[Country map of Laos]



Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand

Map references: Southeast Asia

total area: 236,800 sq km
land area: 230,800 sq km
comparative area: slightly larger than Utah

Land boundaries: total 5,083 km, 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

International disputes: boundary dispute with Thailand

Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)

Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus

Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones

Land use:
arable land: 4%
permanent crops: 0%
meadows and pastures: 3%
forest and woodland: 58%
other: 35%

Irrigated land: 1,554 sq km (1992 est.)

current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water
natural hazards: floods, droughts, and blight
international agreements: party to - Climate Change, Environmental Modification, Nuclear Test Ban; signed, but not ratified - Law of the Sea

Note: landlocked


Population: 4,837,237 (July 1995 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 45% (female 1,084,615; male 1,111,928)
15-64 years: 51% (female 1,280,142; male 1,199,149)
65 years and over: 4% (female 86,390; male 75,013) (July 1995 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.84% (1995 est.)

Birth rate: 42.64 births/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Death rate: 14.28 deaths/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 99.2 deaths/1,000 live births (1995 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 52.2 years
male: 50.66 years
female: 53.81 years (1995 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.98 children born/woman (1995 est.)

noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
adjective: Lao or Laotian

Ethnic divisions: 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

Literacy: age 15 and over can read and write (1992)
total population: 50%
male: 65%
female: 35%

Labor force: 1 million-1.5 million
by occupation: agriculture 80% (1992 est.)


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

Digraph: LA

Type: Communist state

Capital: Vientiane

Administrative divisions: 16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural) and 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, 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 NOUHAK PHOUMSAVAN (since 25 November 1992)
head of government: Prime Minister Gen. KHAMTAI SIPHANDON (since 15 August 1991)
cabinet: Council of Ministers; appointed by the president, approved by the Assembly

Legislative branch: unicameral
National Assembly: elections last held on 20 December 1992 (next to be held NA); results - percent of vote by party NA; seats - (85 total) number of seats by party NA

Judicial branch: Supreme People's Court

Political parties and leaders: Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), KHAMTAI Siphandon, party president; other parties proscribed

Other political or pressure groups: non-Communist political groups proscribed; most opposition leaders fled the country in 1975


Diplomatic representation in US:
chief of mission: Ambassador HIEM PHOMMACHANH
chancery: 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 332-6416, 6417
FAX: [1] (202) 332-4923

US diplomatic representation:
chief of mission: Ambassador Victor L. TOMSETH
embassy: Rue Bartholonie, Vientiane
mailing address: B. P. 114, Vientiane; American Embassy, Box V, APO AP 96546
telephone: [856] (21) 212581, 212582, 212585
FAX: [856] (21) 212584

Flag: three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band


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 has averaged 7.5% annually since 1988. Even so, 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 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; aid from the former USSR and Eastern Europe has been cut sharply. As in many developing countries, deforestation and soil erosion will hamper efforts to maintain the high rate of GDP growth.

National product: GDP - purchasing power parity - $4 billion (1994 est.)

National product real growth rate: 8.4% (1994 est.)

National product per capita: $850 (1994 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 6.5% (1994 est.)

Unemployment rate: 21% (1992 est.)

revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA

Exports: $277 million (f.o.b., 1994 est.)
commodities: electricity, wood products, coffee, tin, garments
partners: Thailand 57%, Germany 10%, France 10%, Japan 5% (1991)

Imports: $528 million (c.i.f., 1994 est.)
commodities: food, fuel oil, consumer goods, manufactures
partners: Thailand 55%, Japan 16%, China 8%, Italy 4% (1991)

External debt: $NA

Industrial production: growth rate 7.5% (1992 est.); accounts for 18% of GDP (1992 est.)

capacity: 260,000 kW
production: 870 million kWh
consumption per capita: 44 kWh (1993)

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

Agriculture: principal crops - rice (80% of cultivated land), sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, cotton; livestock - buffaloes, hogs, cattle, poultry

Illicit drugs: illicit producer of cannabis, opium poppy for the international drug trade, fourth largest opium producer (85 metric tons in 1994); heroin producer; increasingly used as transshipment point for heroin produced in Burma

Economic aid:
recipient: US commitments, including Ex-Im (FY70-79), $276 million; Western (non-US) countries, ODA and OOF bilateral commitments (1970-89), $605 million; Communist countries (1970-89), $995 million; international assistance in loans and grant aid (1993/94) $217.7 million

Currency: 1 new kip (NK) = 100 at

Exchange rates: new kips (NK) per US$1 - 717 (1994 est.), 720 (July 1993). 710 (May 1992), 710 (December 1991), 700 (September 1990), 576 (1989)

Fiscal year: 1 October - 30 September


Railroads: 0 km

total: 14,130 km
paved: 2,260 km
unpaved: 11,870 km (1992 est.)

Inland 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: none

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

total: 52
with paved runways over 3,047 m: 1
with paved runways 1,524 to 2,437 m: 5
with paved runways 914 to 1,523 m: 3
with paved runways under 914 m: 25
with unpaved runways 1,524 to 2,438 m: 1
with unpaved runways 914 to 1,523 m: 17


Telephone system: 7,390 telephones (1986); service to general public very poor; radio communications network provides generally erratic service to government users
local: 16 telephone lines per 1,000 people
intercity: radio communications
international: 1 earth station

broadcast stations: AM 10, FM 0, shortwave 0
radios: NA

broadcast stations: 2
televisions: NA

Defense Forces

Branches: Lao People's Army (LPA; includes riverine naval and militia elements), Air Force, National Police Department

Manpower availability: males age 15-49 1,051,105; males fit for military service 567,017; males reach military age (18) annually 51,437 (1995 est.)

Defense expenditures: exchange rate conversion - $105 million, 8.1% of GDP (FY92/93)