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5 00 S, 120 00 E
Communist state
19 July 1949
236,800 sq km


Government and politics

The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is the President, elected by parliament for a five-year term. The head of government is the prime minister, appointed by the president with parliamentary approval. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful nine-member Politburo and the 49-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

Laos adopted a new constitution in 1991. The following year, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to 5-year terms. This unicameral parliament, expanded in the 1997 elections to 99 members, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in February 2002 when the assembly was expanded to 115 members.

Remnants of a Hmong group allied with the United States during the Vietnam War have been in armed conflict with the communist regime since 1975. With recent surrenders reported in the international media, this conflict appears to be on the wane. Most Hmong are integrated into or at least at peace with society, with some occupying high-ranking positions in the state system.

Attacks continue to take place sporadically throughout the country, but are difficult to attribute to a specific political movement. All dissent in Laos is suppressed, so information is difficult to obtain.

Ethnic groups

Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong and the Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%

The History

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in the 14th century, which lasted until the 18th century, when Siam invaded and assumed control of the separate principalities that remained. To avoid a costly war with the French, the Siamese king ceded lands now known as Laos to them, and these were incorporated into French Indochina in 1893. 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.

Political unrest in neighbouring Vietnam dragged Laos into the Second Indochina War (see also Secret War and Vietnam War), a destabilising factor that contributed to civil war and several coups d'état. The North Vietnamese Army invaded and occupied portions of eastern Laos. The North Vietnamese army, with its heavy weapons including heavy artillery and tanks was the real power behind the Pathet Lao insurgency. Significant aerial bombardment by the United States occurred by that country's attempt to eliminate North Vietnamese bases in Laos and disrupt supply lines on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

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. 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, they renamed it the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The Pathet Lao government afterward signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station military forces and to appoint advisors to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was ordered in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with China which cut the country off from trade with any country but Vietnam [citation needed]. Control by Vietnam and socialisation were slowly replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997. Vietnam still wields political and economic influence in Laos.

The 20-year embargo by the United States was lifted in 1995, although Laos has still not achieved Most Favored Nation trading status (along with North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, although Vietnam holds a separate trading accord). Lack of this status is often considered to be the result of Hmong refugee activism in the United States which targets human rights violations by the Lao government



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