Coordinates: 18°N 105°E / 18°N 105°E / 18; 105
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
République démocratique populaire lao (French)
Motto: ສັນຕິພາບ ເອກະລາດ
(English: "Peace, independence, democracy, unity and prosperity")
Anthem: "Pheng Xat Lao"
(English: "Lao National Anthem")
Location of Laos (green)
in ASEAN (dark grey) – [Legend]
and largest city
17°58′N 102°36′E / 17.967°N 102.600°E / 17.967;
Ethnic groups (2005)
Laotian folk religion
Laotian folk religion 31.4%
Unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic
• Vice President
• Prime Minister
• President of the National Assembly
• Kingdom of Lan Xang
• Fall of Lan Xang, Kingdom of Luang Phrabang, Kingdom of
Kingdom of Champasak
Kingdom of Champasak and Principality of Phuan
• Vassal of Thonburi and Siam
• War of Succession
• French Indochina
• Independence from France
19 July 1949
• Declared Independence
22 October 1953
• Laotian civil war
9 November 1953 – 2 December 1975
• Lao Monarchy abolished
2 December 1975
• Current constitution
14 August 1991
23 July 1997
237,955 km2 (91,875 sq mi) (82nd)
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
• 2015 census
26.7/km2 (69.2/sq mi) (177th)
• Per capita
• Per capita
medium · 138th
Kip (₭) (LAK)
Drives on the
ISO 3166 code
Including over 100 smaller ethnic groups.
You may need rendering support to display the Lao text in this article
Laos (/ˈlɑːoʊs/ ( listen), /laʊs, ˈlɑːɒs,
ˈleɪɒs/; Lao: ລາວ, Lao pronunciation: [láːw],
Lāo; French: Laos), officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic
(Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ
ປະຊາຊົນລາວ, Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao;
French: République démocratique populaire lao), commonly referred to
by its colloquial name of Muang Lao (Lao: ເມືອງລາວ,
Muang Lao), is a landlocked country in the heart of the Indochinese
peninsula of Mainland Southeast Asia, bordered by
Myanmar (Burma) and
China to the northwest,
Vietnam to the east,
Cambodia to the southwest
Thailand to the west and southwest.
Laos traces its historic and cultural identity to the
Lan Xang Hom Khao (Kingdom of a Million Elephants Under the
White Parasol), which existed for four centuries as one of the largest
kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Due to Lan Xang's central geographical
location in Southeast Asia, the kingdom was able to become a popular
hub for overland trade, becoming wealthy economically as well as
After a period of internal conflict,
Lan Xang broke off into three
separate kingdoms — Luang Phrabang,
Vientiane and Champasak. In
1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three territories
uniting to form what is now known as the country of Laos. It briefly
gained freedom in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but was recolonised
France until it won autonomy in 1949.
Laos became independent in
1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly
after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the
Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.
Laos is a one-party socialist republic. It espouses Marxism–Leninism
and is governed by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, in which the
party leadership is dominated by military figures. The capital and
largest city is Vientiane. Other major cities include Luang Prabang,
Savannakhet and Pakse. The official language is Lao.
Laos is a
multi-ethnic country, with the politically and culturally dominant Lao
people making up approximately 55 percent of the population, mostly in
the lowlands. Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong and other indigenous hill
tribes, accounting for 45 percent of the population, live in the
foothills and mountains.
Laos' ambitious strategies for development are based on generating
electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours,
China and Vietnam, as well as its initiative to
become a 'land-linked' nation, shown by the planning of four new
Laos to those same countries. This, along with
growth of the mining sector,
Laos has been referred to as one of East
Asia and Pacific's
Fastest Growing Economies
Fastest Growing Economies by the World Bank, with
annual GDP growth averaging 7% for the past decade.
It is a member of the
Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
East Asia Summit
East Asia Summit and La
Laos applied for membership of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) in 1997; on 2 February 2013, it was granted full
2.1 Early history
2.2 Lan Xang
2.4 Independence and
Communist Rule (1953–present)
3.1 Administrative divisions
3.2 Environmental problems and illegal logging
4 Government and politics
4.2 Hmong conflict
4.3 Human rights
5 Foreign relations
Lao Loum (lowland people)
Lao Theung (midland people)
Lao Soung (highland people)
9 See also
11 External links
The English word
Laos was coined by the French, who united the three
Lao kingdoms in
French Indochina in 1893 and named the country as the
plural of the dominant and most common ethnic group, which are the Lao
In the Lao language, the country's name is "Muang Lao"
(ເມືອງລາວ) or "Pathet Lao" (ປະເທດລາວ),
both literally mean "Lao Country".
Main article: History of Laos
An ancient human skull was recovered from the
Tam Pa Ling Cave
Tam Pa Ling Cave in the
Annamite Mountains in northern Laos; the skull is at least 46,000
years old, making it the oldest modern human fossil found to date in
Southeast Asia. Stone artifacts including
Hoabinhian types have
been found at sites dating to the Late
Pleistocene in northern
Laos. Archaeological evidence suggests agriculturist society
developed during the 4th millennium BC. Burial jars and other
kinds of sepulchers suggest a complex society in which bronze objects
appeared around 1500 BC, and iron tools were known from 700 BC. The
proto-historic period is characterised by contact with Chinese and
Indian civilisations. According to linguistic and other historical
evidence, Tai-speaking tribes migrated southwestward to the modern
Guangxi sometime between the
Main article: Lan Xang
Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang in
Vientiane is the national symbol of Laos.
A statue of Fa Ngum, founder of the
Lan Xang kingdom.
Laos traces its history to the kingdom of
Lan Xang (Million
Elephants), founded in the 14th century, by a Lao prince Fa
Ngum,:223 who with 10,000 Khmer troops, took over Vientiane. Ngum
was descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracing back to Khoun
Boulom. He made
Theravada Buddhism the state religion and Lan Xang
prospered. Within 20 years of its formation, the kingdom expanded
eastward to Champa and along the Annamite mountains in Vietnam. His
ministers, unable to tolerate his ruthlessness, forced him into exile
to the present-day Thai province of Nan in 1373, where he died. Fa
Ngum's eldest son, Oun Heuan, came to the throne under the name
Samsenthai and reigned for 43 years. During his reign, Lan Xang
became an important trade centre. After his death in 1421, Lan Xang
collapsed into warring factions for the next 100 years.
Photisarath came to the throne and moved the capital from
Luang Prabang to
Vientiane to avoid a Burmese invasion. Setthathirat
became king in 1548, after his father was killed, and ordered the
construction of what would become the symbol of Laos, That Luang.
Setthathirat disappeared in the mountains on his way back from a
military expedition into
Lan Xang began to rapidly
It was not until 1637, when
Sourigna Vongsa ascended the throne, that
Lan Xang further expanded its frontiers. His reign is often regarded
as Laos's golden age. When he died, leaving
Lan Xang without an heir,
the kingdom divided into three principalities. Between 1763 and 1769,
Burmese armies overran northern
Laos and annexed Luang Phrabang, while
Champasak eventually came under Siamese suzerainty.
Anouvong was installed as a vassal king of
Vientiane by the
Siamese. He encouraged a renaissance of Lao fine arts and literature
and improved relations with Luang Phrabang. Under Vietnamese pressure,
he rebelled against the Siamese in 1826. The rebellion failed and
Vientiane was ransacked.
Anouvong was taken to
Bangkok as a
prisoner, where he died.
A Siamese military campaign in
Laos in 1876 was described by a British
observer as having been "transformed into slave-hunting raids on a
French Protectorate of Laos
French Protectorate of Laos and First
Local Lao soldiers in the French Colonial guard, c. 1900.
In the late 19th century,
Luang Prabang was ransacked by the Chinese
Black Flag Army.
France rescued King
Oun Kham and added Luang
Phrabang to the Protectorate of French Indochina. Shortly after, the
Kingdom of Champasak
Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of
Vientiane were added to the
Sisavang Vong of
Luang Phrabang became ruler of a
Vientiane once again became the capital.
Laos never had any importance for France other than as a buffer
Thailand and the more economically important Annam and
Tonkin. During their rule, the French introduced the corvée, a system
that forced every male Lao to contribute 10 days of manual labour
per year to the colonial government.
Laos produced tin, rubber, and
coffee, but never accounted for more than one percent of French
Indochina's exports. By 1940, around 600 French citizens lived in
World War II
World War II in Laos, Vichy France, fascist Thailand, Imperial
Japan, Free France, and Chinese nationalist armies occupied Laos. On 9
March 1945, a nationalist group declared
Laos once more independent,
Luang Prabang as its capital but on 7 April 1945 two battalions
of Japanese troops occupied the city. The Japanese attempted to
Sisavang Vong (the King of Luang Phrabang) to declare Laotian
independence but on 8 April he instead simply declared an end to Laos'
status as a French protectorate. The King then secretly sent Prince
Kindavong to represent
Laos to the Allied forces and Prince Sisavang
as representative to the Japanese. When
Japan surrendered, some
Lao nationalists (including Prince Phetsarath) declared Laotian
independence, but by early 1946, French troops had reoccupied the
country and conferred limited autonomy on Laos.
During the First
Indochina War, the
Indochinese Communist Party
Indochinese Communist Party formed
Pathet Lao resistance organisation. The
Pathet Lao began a war
against the aggressive French Colonial forces with the aid of the
Vietnamese independence organisation (the Viet Minh). In 1950 the
French were forced to give
Laos semi-autonomy as an "associated state"
within the French Union.
France remained in de facto control until 22
October 1953, when
Laos gained full independence as a constitutional
Communist Rule (1953–present)
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History of Laos
History of Laos since 1945, Kingdom of Laos, and
Laotian Civil War
French General Salan and Prince
Sisavang Vatthana in Luang Prabang, 4
Indochina War took place across
French Indochina and
eventually led to French defeat and the signing of a peace accord for
Laos at the Geneva Conference of 1954. In 1955, the US Department of
Defense created a special
Programs Evaluation Office to replace French
support of the
Royal Lao Army
Royal Lao Army against the communist
Pathet Lao as part
of the US containment policy.
In 1960, amidst a series of rebellions in the Kingdom of Laos,
fighting broke out between the
Royal Lao Army
Royal Lao Army and the communist North
Vietnam-backed, and Soviet Union-backed
Pathet Lao guerillas. A second
Provisional Government of National Unity formed by Prince Souvanna
Phouma in 1962 was unsuccessful, and the situation steadily
deteriorated into large scale civil war between the Royal Laotian
government and the Pathet Lao. The
Pathet Lao were backed militarily
by the NVA and Vietcong.
Ruins of Muang Khoun, former capital of Xiangkhouang province,
destroyed by the American bombing of
Laos in the late 1960s.
Laos was a key part of the
Vietnam War since parts of
invaded and occupied by North
Vietnam for use as a supply route for
its war against the South. In response, the
United States initiated a
bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese positions, supported
regular and irregular anticommunist forces in
Laos and supported South
Vietnamese incursions into Laos.
In 1968 the
North Vietnamese Army
North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack to
Pathet Lao to fight the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted
in the army largely demobilising, leaving the conflict to irregular
ethnic Hmong forces of the "U.S. Secret Army" backed by the United
States and Thailand, and led by General Vang Pao.
Massive aerial bombardment against the
Pathet Lao and invading
People's Army of
Vietnam forces were carried out by the United States
to prevent the collapse of the Royal
Kingdom of Laos
Kingdom of Laos central
government, and to deny the use of the
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Ho Chi Minh Trail to attack US
forces in the
Republic of Vietnam. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S.
dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos, nearly equal to the 2.1
million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and
Asia during all
of World War II, making
Laos the most heavily bombed country in
history relative to the size of its population; The New York Times
noted this was "nearly a ton for every person in Laos." Some 80
million bombs failed to explode and remain scattered throughout the
country, rendering vast swathes of land impossible to cultivate and
killing or maiming 50 Laotians every year. (Due to the
particularly heavy impact of cluster bombs during this war,
Laos was a
strong advocate of the
Convention on Cluster Munitions
Convention on Cluster Munitions to ban the
weapons, and was host to the First Meeting of States Parties to the
convention in November 2010.)
Pathet Lao soldiers in Vientiane, 1972.
In 1975 the Pathet Lao, along with the
Vietnam People's Army, and
backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government,
Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later
died in prison. Between 20,000 and 62,000 Laotians died during the
On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet
Lao government under
Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao
Republic and signed agreements giving
right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in
overseeing the country.
Laos was requested in 1979 by the Socialist
Vietnam to end relations with the People's
China, leading to isolation in trade by China, the United States, and
other countries.
The conflict between Hmong rebels and the
Vietnam People's Army of the
Vietnam (SRV), as well as the SRV-backed Pathet
Lao continued in key areas of Laos, including in Saysaboune Closed
Military Zone, Xaisamboune Closed Military Zone near Vientiane
Province and Xieng Khouang Province. From 1975 to 1996, the United
States resettled some 250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand, including
130,000 Hmong. (See:
Indochina refugee crisis)
Main article: Geography of Laos
Laos map of Köppen climate classification.
Mekong River flowing through Luang Prabang.
Paddy fields in Laos.
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, and it lies
mostly between latitudes 14° and 23°N (a small area is south of
14°), and longitudes 100° and 108°E. Its thickly forested landscape
consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia
at 2,818 metres (9,245 ft), with some plains and plateaus. The
Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand,
whereas the mountains of the
Annamite Range form most of the eastern
Vietnam and the
Luang Prabang Range the northwestern
border with the Thai highlands. There are two plateaux, the
Xiangkhoang in the north and the
Bolaven Plateau at the southern end.
The climate is tropical and influenced by the monsoon pattern.
There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a
dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there
are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of
the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the
earlier four months. The capital and largest city of
Laos is Vientiane
and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and
In 1993 the
Laos government set aside 21 percent of the nation's land
area for habitat conservation preservation. The country is one of
four in the opium poppy growing region known as the "Golden Triangle".
According to the October 2007 UNODC fact book Opium Poppy Cultivation
in South East Asia, the poppy cultivation area was 15 square
kilometres (5.8 sq mi), down from 18 square kilometres
(6.9 sq mi) in 2006.
Laos can be considered to consist of three geographical areas: north,
central, and south.
Main article: Administrative divisions of Laos
Laos is divided into 17 provinces (khoueng) and one prefecture
(kampheng nakhon), which includes the capital city
Louang Viangchan). The new province, Xaisomboun Province, was
established on 13 December 2013. Provinces are further divided into
districts (muang) and then villages (ban). An "urban" village is
essentially a town.
Attapeu (Samakkhixay District)
Ban Houayxay (Houayxay District)
Paksan (Paksane District)
Xam Neua (Xamneua District)
Luang Namtha (Namtha District)
Luang Prabang (Louangprabang District)
Muang Xay (Xay District)
Sayabouly (Xayabury District)
Salavan (Salavan District)
Savannakhet (Khanthabouly District)
Sekong (Lamarm District)
Viangchan (Chanthabouly District)
Phonsavan (Pek District)
An updated map of the
Laos provinces (from 2014).
Environmental problems and illegal logging
Further information: Deforestation in Laos
Laos is increasingly suffering from environmental problems, with
deforestation a particularly significant issue, as expanding
commercial exploitation of the forests, plans for additional
hydroelectric facilities, foreign demand for wild animals and nonwood
forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing
population all create increasing pressure.
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Development Programme warns that: "Protecting the
environment and sustainable use of natural resources in Lao PDR is
vital for poverty reduction and economic growth."
In April 2011,
The Independent newspaper reported that
started work on the controversial
Xayaburi Dam on the
without getting formal approval. Environmentalists say the dam will
adversely affect 60 million people and
Vietnam—concerned about the flow of water further downstream—are
officially opposed to the project. The
Mekong River Commission, a
regional intergovernmental body designed to promote the "sustainable
management" of the river, famed for its giant catfish, carried out a
study that warned if Xayaburi and subsequent schemes went ahead, it
would "...fundamentally undermine the abundance, productivity and
diversity of the
Mekong fish resources." Neighbouring Vietnam
warned that the dam would harm the
Mekong Delta, which is the home to
nearly 20 million people and supplies around 50 percent of Vietnam's
rice output and over 70 percent of both its seafood and fruit
Milton Osborne, Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for
International Policy who has written widely on the Mekong, warns: "The
future scenario is of the
Mekong ceasing to be a bounteous source of
fish and guarantor of agricultural richness, with the great river
China becoming little more than a series of unproductive
Illegal logging is also a major problem. Environmental groups estimate
that 500,000 cubic metres (18,000,000 cu ft) of logs are
being cut by
Vietnam People's Army (VPA) forces, and companies it
owns, in co-operation with the
Lao People's Army
Lao People's Army and then transported
Vietnam every year, with most of the furniture eventually
exported to western countries by the VPA military-owned
A 1992 government survey indicated that forests occupied about 48
percent of Laos' land area. Forest coverage decreased to 41 percent in
a 2002 survey. Lao authorities have said that, in reality, forest
coverage might be no more than 35 percent because of development
projects such as dams, on top of the losses to illegal logging.
Government and politics
Politics of Laos
Politics of Laos and Foreign relations of Laos
General Secretary and President Bounnhang Vorachith.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
The Lao People's Democratic
Republic is one of the world's few
remaining socialist states that openly espouse Communism. The only
legal political party is the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party
Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP).
The head of state is President Bounnhang Vorachith, and he is the
General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.
The head of government is Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who is
also a member of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party's Politburo.
Government policies are determined by the party through the
all-powerful eleven-member Politburo of the Lao People's Revolutionary
Party and the 61-member Central Committee of the Lao People's
Revolutionary Party. Important government decisions are vetted by the
Council of Ministers.
Laos's first, French-written and monarchical constitution was
promulgated on 11 May 1947, and declared
Laos an independent state
within the French Union. The revised constitution of 11 May 1957
omitted reference to the French Union, though close educational,
health and technical ties with the former colonial power persisted.
The 1957 document was abrogated on 3 December 1975, when a communist
Republic was proclaimed. A new constitution was adopted in
1991 and enshrined a "leading role" for the LPRP. In 1990, deputy
minister for science & technology
Thongsouk Saysangkhi resigned
from the government and party, calling for political reform. He died
in captivity in 1998.
In 1992 elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with
members, nominated by the one-party communist government, elected by
secret ballot to five-year terms. The elections were widely disputed
and questioned by Lao and Hmong opposition and dissident groups abroad
Laos and Thailand. This National Assembly, which essentially
acts as a rubber stamp for the LPRP, approves all new laws, although
the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The
most recent elections took place in April 2011. The assembly was
expanded to 99 members in 1997, to 115 members in 2006 and finally to
132 members during the 2011 elections.
Main article: Lao People's Army
Lao People's Armed Forces
Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF) are small, poorly funded, and
ineffectively resourced. Its mission is border and internal security,
primarily in countering ethnic Hmong insurgent and opposition groups.
Together with the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party
Lao People's Revolutionary Party and the government,
Lao People's Army
Lao People's Army (LPA) is the third pillar of state machinery
and, as such, is expected to suppress political and civil unrest and
similar national emergencies. The LPA has upgraded skills to respond
to avian influenza outbreaks. There is no perceived external threat to
the state and the LPA maintains strong ties with the neighbouring
Vietnamese military (2008)..
The army of 130,000 is equipped with 25 main battle tanks. The army
marine section, equipped with 16 patrol crafts, has 600 personnel. The
air force, with 3,500 personnel, is equipped with anti-aircraft
missiles and 24 combat aircraft. Militia self-defence forces number
approximately 100,000 organised for local defence. The small arms used
by the army include the Soviet
AKM assault rifle, PKM machine gun,
Makarov PM pistol, and
RPD light machine gun.
Since its founding, the LPA has received significant support,
training, advisers, troop support and assistance from the Socialist
Vietnam and the
Vietnam People's Army.
On 17 May 2014 the Defense Minister, who was also Deputy Prime
Minister, Major General Douangchay Phichit, with other top ranking
officials was killed in a plane crash in the north of the country. The
officials were to participate in a ceremony to mark the liberation of
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars from the former Royal Lao government forces. Their
Russian-built Antonov AN 74–300 with 20 people on board crashed in
The government of
Laos has been accused of committing genocide, and
human rights and religious freedom violations against the Hmong ethnic
minority within its own borders.
Some Hmong groups fought as CIA-backed units on the royalist side in
the Laotian Civil War. After the
Pathet Lao took over the country in
1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. In 1977, a communist
newspaper promised the party would hunt down the "American
collaborators" and their families "to the last root."
As many as 200,000 Hmong went into exile in Thailand, with many ending
up in the US. A number of Hmong fighters hid out in mountains in
Xiangkhouang Province for many years, with a remnant emerging from the
jungle in 2003.
In 1989, the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
with the support of the US government, instituted the Comprehensive
Plan of Action, a programme to stem the tide of Indochinese refugees
from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Under the plan, refugee status was
evaluated through a screening process. Recognized asylum seekers were
given resettlement opportunities, while the remaining refugees were to
be repatriated under guarantee of safety.
Hmong girls in Laos, 1973
After talks with the UNHCR and the Thai government,
Laos agreed to
repatriate the 60,000 Lao refugees living in Thailand, including
several thousand Hmong people. Very few of the Lao refugees, however,
were willing to return voluntarily. Pressure to resettle the
refugees grew as the Thai government worked to close its remaining
refugee camps. While some
Hmong people returned to
with development assistance from UNHCR, allegations of forced
repatriation surfaced. Of those Hmong who did return to Laos, some
quickly escaped back to Thailand, describing discrimination and brutal
treatment at the hands of Lao authorities.
In 1993, Vue Mai, a former Hmong soldier and leader of the largest
Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, who had been recruited by the
US Embassy in
Bangkok to return to
Laos as proof of the
repatriation programme's success, disappeared in Vientiane. According
to the US Committee for Refugees, he was arrested by Lao security
forces and was never seen again.
Following the Vue Mai incident, debate over the Hmong's planned
Laos intensified greatly, especially in the United
States, where it drew strong opposition from many American
conservatives and some human rights advocates. In a 23 October 1995
National Review article, Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation
foreign policy expert and Republican
White House aide, labelled the
Hmong's repatriation a Clinton administration "betrayal", describing
the Hmong as a people "who have spilled their blood in defense of
American geopolitical interests." Debate on the issue escalated
quickly. In an effort to halt the planned repatriation, the
Republican-led US Senate and House of Representatives both
appropriated funds for the remaining Thailand-based Hmong to be
immediately resettled in the United States; Clinton, however,
responded by promising a veto of the legislation.
In their opposition of the repatriation plans, Democratic and
Republican Members of Congress challenged the Clinton administration's
position that the government of
Laos was not systematically violating
Hmong human rights. US Representative Steve Gunderson (R-WI), for
instance, told a Hmong gathering: "I do not enjoy standing up and
saying to my government that you are not telling the truth, but if
that is necessary to defend truth and justice, I will do that."
Republicans called several Congressional hearings on alleged
persecution of the Hmong in
Laos in an apparent attempt to generate
further support for their opposition to the Hmong's repatriation to
Laos. Democratic Congressman Bruce Vento, Senator Paul Wellstone, Dana
Rohrabacher and others also raised concerns.
Although some accusations of forced repatriation were denied,
Hmong people refused to return to Laos. In 1996 as the
deadline for the closure of Thai refugee camps approached, and under
mounting political pressure, the
United States agreed to resettle
Hmong refugees who passed a new screening process. Around 5,000
Hmong people who were not resettled at the time of the camp closures
sought asylum at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery in central
Thailand where more than 10,000 Hmong refugees had already been
living. The Thai government attempted to repatriate these refugees,
Wat Tham Krabok Hmong refused to leave and the Lao government
refused to accept them, claiming they were involved in the illegal
drug trade and were of non-Lao origin.
Following threats of forcible removal by the Thai government, the
United States, in a significant victory for the Hmong, agreed to
accept 15,000 of the refugees in 2003. Several thousand Hmong
people, fearing forced repatriation to
Laos if they were not accepted
for resettlement in the United States, fled the camp to live elsewhere
Thailand where a sizeable Hmong population has been present
since the 19th century.
In 2004 and 2005, thousands of Hmong fled from the jungles of
a temporary refugee camp in the Thai province of Phetchabun. These
Hmong refugees, many of whom are descendants of the former-CIA Secret
Army and their relatives, claim that they have been attacked by both
the Lao and Vietnamese military forces operating inside
recently as June 2006. The refugees claim that attacks against them
have continued almost unabated since the war officially ended in 1975,
and have become more intense in recent years.
Lending further support to earlier claims that the government of Laos
was persecuting the Hmong, filmmaker
Rebecca Sommer documented
first-hand accounts in her documentary, Hunted Like Animals, and
in a comprehensive report that includes summaries of refugee claims
and was submitted to the UN in May 2006.
The European Union, UNHCHR, and international groups have since
spoken out about the forced repatriation. The Thai
foreign ministry has said that it will halt deportation of Hmong
refugees held in Detention Centres in Nong Khai, while talks are
underway to resettle them in Australia, Canada, the
the United States.
For the time being, countries willing to resettle the refugees are
hindered in their immigration and settlement procedures because the
Thai administration does not grant them access to the refugees. Plans
to resettle additional Hmong refugees in the
United States have been
complicated by provisions of President George W. Bush's Patriot Act
and Real ID Act, under which Hmong veterans of the Secret War, who
fought on the side of the United States, are classified as terrorists
because of their historical involvement in armed conflict.
On 27 December 2009, the
New York Times
New York Times reported that the Thai
military was preparing to forcibly return 4,000 Hmong asylum seekers
Laos by the end of the year. The BBC later reported that
repatriations had started. Both
United States and United Nations
officials have protested this action. Outside government
representatives have not been allowed to interview this group over the
last three years.
Médecins Sans Frontières
Médecins Sans Frontières has refused to assist the
Hmong refugees because of what they have called "increasingly
restrictive measures" taken by the Thai military. The Thai
military jammed all cellular phone reception and disallowed any
foreign journalists from the Hmong camps.
Human rights in Laos
Human rights violations remain a significant concern in Laos.
Prominent civil society advocates, human rights defenders, political
and religious dissidents, and Hmong refugees have disappeared at the
hands of Lao military and security forces.
Constitution of Laos
Constitution of Laos that was promulgated in 1991, and
amended in 2003, contains most key safeguards for human rights. For
example, Article 8 makes it clear that
Laos is a multiethnic
state and is committed to equality between ethnic groups. The
Constitution also contains provisions for gender equality, freedom of
religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of press and assembly. On 25
Laos ratified the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, nine years after signing the treaty. The stated
policy objectives of both the Lao government and international donors
remain focused upon achieving sustainable economic growth and poverty
However, the government of
Laos frequently breaches its own
constitution and the rule of law, since the judiciary and judges are
appointed by the ruling communist party—an independent judicial
branch does not exist. According to independent
non-profit/non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, and Civil Rights
Defenders, along with the U.S. State Department serious human
rights violations such as arbitrary detentions, disappearances, free
speech restrictions, prison abuses and other violations are an ongoing
Amnesty International raised concerns about the ratification record of
the Lao government on human rights standards, and its lack of
co-operation with the UN human rights mechanisms and legislative
measures—both impact negatively upon human rights. The organisation
also raised concerns in relation to freedom of expression, poor prison
conditions, restrictions on freedom of religions, protection of
refugees and asylum-seekers, and the death penalty.
In October 1999, 30 young people were arrested for attempting to
display posters calling for peaceful economic, political and social
change in Laos. Five of them were arrested and subsequently sentenced
to up to 10 years imprisonment on charges of treason. One has since
died due to his treatment by prison guards, while one has been
released. The surviving three men should have been released by October
2009, but their whereabouts remain unknown. Later reports have
contradicted this, claiming they were sentenced to 20 years in
prison. In late February 2017, two of those imprisoned were
finally released after 17 years.
Laos and Vietnamese (SRV) troops were reported to have raped and
killed four Christian Hmong women in
Xiangkhouang Province in 2011,
according to the US-based non-governmental public policy research
organisation The Centre for Public Policy Analysis. [clarification
needed] CPPA also said other Christian and independent Buddhist and
animist believers were being persecuted.
The Centre for Public Policy Analysis, Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the
Lao Veterans of America, Inc. and other non-governmental organisations
(NGO)s have reported egregious human rights violations, religious
persecution, the arrest and imprisonment of political and religious
dissidents as well as extrajudicial killings, in
Laos by government
military and security forces.
Human rights advocates including
Kerry and Kay Danes
Kerry and Kay Danes and others have also raised concerns
about human rights violations, torture, the arrest and detention of
political prisoners as well as the detention of foreign prisoners in
Laos including at the infamous
Phonthong Prison in Vientiane. Concerns
have been raised about the high-profile abduction of Laotian civic
activist and Lao PDR's only living
Ramon Magsaysay Award laureate
Sombath Somphone by Lao security forces and police on 15 December
In The Economist's
Democracy Index 2016
Laos was classified as an
"authoritarian regime", ranking lowest of the nine
included in the study.
The foreign relations of
Laos after the takeover by the
Pathet Lao in
December 1975, were characterized by a hostile posture toward the
West, with the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
aligning itself with the Soviet bloc, maintaining close ties with the
Soviet Union and depending heavily on the Soviets for most of its
Laos also maintained a "special relationship" with
Vietnam and formalized a 1977 treaty of friendship and cooperation
that created tensions with China.
With the collapse of the
Soviet Union and with Vietnam's decreased
ability to provide assistance,
Laos has sought to improve relations
with its regional neighbours.
Laos' emergence from international isolation has been marked through
improved and expanded relations with other nations such as Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, Australia, France, Japan, and Sweden.
Trade relations with the
United States were normalized in 2004.
Laos was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) in July 1997 and applied to join the World Trade Organization
in 1998. In 2005 it attended the inaugural East
Main article: Economy of Laos
About 80% of the Laotian population practices subsistence agriculture.
The Lao economy depends heavily on investment and trade with its
neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China.
Pakxe has also experienced growth based on cross-border trade with
Thailand and Vietnam. In 2009, despite the fact that the government is
still officially communist, the Obama administration in the US
Laos was no longer a Marxist–Leninist state and lifted bans
on Laotian companies receiving financing from the US Export-Import
Bank. In 2011, the
Lao Securities Exchange
Lao Securities Exchange began trading. In 2012,
the government initiated the creation of the
Laos Trade Portal, a
website incorporating all information traders need to import and
export goods into the country.
China was the biggest foreign investor in Laos' economy,
having invested in US$5.395 billion since 1989, according to Laos
Ministry of Planning and Investment 1989–2014 report. Thailand
(invested US$4.489 billion) and
Vietnam (invested US$3.108 billion)
are the second and third largest investors respectively.
Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and
provides 80 percent of employment. Only 4.01 percent of the country is
arable land, and a mere 0.34 percent used as permanent crop land,
the lowest percentage in the Greater
Mekong Subregion. Rice
dominates agriculture, with about 80 percent of the arable land area
used for growing rice. Approximately 77 percent of Lao farm
households are self-sufficient in rice.
Through the development, release and widespread adoption of improved
rice varieties, and through economic reforms, production has increased
by an annual rate of five percent between 1990 and 2005, and Lao
PDR achieved a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first
time in 1999. Lao PDR may have the greatest number of rice
varieties in the Greater
Mekong Subregion. Since 1995 the Lao
government has been working with the International
Institute of the
Philippines to collect seed samples of each of the
thousands of rice varieties found in Laos.
Morning market in Vientiane.
The economy receives development aid from the IMF, ADB, and other
international sources; and also foreign direct investment for
development of the society, industry, hydropower and mining (most
notably of copper and gold). Tourism is the fastest-growing industry
in the country. Economic development in
Laos has been hampered by
brain drain, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4 percent in
Laos is rich in mineral resources and imports petroleum and gas.
Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to
attract foreign investment to develop the substantial deposits of
coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper, and other valuable metals. In
addition, the country's plentiful water resources and mountainous
terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of
hydroelectric energy. Of the potential capacity of approximately
18,000 megawatts, around 8,000 megawatts have been committed for
Thailand and Vietnam.
The country's most widely recognised product may well be Beerlao,
which is exported to many developed countries around the world such as
the US, Britain, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and neighbours Cambodia
and Vietnam. It is produced by the Lao Brewery Company.
Mining industry of Laos has received prominent attention with
Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). This sector, since 2003–04, has
made significant contributions to the economic condition of Laos. More
than 540 mineral deposits of gold, copper, zinc, lead and other
minerals have been identified, explored and mined.
Main article: Tourism in Laos
Near the sanctuary on the main upper level of Wat Phu, looking back
The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international
visitors in 1990, to 1.876 million in 2010. Tourism is expected to
contribute US$679.1 million to the gross national product in 2010,
rising to US$1.5857 billion by 2020. In 2010, one in every 10.9 jobs
was in the tourism sector. Export earnings from international visitors
and tourism goods are expected to generate 15.5 percent of total
exports or US$270.3 million in 2010, growing in nominal terms to
US$484.2 million (12.5 percent of the total) in 2020.
The official tourism slogan is "Simply Beautiful". The main
attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial
architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in the
capital of Vientiane; backpacking in
Muang Ngoi Neua
Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng;
ancient and modern culture and history in the
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars region
(main article: Phonsavan);
Laos Civil War
Laos Civil War history in Sam Neua;
trekking and visiting hill tribes in a number of areas including
Phongsaly and Luang Namtha; spotting tigers and other wildlife in Nam
Et-Phou Louey; caves and waterfalls near Thakhek; relaxation, the
Irrawaddy dolphin and
Khone Phapheng Falls
Khone Phapheng Falls at
Si Phan Don
Si Phan Don or, as they
are known in English, the Four Thousand Islands; Wat Phu, an ancient
Khmer temple complex; and the
Bolaven Plateau for waterfalls and
coffee. The European Council on Trade and Tourism awarded the country
the "World Best Tourist Destination" designation for 2013 for this
combination of architecture and history.
Luang Prabang and
Wat Phu are both
UNESCO World Heritage
UNESCO World Heritage sites, with
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars expected to join them once more work to clear UXO
has been completed. Major festivals include Lao
New Year celebrated
around 13–15 April and involves a water festival similar but more
subdued than that of
Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.
The Lao National Tourism Administration, related government agencies
and the private sector are working together to realize the vision put
forth in the country's National
Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan.
This includes decreasing the environmental and cultural impact of
tourism; increasing awareness in the importance of ethnic groups and
biological diversity; providing a source of income to conserve,
sustain and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural
heritage sites; and emphasizing the need for tourism zoning and
management plans for sites that will be developed as ecotourism
Laos is known for silk and local handicraft products, which are on
display in Luang Prabang's night market, among other places. Another
specialty is mulberry tea.
Transport in Laos
Transport in Laos and Telecommunications in Laos
Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.
The main international airports are Vientiane's Wattay International
Luang Prabang International Airport with Pakse
International Airport also having a few international flights. The
national carrier is Lao Airlines. Other carriers serving the country
Vietnam Airlines, AirAsia, Thai Airways
China Eastern Airlines and Silk Air.
Laos lacks adequate infrastructure.
Laos has no railways,
except a short link to connect
Thailand over the
Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge. A short portage railway, the Don
Det—Don Khon narrow gauge railway was built by the French in
Champasak Province but has been closed since the 1940s. In the late
1920s, work began on the Thakhek–Tan Ap railway that would have run
Khammouane Province and Tân Ấp Railway Station,
Quảng Bình Province,
Vietnam through the Mụ Giạ Pass. The
scheme was aborted in the 1930s. The major roads connecting the major
urban centres, in particular Route 13, have been significantly
upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads can be
reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible
There is limited external and internal telecommunication, but mobile
phones have become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas
electricity is at least partly available. Songthaews (pick-up trucks
with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local
Laos has made particularly noteworthy progress increasing access to
sanitation and has already met its 2015 Millennium Development Goal
(MDG) target. Laos' predominantly rural (68 percent, source:
Department of Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Investment, 2009)
population makes investing in sanitation difficult. In 1990 only eight
percent of the rural population had access to improved
sanitation. Access rose rapidly from 10 percent in 1995 to 38
percent in 2008. Between 1995 and 2008 approximately 1,232,900 more
people had access to improved sanitation in rural areas.
Laos' progress is notable in comparison to similar developing
countries. This success is in part due to small-scale independent
providers emerging in a spontaneous manner or having been promoted by
public authorities. The authorities in
Laos have recently developed an
innovative regulatory framework for Public–Private partnership
contracts signed with small enterprises, in parallel with more
conventional regulation of State-owned water enterprises.
Main article: Demographics of Laos
The term "Laotian" does not necessarily refer to the Lao language,
ethnic Lao people, language or customs. It is a political term that
includes the non-ethnic Lao groups within
Laos and identifies them as
"Laotian" because of their political citizenship.
Laos has the
youngest population of any country in
Asia with a median age of 21.6
Laos' population was estimated at 6.8 million in 2016, dispersed
unevenly across the country. Most people live in valleys of the Mekong
River and its tributaries.
Vientiane prefecture, the capital and
largest city, had about 740,010 residents in 2008. The country's
population density was 27/km2.
Largest cities or towns in Laos
Main article: Demographics of Laos
The people of
Laos are often considered by their altitudinal
distribution (lowlands, midlands and upper high lands) as this
approximates ethnic groups.
Lao Loum (lowland people)
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More than half of the nation's population, 60 percent, is ethnic
Lao—the principal lowland inhabitants, and the politically and
culturally dominant people of Laos. The Lao belong to the Tai
linguistic group who began migrating southward from
China in the first
millennium CE. Ten percent belong to other "lowland" groups, which
together with the
Lao people make up the Lao Loum.
Lao Theung (midland people)
In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao
Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Other terms are Khmu, Khamu
(Kammu) or Kha as the
Lao Loum refer to them as indicating their
Austroasiatic origins. However, the latter is considered pejorative,
meaning 'slave'. They were the indigenous inhabitants of northern
Laos. Some Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai minorities remain,
particularly in the towns, but many left after independence in the
late 1940s, many of whom relocated either to Vietnam, Hong Kong, or to
Lao Theung constitute about 30 percent of the population.
Buddhist monks collecting alms at dawn in Luang Prabang
A Ho (Hani) woman and her child in
Buddhist monks in front of Wat Sen, Luang Prabang.
Buddhist shrine in Vientiane.
Japanese made trucks on the street
Luang Prabang street
Lao Soung (highland people)
Hill people and minority cultures of
Laos such as the Hmong, Yao
(Mien), Dao, Shan, and several
Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have
lived in isolated regions of
Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes
of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern
Laos, which include the Lua and
Khmu people who are indigenous to
Laos. Today, the
Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively,
they are known as
Lao Soung or highland Laotians.
Lao Soung account
for only about 10 percent of the population.
The emergence of rural ATMs proved that law and order has improved.
The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai
linguistic group. However, only slightly more than half of the
population can speak Lao. The remainder, particularly in rural areas,
speak ethnic minority languages. The Lao alphabet, which evolved
sometime between the 13th and 14th centuries, was derived from the
Khmer script and is very similar to Thai, and easily
understood by readers of Thai script. Languages like Khmu and
Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and
highland areas. A number of
Laotian sign languages are used in areas
with high rates of congenital deafness.
Hot air balloon sightseeing
Night Market, Laos
French is still commonly used in government and commerce and over a
third of Laos' students are educated through the medium of French with
French being compulsory for all other students. Throughout the country
signage is bilingual in Laotian and French, with French being
predominant. English, the language of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent
Main article: Religion in Laos
64.7 percent of Laotians are
Theravada Buddhist, 1.7 percent are
Christian, and 31.5 percent are other or traditional (mostly
practitioners of Satsana Phi) according to the 2005 census.
Buddhism has long been one of the most important social forces in
Theravada Buddhism has coexisted peacefully since its
introduction to the country with the local polytheism.
Main article: Health in Laos
Male life expectancy at birth was at 60.85 years and female life
expectancy was at 64.76 years in 2012. Healthy life expectancy was
54 years in 2007. In 2008, 43 percent of the population did not
have access to sanitary water resources. By 2010 this had been reduced
to 33 percent of the population. Government expenditure on health
is about four percent of GDP, about US$18 (PPP) in 2006.
Main article: Education in Laos
See also: National Library of Laos
The adult literacy rate exceeds two thirds. The male literacy
rate exceeds the female literacy rate. The total literacy rate is
73 percent (2010 estimate).
In 2004 the net primary enrolment rate was at 84 percent.
National University of Laos
National University of Laos is the
Laos state's public university.
Main article: Culture of Laos
See also: Lao art, Lao cuisine, Dance and theatre of Laos, Laotian
society, List of festivals in Laos, and Music of Laos
An example of Lao cuisine.
Lao women wearing sinhs.
Lao dancers during the
New Year celebration.
Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is
reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in
art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture
predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by
its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has
prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in
lam, the dominant style of folk music. Among the lam styles, the lam
saravane is probably the most popular.
Sticky rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and
religious significance to the Lao people.
Sticky rice is generally
preferred over jasmine rice, and sticky rice cultivation and
production is thought to have originated in Laos. There are many
traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different
environments and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers
Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities
near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice
field to indicate that parents are still alive.
Sinh is a traditional garment worn by Laotian women in daily life. It
is a hand-woven silk skirt that can identify the woman who wears it in
a variety of ways. In particular, it can indicate which region the
wearer is from.
There are some public holidays , festivities and ceremonies in Laos.
Bun Pha Wet
Vietnamese Tet & Chinese New Year
Boun Khoun Khao
Haw Khao Padap Din
Lao National Day.
Polygamy in Laos
Polygamy is officially a crime in Laos, though the penalty is minor.
The constitution and Family Code bar the legal recognition of
polygamous marriages, stipulating that monogamy is the principal form
of marriage in the country. Polygamy, however, is still customary
among some Hmong people.
All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign
language papers: the English-language daily
Vientiane Times and the
French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San
Pathet Lao, the country's official news agency, publishes English and
French versions of its eponymous paper.
Laos currently has nine daily
newspapers, 90 magazines, 43 radio stations, and 32 TV stations
operating throughout the country. As of 2011[update],
Nhân Dân (The People) and the
Xinhua News Agency
Xinhua News Agency are the only
foreign media organisations permitted to open offices in Laos—both
opened bureaus in
Vientiane in 2011.
The Lao government heavily controls all media channels to prevent
critique of its actions. Lao citizens who have criticised the
government have been subjected to enforced disappearances, arbitrary
arrests and torture.
Internet cafes are now common in the major urban centres and are
especially popular with the younger generation.
Since the founding of the Lao PDR only very few films have been made
in Laos. One of the first commercial feature-length films was Sabaidee
Luang Prabang, made in 2008. Australian filmmaker Kim Mordount's
first feature film was made in
Laos and features a Laotian cast
speaking their native language. Entitled The Rocket, the film appeared
at the 2013
Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and won three
awards at the Berlin International Film Festival. Recently a few
local production companies have succeeded to produce Lao feature films
and gain international recognition. Among them are Lao New Wave
Cinema's At the Horizon, directed by Anysay Keola, that was screened
at the Oz
Asia Film Festival and Lao Art Media's
ຈັນທະລີ) directed by Mattie Do, which was screened at
the 2013 Fantastic Fest.
In September 2017,
Dearest Sister (Lao:
ນ້ອງຮັກ), Mattie Do's second feature film, to the 90th
Academy Awards for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film,
marking the country's first submission for the Oscars.
The biodiversity of
Laos is incredibly unique, hosting a plethora of
flora species that are used by the people of
Laos in their every day
life and wellbeing. Preserving this biodiversity through research and
development projects has begun through the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
. Pha Tad Ke is spearheading efforts to promote a new type of
ecotourism focusing on raising fundamental awareness in the population
to the importance of biodiversity, supporting the educational
development of young students, and helping local villages. It is
located on the
Mekong River, 15 minutes by boat from the center of
town. The site offers an unparalleled tourist experience, offering a
deeper insight to the intersection of nature and culture in the
The martial art of Muay Lao, the national sport, is a form of
kickboxing similar to Thailand's Muay Thai, Burmese
Cambodian Pradal Serey.
Football has become the most popular sport in Laos. The
Lao League is
now the top professional league for association football clubs in the
country. Since the start of the League,
Lao Army FC has been the most
successful club with 8 titles (following the 2007–2008 season), the
highest number of championship wins.
Laos' national basketball team
Laos' national basketball team competed at the 2017 Southeast Asian
Games where it beat
Myanmar at the 8th place match.
Drug policy in Laos
Outline of Laos
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