(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For three hundred years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1986. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.|
|History||Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in the fourteenth century by Fa Ngum, himself descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracking back to Khun Borom. Lan-Xang prospered until the eighteenth century, when the kingdom was divided into three principalities, which eventually came under Siamese suzerainty. In the 19th century, Luang Prabang was incorporated into the ‘Protectorate’ of French Indochina, and shortly thereafter, the kingdom of Champassack and the territory of Vientiane were also added to the protectorate. The French saw Laos as a useful buffer state between the two expanding empires of France and Britain. Under the French, Vientiane once again became the capital of a unified Lao state. Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence in 1945, but the French re-asserted their control and only in 1950 was Laos granted semi-autonomy as an “associated state” within the French Union. Moreover, the French remained in de facto control until 1954, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy. Under a special exemption to the Geneva Convention, a French military training mission continued to support the Royal Laos Army. In 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.
Laos was dragged into the Vietnam War, and the eastern parts of the country were invaded and occupied by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which used Laotian territory as a staging ground and supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The result of these actions were a series of coups d’état and, ultimately, the Laotian Civil War between the Royal Laotian government and the communist Pathet Lao.
In the Civil War, the NVA, with its heavy artillery and tanks, was the real power behind the Pathet Lao insurgency. In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack against the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing and leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand.
Massive aerial bombardment by the United States followed as it attempted to eliminate North Vietnamese bases in Laos in order to disrupt supply lines on the Ho Chi Minh/Trường Sơn Trail. Between 1971 and 1973 the USAF dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped worldwide during World War II (1939−45). In total more than 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped (almost 1/2 a tonne per head of population at the time).
Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.
In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviet Union and the North Vietnamese Army (justified by the communist ideology of “proletarian internationalism”), overthrew the royalist government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on December 2, 1975. He later died in captivity.
After taking control of the country, Pathet Lao’s government renamed the country as the “Lao People’s Democratic Republic” and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station military forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was ordered in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with the People’s Republic of China which cut the country off from trade with any country but Vietnam. Control by Vietnam and socialization were slowly replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997.
The Tai Dam are an ethnic group from Laos that escaped the country as a group. After thousands of years of political oppression, the Tai Dam people vowed to unite as one group and find a country they could call their own. The Tai Dam are known as “the people without a country.” More than 90 percent of Tai Dam refugees emigrated to the state of Iowa after the governor agreed to take the Tai Dam as a group and have organizations sponsor families. In 2005, the United States established Normal Trade Relations with Laos, ending a protracted period of punitive import taxes.
|Geography||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
land: 230,800 sq km
water: 6,000 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: 4.01%
permanent crops: 0.34%
other: 95.65% (2005)
Irrigated land: 1,750 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 333.6 cu km (2003)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 3 cu km/yr (4%/6%/90%)
per capita: 507 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: floods, droughts
Environment – current issues: unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; most of the population does not have access to potable water
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, 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 River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand
|Demographics||69% of the country’s people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. A further 8% belong to other “lowland” groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum.
Hill people and minority cultures of Laos such as the Hmong (Miao), Yao (Mien), Tai dumm, Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos which include the Lua (Lua) and Khammu people who are indigenous to Laos. Today, the Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively, they are known as Lao Soung or highland Laotians. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Some Vietnamese and Chinese minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left in two waves; after independence in the late 1940s and again after 1975.
The term “Laotian” does not necessarily refer to the ethnic Lao language, ethnic Lao people, language or customs, but is a political term that also includes the non-ethnic Lao groups within Laos and identifies them as “Laotian” because of their political citizenship. In a similar vein, the word “Lao” can also describe the people, cuisine, language and culture of the people of Northeast Thailand (Isan) who are ethnic Lao.
The predominant religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism which, along with the common Animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. There also are a small number of Christians, mostly restricted to the Vientiane area, and Muslims, mostly restricted to the Myanmar border region. Christian missionary work is regulated by the government.
The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, still common in government and commerce, has declined in usage, while knowledge of English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has increased in recent years.
|People||Population: 6,677,534 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 41% (male 1,374,966/female 1,362,945)
15-64 years: 55.9% (male 1,846,375/female 1,885,029)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 91,028/female 117,191) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 19.2 years
male: 18.9 years
female: 19.5 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.344% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 34.46 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 11.02 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 79.61 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 88.9 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 69.88 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 56.29 years
male: 54.19 years
female: 58.47 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.5 children born