasloff, The Pathet Lao (1973), examines the political dynamics of the group—its leadership, commanding party, front, political and administrative organizations, and military forces. Martin Stuart-Fox (ed.), Contemporary Laos: Studies in the Politics and Society of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (1982), is a collection of essays on various topics; and Joseph J. Zasloff (ed.), Laos: Beyond the Revolution (1991), discusses the early years of the LPDR. MacAlister Brown and Joseph J. Zasloff, Apprentice Revolutionaries: The Communist Movement in Laos, 1930–1985 (1986), provides a political analysis of the rise of communism.Joseph J. Zasloff

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Universalium. 2010.

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