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Settlements in Laos date back to 4,000 BC. Tribes migrated from China around 800 AD followed by Khmers expanding into Vientiane and east to Champa. The kingdom of Lan Xang Hom Khao was founded in the 14th century and Laos became a trading centre.
Periods of growth and decline ended in 1713 when the region split into the Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak kingdoms. Burma (Myanmar) overran the north in 1763 and the south fell to Siam (Thailand) in 1779. In 1893 France then added the 3 regions to the French Indochina protectorate, uniting Laos again as a buffer state.
After World War 2 the nationalists declared independence but France re-took the country until defeat in the First Indochina War. Full independence was achieved in 1953. A civil war followed between a US-supported Lao monarchy and Hmong hill tribes, united against the Communist Pathet Lao, supported by Vietnam. Laos was later subjected to intense US bombing targeting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, despite it never being at war.
The Communists prevailed in 1975 and Vietnam controlled Laos well into the 1980s with the country now adapting to a market economy dependent on agricultural trade with neighbours, hydroelectric power, mining and foreign aid. It has an ongoing challenge to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) which has continued to kill and maim people.
Laos is the only land-locked country in Southeast Asia. It is thickly forested and mostly mountainous with minor plains and plateaus. Its highest mountain is Phou Bia at 2,818m.
The Mekong River forms the western boundary with Thailand, the Annamite Range the eastern border with Vietnam, and the Luang Prabang Range the northwestern border with Thailand.
The country is underlain by the stable Indo-China tectonic block in the south and the Shan-Thai block in the north.
The only area with potential for hydrocarbons is the intra-continental Khorat basin in the southwest, a small part of which lies in Laos. Here Palaeozoic and Mesozoic continental fluvial and shallow marine carbonates may contain gas in reservoirs analogous to those producing in Thailand. One well drilled in 2010 had gas shows in these sediments.
However, due to its turbulent history and poor petroleum potential, Laos has seen only limited exploration activity.
Although there may be gas potential in the Khorat basin, the country has no indigenous oil or gas resources and Globalshift does not forecast any commercial production in the future.
Map and National Flag
Land area (sq kms)
Oil prod (000s b/d)
Gas prod (bcm/yr)
Oil cons (000s b/d)
Gas cons (bcm/yr)
Laos is one of the world's 4 remaining one-party socialist states officially espousing communism (along with China, Cuba and Vietnam). Vietnam continues to have a significant influence on the state.
The head of state is the president who is also General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. The head of government is the Prime Minister. Policies are determined through an 11-member Politburo and a 61-member Central Committee.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines oversees exploration contracts in the country.
Laos is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which it joined in 1997.
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