Laos [Country Flag of Laos]
Transnational Issues
[Country map of Laos]



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Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam

Geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 105 00 E

Map references: Southeast Asia

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.)

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, Nuclear Test Ban
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea

Geography—note: landlocked


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Population: 5,260,842 (July 1998 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 45% (male 1,205,210; female 1,174,323)
15-64 years: 52% (male 1,318,061; female 1,393,386)
65 years and over: 3% (male 77,388; female 92,474) (July 1998 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.76% (1998 est.)

Birth rate: 40.58 births/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Death rate: 12.97 deaths/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.84 male(s)/female (1998 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 91.81 deaths/1,000 live births (1998 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 53.7 years
male: 52.13 years
female: 55.34 years (1998 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.66 children born/woman (1998 est.)

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%

Languages: Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 56.6%
male: 69.4%
female: 44.4% (1995 est.)


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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

National 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 (elected 26 February 1998 by the National People's Assembly to succeed NOUHAK PHOUMSAVAN who retired); Vice President OUDOM Khattiya (since 26 February 1998)
head of government: Prime Minister SISAVAT Keobounphan (since 26 February 1998); Deputy Prime Ministers KHAMPHOUI Keoboualapha (since 15 August 1991), BOUNGNANG Volachit (since 20 April 1996), CHOUMMALI Saignason (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; note—the distribution of seats as of January 1998 is as follows—LPRP 98, independents 1

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 (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, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO (observer)

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador-designate VANG Lattanavong
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


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Economy—overview: The government of Laos—one of the few remaining official communist states—has been decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise since 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, have been striking - growth averaged 7% in 1988-96. Because Laos depends heavily on its trade with Thailand, it fell victim to the financial crisis in the region in 1997, when growth was a mere 1.5%. Laos is a landlocked 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 predominant crop is glutinous rice. In non-drought years, Laos is self-sufficient overall in food, but each year flood, pests, and localized drought cause shortages in various parts of the country. 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 regain a high rate of GDP growth.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$5.9 billion (1997 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 1.5% (1997 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$1,150 (1997 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:
agriculture: 56%
industry: 19%
services: 25% (1997 est.)

Inflation rate—consumer price index: 16% (1997 est.)

Labor force: 1 million-1.5 million
by occupation: agriculture 80% (1997 est.)

Unemployment rate: 1.7% overall; 4.5% in urban areas (1995 est.)

revenues: $230.2 million
expenditures: $365.9 million, including capital expenditures of $317 million (1996)

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

Industrial production growth rate: NA%

Electricity—capacity: 217,000 kW (1997)

Electricity—production: 1.2 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—consumption per capita: 60 kWh (1995)

Agriculture—products: sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, cotton; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry; tobacco

total value: $313.1 million (f.o.b., 1996)
commodities: wood products, garments, electricity, coffee, tin
partners: Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, France

total value: $678 million (c.i.f., 1996)
commodities: machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel
partners: Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, China, Singapore

Debt—external: $1.2 billion (1996)

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $212.2 million

Currency: 1 new kip (NK) = 100 at

Exchange rates: new kips (NK) per US$1—2,500 (January 1998), 1,256.73 (1997), 921.14 (1996), 804.69 (1995), 717.67 (1994), 716.25 (1993)
note: as of September 1995, a floating exchange rate policy was adopted

Fiscal year: 1 October—30 September


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Telephones: 19,333 (1996)

Telephone system: service to general public is poor but improving, with over 19,000 telephones currently in service and 86,000 expected to be installed by 2000; 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 10, FM 0, shortwave 0

Radios: 560,000 (1992 est.)

Television broadcast stations: 2

Televisions: 32,000 (1993 est.)


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Railways: 0 km

total: 22,321 km
paved: 3,502 km
unpaved: 18,819 km (1997 est.)

Waterways: about 4,587 km, primarily Mekong and tributaries; 2,897 additional kilometers are sectionally navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 m

Pipelines: petroleum products 136 km

Ports and harbors: none

Merchant marine:
total: 1 cargo ship (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 2,370 GRT/3,000 DWT (1997 est.)

Airports: 52 (1997 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:
total: 9
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 5
914 to 1,523 m: 3 (1997 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:
total: 43
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 17
under 914 m: 25 (1997 est.)


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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: 1,161,497 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—fit for military service:
males: 626,880 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—reaching military age annually:
males: 55,903 (1998 est.)

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $105 million (FY92/93)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: 8.1% (FY92/93)

Transnational Issues

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

Illicit drugs: world's third largest opium producer (cultivation in 1997—28,150 hectares, an 11% increase over 1996; potential production—210 metric tons, a 5% increase over 1996); heroin producer; transshipment point for heroin and amphetamines produced in Burma; illicit producer of cannabis