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Laos



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Introduction

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

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: 3%
  permanent crops: 0%
  permanent pastures: 3%
  forests and woodland: 54%
  other: 40% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 1,250 sq km (1993 est.) (Note: rainy season irrigation - 2,169 sq km; dry season irrigation - 750 sq km (1998 est.))

Natural hazards: floods, droughts, and blight

Environment - current issues: unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water

Environment - international agreements
  party to: Biodiversity, Climate 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

People

Population: 5,497,459 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure
  0-14 years: 43% (male 1,191,608; female 1,173,144)
  15-64 years: 54% (male 1,447,788; female 1,500,016)
  65 years and over: 3% (male 85,028; female 99,875) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.5% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 38.29 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 13.35 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio
  at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
  under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
  15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
  65 years and over: 0.85 male(s)/female
  total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2000 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 94.8 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth
  total population: 53.09 years
  male: 51.22 years
  female: 55.02 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.21 children born/woman (2000 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% (in October 1999, the regime proposed a constitutional amendment making Buddhism the state religion; the National Assembly is expected to vote on the amendment sometime in 2000), animist and other 40%

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

Country name
  conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
  conventional short form: Laos
  local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
  local short form: none

Data code: LA

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: National Day, 2 December (1975) (proclamation of the Lao People's Democratic Republic)

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 KHAMTAI Siphandon (since 26 February 1998); note - currently the position of vice president is vacant; Vice President OUDOM Khattiya died on 9 December 1999 and a replacement has not yet been named
  head of government: Prime Minister SISAVAT Keobounphan (since 26 February 1998); Senior Deputy Prime Minister BOUN-NHANG Vorachith (since 20 April 1996); Deputy Prime Ministers CHOUMMALI Saygnasone (since 26 February 1998), SOMSAVAT Lengsavad (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 21 December 1997 (next to be held NA 2002); 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 (99 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; note - by presidential decree, on 27 October 1997, the number of seats increased from 85 to 99)
  elections: last held 21 December 1997 (next to be held NA 2002)
  election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LPRP or LPRP-approved (independent, non-party members) 99

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 leaders: noncommunist political groups proscribed; most opposition leaders fled the country in 1975

International organization participation: ACCT, AsDB, ASEAN, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), 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
  chancery: 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
  telephone: [1] (202) 332-6416
  FAX: [1] (202) 332-4923

Diplomatic representation from the US
  chief of mission: Ambassador Wendy Jean CHAMBERLIN
  embassy: 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

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 1988-96. Since mid-1996, however, reform efforts have slowed, and the economy has suffered as a result. Because Laos depends heavily on its trade with Thailand, it was further damaged by the regional financial crisis beginning in 1997. From June 1997 to June 1999 the Lao kip lost 87%, and reached a crisis point in September 1999 when it fluctuated wildly, falling from 3,500 kip to the dollar to 9,000 kip to the dollar in a matter of weeks. Now that the currency has stabilized, however, the government seems content to let the current situation persist, despite 140% inflation in 1999 and limited foreign exchange reserves. A landlocked country with a primitive infrastructure, Laos 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. For the foreseeable future the economy will continue to depend on aid from the IMF and other international sources; Japan is currently the largest bilateral aid donor; aid from the former USSR/Eastern Europe has been cut sharply. As in many developing countries, deforestation and soil erosion will hamper efforts to attain a high rate of GDP growth.

GDP: purchasing power parity - $7 billion (1999 est.)

GDP - real growth rate: 5.2% (1999 est.)

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $1,300 (1999 est.)

GDP - composition by sector
  agriculture: 51%
  industry: 22%
  services: 27% (1999 est.)

Population below poverty line: 46.1% (1993 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share
  lowest 10%: 4.2%
  highest 10%: 26.4% (1992)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 140% (1999 est.)

Labor force: 1 million - 1.5 million

Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 80% (1997 est.)

Unemployment rate: 5.7% (1997 est.)

Budget
  revenues: $202.7 million
  expenditures: $385.1 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY97/98 est.)

Industries: tin and gypsum mining, timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments

Industrial production growth rate: 7.5% (1999 est.)

Electricity - production: 1.34 billion kWh (1998)

Electricity - production by source
  fossil fuel: 2.99%
  hydro: 97.01%
  nuclear: 0%
  other: 0% (1998)

Electricity - consumption: 514 million kWh (1998)

Electricity - exports: 782 million kWh (1998)

Electricity - imports: 50 million kWh (1998)

Agriculture - products: sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton; tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry

Exports: $271 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.)

Exports - commodities: wood products, garments, electricity, coffee, tin

Exports - partners: Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, France, Belgium

Imports: $497 million (f.o.b., 1999 est.)

Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel

Imports - partners: Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong

Debt - external: $2.32 billion (1997 est.)

Economic aid - recipient: $345 million (1999 est.)

Currency: 1 new kip (NK) = 100 at

Exchange rates: new kips (NK) per US$1 - 7,674.00 (January 2000),7,102.03 (1999), 3,298.33 (1998), 1,259.98 (1997), 921.02 (1996), 804.69 (1995) (Note: as of September 1995, a floating exchange rate policy was adopted)

Fiscal year: 1 October - 30 September

Communications

Telephones - main lines in use: 20,000 (1995)

Telephones - mobile cellular: 1,600 (1997)

Telephone system: 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 Service Providers (ISPs): NA

Transportation

Railways: 0 km

Highways
  total: 21,716 km
  paved: 9,673.5 km
  unpaved: 12,042.5 km (1998 est.)

Waterways: about 4,587 km, primarily Mekong and tributaries; 2,897 additional km are sectionally 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/3,000 DWT
  ships by type: cargo 1 (1999 est.)

Airports: 52 (1999 est.)

Airports - with paved runways
  total: 9
  2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
  1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
  914 to 1,523 m: 4 (1999 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways
  total: 43
  1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
  914 to 1,523 m: 17
  under 914 m: 25 (1999 est.)

Military

Military branches: Lao People's Army (LPA; includes militia element), Lao People's Navy (LPN; includes riverine element), Air Force, National Police Department

Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age

Military manpower - availability
  males age 15-49: 1,275,184 (2000 est.)

Military manpower - fit for military service
  males age 15-49: 686,803 (2000 est.)

Military manpower - reaching military age annually
  males: 62,243 (2000 est.)

Military expenditures - dollar figure: $77 million (FY96/97)

Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 4.2% (FY96/97)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international: parts of the border with Thailand are indefinite

Illicit drugs: world's third-largest illicit opium producer (estimated cultivation in 1999 - 21,800 hectares, a 16% decrease over 1998; estimated potential production in 1999 - 140 metric tons, about the same as in 1998); potential heroin producer; transshipment point for heroin and methamphetamines produced in Burma; illicit producer of cannabis

 

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