Languages of Laos | Wikipedia audio article

Laos ( ( listen), ; Lao: ລາວ, Lāo [láːw]),
officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ
ປະຊາຊົນລາວ, translit. 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 socialist state and the only
landlocked country in Southeast Asia at the heart of the Indochinese peninsula, bordered
by Myanmar (Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest,
and Thailand to the west and southwest.Present-day Laos traces its historic and cultural identity
to the kingdom of 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 became a popular hub for overland trade, becoming wealthy economically
as well as culturally. 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 by 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 Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975. During the first years of Communist rule,
Laos was dependent on military and economic aid supported by the Soviet Union until its
dissolution in 1991. According to the anti-corruption non-governmental
organisation Transparency International, Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries
in the world. This has deterred foreign investment and created
major problems with the rule of law, including the nation’s ability to enforce contract and
business regulation. This has contributed to a third of the population
of Laos currently living below the international poverty line (living on less than US$1.25
per day). Laos has a low-income economy, with one of
the lowest annual incomes in the world. In 2014, the country ranked 141st on the Human
Development Index (HDI), indicating lower medium development. According to the Global Hunger Index (2015),
Laos ranks as the 29th hungriest nation in the world out of the list of the 52 nations
with the worst hunger situation(s). The country has also had a poor human rights
record. Laos is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade
Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and
La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) in 1997; on 2 February 2013, it was granted full membership. It is a one-party socialist republic espousing
Marxism–Leninism 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 about 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’s ambitious strategies for development
are based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours,
namely Thailand, China and Vietnam, as well as its initiative to become a “land-linked”
nation, shown by the planning of four new railways connecting Laos to its neighbours. Laos has been referred to as one of East Asia
and Pacific’s Fastest Growing Economies by the World Bank, with annual GDP growth averaging
7.8% for the past decade.==Etymology==
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 people. In the Lao language, the country’s name is
“Muang Lao” (ເມືອງລາວ) or “Pathet Lao” (ປະເທດລາວ), both
literally mean “Lao Country”.==History=====Early history===An ancient human skull was recovered from
the 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 territories of Laos and Thailand
from Guangxi sometime between the 8th–10th centuries.===Lan Xang===Laos traces its history to the kingdom of
Lan Xang (Million Elephants), which was founded in the 14th century by a Lao prince Fa Ngum,
who, with 10,000 Khmer troops, took over Vientiane. Ngum was descended from a long line of Lao
kings that traced 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, ascended
to the throne under the name Samsenthai and reigned for 43 years. Lan Xang became an important trade centre
during Samsenthai’s reign, but after his death in 1421 it collapsed into warring factions
for 100 years. In 1520, 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 became the symbol of Laos, That Luang. Setthathirat disappeared in the mountains
on his way back from a military expedition into Cambodia and Lan Xang began to rapidly
decline. 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 without an heir, the kingdom
split into three principalities. Between 1763 and 1769, Burmese armies overran
northern Laos and annexed Luang Phrabang, while Champasak eventually came under Siamese
suzerainty. Chao 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 large scale”.===French Laos (1893–1953)===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 and
the territory of Vientiane were added to the protectorate. King Sisavang Vong of Luang Phrabang became
ruler of a unified Laos and Vientiane once again became the capital. Laos never had any importance for France other
than as a buffer state between 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 Laos. Under the French rule, the Vietnamese were
encouraged to migrate to Laos, which was seen by the French colonists as a rational solution
to a practical problem within the confines of an Indochina-wide colonial space. By 1943, the Vietnamese population stood at
nearly 40,000, forming the majority in the largest cities of Laos and enjoying the right
to elect their own leaders. As a result, 53% of the population of Vientiane,
85% of Thakhek and 62% of Pakse were Vietnamese, with only an exception of Luang Phrabang where
the population was predominantly Lao. As late as 1945, the French even drew up an
ambitious plan to move massive Vietnamese population to three key areas, i.e. the Vientiane
Plain, Savannakhet region, Bolaven Plateau, which was only discarded by Japanese invasion
of Indochina. Otherwise, according to Martin Stuart-Fox,
the Lao might well have lost control over their own country.During 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, with Luang Prabang as its capital but on 7 April 1945 two battalions
of Japanese troops occupied the city. The Japanese attempted to force Sisavang Vong
(the King of Luang Phrabang) to declare Laotian independence but on 8 April he instead simply
declared an end to Laos’s 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 formed the 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 monarchy.===Independence and Communist Rule (1953–present)
===The First 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 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 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. Laos was a key part of the Vietnam War since
parts of Laos were 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 launched
a multi-division attack to help the 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 central government, and to deny the
use of the 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 to
ban the weapons, and was host to the First Meeting of States Parties to the convention
in November 2010. In 1975 the Pathet Lao, along with the Vietnam
People’s Army, and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing
King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in prison. Between 20,000 and 62,000 Laotians died during
the Civil War.On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet Lao government
under Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and
signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers
to assist in overseeing the country. In a paper published in 1990, Hmong-rights
activist Vang Pobzeb wrote that Laos was colonial territory of Vietnam since December 2, 1975
and was directed by Vietnam in its internal and external affairs. The close ties between Laos and Vietnam were
formalized via a treaty signed in 1977, which has since provided not only directions for
Lao foreign policy, but also the basis for Vietnamese involvement at all levels of Lao
political and economic life. Laos was requested in 1979 by the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam to end relations with the People’s Republic of China, leading to
isolation in trade by China, the United States, and other countries. In 1979 there were 50,000 Vietnamese troops
stationed in Laos and as many as 6,000 civilian Vietnamese officials including 1,000 directly
attached to the ministries in Vientiane.The conflict between Hmong rebels and the Vietnam
People’s Army of the Socialist Republic of 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)
On 2 December 2015, Laos celebrated its 40th anniversary of the establishment of the republic.==Geography==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 border with 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 Pakse.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.===Climate===Laos has a mostly tropical savanna climate. A tropical monsoon and humid sub-tropical
climate also occurs in places.===Administrative divisions===Laos is divided into 17 provinces (khoueng)
and one prefecture (kampheng nakhon), which includes the capital city Vientiane (Nakhon
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.===Environmental problems and illegal logging
===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. The United Nations Development Programme warns:
“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 Laos had started work on the controversial Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River without getting
formal approval. Environmentalists say the dam will adversely
affect 60 million people and Cambodia 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 output. By building dams Laos is willing to become
the battery of Asia by selling electricity to its neighboring countries.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 below China
becoming little more than a series of unproductive lakes.”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 and then transported
from Laos to Vietnam every year, with most of the furniture eventually exported to western
countries by the VPA military-owned companies.A 1992 government survey indicated that forests
occupied about 48 percent of Laos’s 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.Most of the deforestation during the 1980s stemmed
from the northern region in which the poor destroyed about 300,000 hectares annually. A study conducted in Savannakhet Province
revealed a pattern in which the households extracting resources from the forest tended
to be the rural poor. It cross referenced the data collected from
two groups, the poor and the wealthy to identify possible correlations between welfare and
the dependency on the extraction of natural resources to support one’s livelihood. Compared to the wealthy group, the poor had
higher levels of exposure to environmental, health, and economic shocks in addition to
having little capital such as education and financial assets. While the poor depended more on nonwood commodities
from the forest to increase food security, the wealthier group would harvest timber and
wood for environmental income.==Government and politics==The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is one
of the world’s only socialist states openly endorsing communism. The only legal political party is the Lao
People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Bounnhang Vorachith,
also 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. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam maintains
significant influence over the Politburo of Laos and the one-party communist state apparatus
and military.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 People’s 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 and in 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.===Military===The 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 and the government, the 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 Republic
of 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 the Plain of Jars from the former Royal Lao government forces. Their Russian-built Antonov AN 74–300 with
20 people on board crashed in Xiengkhouang province.===Hmong conflict===
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 (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. 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 Laos voluntarily,
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 repatriation to 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, thousands of 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, but the 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 within 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 Laos to 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 Laos as 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 Netherlands and 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 reported that the
Thai military was preparing to forcibly return 4,000 Hmong asylum seekers to 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 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===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.Ostensibly, the 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 September 2009, 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 reduction.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 problem. 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. 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 Vang Pobzeb,
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 2012. In The Economist’s Democracy Index 2016 Laos
was classified as an “authoritarian regime”, ranking lowest of the nine ASEAN nations included
in the study.==Foreign relations==
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 foreign assistance. 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’s 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 Asia
Summit.==Economy==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 declared 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 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. In 2016, China was the biggest foreign investor
in Laos’s 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 Rice Research Institute of the Philippines to collect seed samples
of each of the thousands of rice varieties found in Laos. 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 2000.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 exporting to 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. The 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.===Tourism===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 and Vang Vieng; ancient and
modern culture and history in the Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); 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
at 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 sites, with the 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 destinations.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.===Infrastructure===The main international airports are Vientiane’s
Wattay International Airport and 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 include
Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, AirAsia, Thai Airways International, China Eastern
Airlines and Silk Air. Much of Laos lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, except a short link
to connect Vientiane with 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 between Thakhek, 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 year-round. 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 public transport. Laos has made particularly noteworthy progress
increasing access to sanitation and has already met its 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG)
target. Laos’s 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’s 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.==Demographics==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 years. Laos’s 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.===Ethnicity===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)====
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 France. Lao Theung constitute about 30 percent of
the population.====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.===Languages===
The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. However, only slightly more than half of the
population speaks Lao natively. 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 ancient 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. French is still commonly used in government
and commerce and over a third of Laos’s students are educated through the medium of French
with French being compulsory for all other students. Throughout the country signage is bilingual
in Lao and French, with French being predominant. English, the language of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.===Religion===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 Laos. Theravada Buddhism has coexisted peacefully
since its introduction to the country with the local polytheism.===Health===Male life expectancy at birth was at 62.6
years and female life expectancy was at 66.7 years in 2017. 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.===Education===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 enrollment rate was
at 84 percent.The National University of Laos is the Lao state’s public university. As a low-income country, Laos faces a brain-drain
problem as the most educated people migrate to developed countries. It is estimated that about 37% of educated
Laotians live outside of Laos.==Culture==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 in 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.===Festivals===
There are some public holidays, festivities and ceremonies in Laos. Bun Pha Wet
Magha Puja Chinese New Year
Boun Khoun Khao Boun Pimai
Visakha Puja Khao Phansaa
Haw Khao Padap Din Awk Phansaa
Bun Nam Lao National Day.===Polygamy===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.===Media===
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, Nhân Dân (The People) and the
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 OzAsia Film Festival and Lao
Art Media’s Chanthaly (Lao: ຈັນທະລີ) directed by Mattie Do, which was screened
at the 2013 Fantastic Fest.In September 2017, Laos submitted 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.===Sport===
The martial art of Muay Lao, the national sport, is a form of kickboxing similar to
Thailand’s Muay Thai, Burmese Lethwei and 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.The Laos national basketball team competed at the 2017 Southeast
Asian Games where it beat Myanmar at the 8th place match.==See also==Drug policy in Laos
Laos Memorial Outline of Laos==References====External links==
Laos travel guide from Wikivoyage Wikimedia Atlas of Laos
Laos at Curlie Chief of State and Cabinet Members
“Laos”. The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Country Profile at BBC News
Laos at UCB Libraries GovPubs Laos at Encyclopædia Britannica
Laos at TageoSpecialistLaos National Tourism Administration
Key Development Forecasts for Laos from International Futures

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