Laos' history begins with the creation of the kingdom of
Lan Xang, "the land of millions of elephants," in 1353,
which is considered the first true Laotian kingdom. Later,
the area was characterized by civil wars, and Laos has been
sound during Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The first
Europeans came in the 17th century, and Laos became part of
French Indochina in 1893.
Laos became independent in 1954. In 1975, the Socialist
People's Republic of Laos was proclaimed and the king had to
abdicate. In the 1980s and 1990s, state socialism in the
country was gradually replaced by freer economic conditions.
Market economy reforms were introduced in 1986, and the
country got its first constitution in 1991. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Laos.The country has
gradually become more open, including with private property
rights, but there are increasing differences between urban
and rural populations; the latter is in part very poor.
The first history of the state
For centuries, the Tai people had gradually moved from
South China to Southeast Asia before the first Taiwan
kingdoms emerged in the northern parts of Myanmar, Thailand
and Laos around the year 1300, on the outskirts of the
delta-centered Burmese, Khmer and Mon empires.. The Lao
prince Fa Ngum, who had grown up at the court in Angkor,
established himself in Luang Prabang. He subordinated
himself to the surrounding small states, invaded Vientiane
in 1353 and founded Lan Xang, "the land of millions
In 1478, Annamite forces moved into Lan Xang, and the
entire 16th century was dominated by Myanmar's expansive
politics. Lan Xang was invaded several times, and finally
the kingdom's capital was moved to Vientiane and allied with
The first Europeans came to Vientiane during King
Souligna Vonga's reign (1637–1694). After his death,
conflict broke out between the potential heirs, and Laos was
divided into three:
- Luang Prabang
The 18th century was dominated by mutual rivalry between
the three kingdoms. In 1828, a Thai army captured Vientiane,
looted the city and brought its inhabitants to Thailand.
In subpopulated Southeast Asia, war was waged more to
increase the population than to win land. The strongest
party always brought home as many prisoners of war as
possible. These constant, forced movements have made
Southeast Asia very complex and complicated both culturally,
ethnographically and linguistically.
Around 1820, Annam increased the pressure on eastern
Laos. From 1850 Thailand sought to strengthen its control
over Laos, which at that time had become a Thai vassal.
Based on Annam's claim to Laos as a vassal state, the
French in 1893 forced Thailand to abandon all claims east of
the Mekong, and Laos became the French protectorate. The
French intervened relatively little in the internal
government, but were firmly in charge of the administration
of taxes, and made sure that slavery was abolished around
the turn of the century. They often used Vietnamese for
lower administrative positions and as workers.
Three revolts, all among minorities, were fought in 1907
in the south and in 1914 and 1919 (meo) in the north. Laos
accounted for only one percent of total exports from French
Indochina. Opium sales, which was a French monopoly,
accounted for one-seventh of all of Indochina's state
Laos' history after the Second World War must be seen in
the context of all of Indochina's struggle for independence,
first against the French colonial power (1946–1954), then
against the increasing US dominance and military
intervention. In April 1946, King Sisavang declared Vong
Laos to be independent and a government was formed, Lao
Issara (Free Laos).
In the spring of 1946, French forces occupied New Laos.
King Sisavang was profane, but the Lao Issara government
fled to Bangkok. Already in 1946, national resistance groups
emerged that fought the French, without posing any real
threat to the colonial power. In 1946, Laos became a member
of the Indochinese federation, and the constitution of 1947
introduced parliamentary rule.
In 1947, Laos regained the territories along the Mekong
that Thailand had occupied since 1941. Laos gained limited
sovereignty within the French colonial empire in 1949, and
Lao Issara was now definitively divided. Two half-brothers,
Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Souphanouvong, nephews of
King Sisavang, from this time stood out as leaders of the
two main factions fighting for power in Laos.
Souvanna Phouma joined the Vientiane government as leader
of the neutralist faction and became prime minister in 1951.
Souphanouvong formed a resistance organization, Pathet
Lao (Laotian Nation), and started guerrillas with the
support of the Vietnamese Viet Minh. Pathet Lao built up an
administration and base area in the northern provinces and
established in 1956 the political party Neo Lao Haksat (Laos
Patriotic Front). A political right-wing group headed by
Prince Boun Oum had its support points in the cities of the
south of the country.
In 1953, Laos gained full independence within the French
Union. The 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina recognized
Laos' independence, unity and neutrality. According to the
Geneva Agreement, French and Vietnamese troops were to leave
the country and Pathet Lao was to be integrated both
politically and militarily. The United States increased its
economic involvement in Laos from 1955, and in 1959 a secret
US military mission was established.
Laos left the French Union in 1956. In the years after
1954, a number of failed national unity agreements were
signed between the Vientiane regime and Pathet Lao, and
several coups and counter-coups took place. At the same
time, the confrontations between Pathet Lao and the royal
The Geneva Conference on Laos in 1961–1962 sought to
create peace; the nation's neutrality was again guaranteed
by the 14 nations participating. In June 1962, a coalition
government was formed under Souvanna Phouma, in which all
three factions participated. The United States realized that
the unilateral right wing support had failed, and from now
on supported by neutralist Souvanna. The coalition
government never really became capable and extensive
fighting took place in 1963.
As Americans increased their involvement in the Vietnam
War, they intensified their efforts to prevent communist
domination in Laos. Another reason why Laos was drawn into
the Vietnam War was the so-called Ho Chi Minh route through
the Pathet Lao Zone. On this road system, supplies could be
shipped from North Vietnam to FNL in South Vietnam.
In the mid-1960s, Laos was in fact divided into zones
under the control of Pathet Lao or the neutralist regime,
which received increasingly open support from the United
States. Pathet Lao claimed to control 11 of 16 provinces. In
October 1964, the United States began bombing the Pathet Lao
zone. North Vietnam increased its military presence in Laos,
especially to protect the Ho Chi Minh route, but also
actively participated in the fighting on Pathet Lao's side.
The US sent several military advisers, and the US CIA
organized and funded a secret army, mainly from the Meo
tribe. Under the leadership of the Meogen General Vang Pao,
this army reached a strength of about 30,000 men in 1968.
Thai mercenaries also participated. Neither the rental
armies nor the US-backed royal army succeeded in stopping
Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese forces, despite heavy US
Pathet Lao Revolution
In 1970, Pathet Lao gained control of the Krukkesletta. A
large-scale South Vietnamese invasion in 1971 to cut the Ho
Chi Minh route failed. In February 1973, a ceasefire
agreement was signed in Vientiane, in September a peace
agreement. A unity government was formed with as many
pro-communists as non-communists, and with the "neutral"
Souvanna Phouma as prime minister. This balance of power was
soon overturned; Pathet Lao gradually took over more power.
The communist takeover was completed on December 2, 1975,
when a national congress abolished the monarchy. King Savang
Vatthana abdicated. The monarch, together with leaders of
the old regime, were placed in retraining camps. There he
and Crown Prince Vong Savang died in May 1978, allegedly by
The Democratic People's Republic of Laos was proclaimed.
Prince Souphanouvong was President of the People's Republic
in 1975-1991. Kaysone Phomvihane was in his dual role as
party leader and prime minister (in 1991-1992 also
president) the strong man of the Laos revolution. After
Kaysone's death in 1992, Khamtay Siphadone, formerly the
country's army chief and defense minister, became a dominant
leadership figure. After a term as prime minister
(1991–1998) he was elected by the party to the country's
president in 1998 and re-elected in 2001.
In 1989, parliamentary elections were held for the first
time since 1975; with only party members among the
candidates. This practice persisted, but at the election in
2002, one of the 196 candidates was not a party member:
Justice Minister Khamouan Bouppha.
New top management
In 2006, Laos gained new top leadership with General
Choummaly Sayasone as party leader and president, a dual
role that had belonged to Khamtai Siphandon since the early
1990s. Deputy Prime Minister Bouason Volachit was promoted
to head of government. In the parliamentary elections that
year, the Communist Party took 113 out of 115 seats. 29
women were elected to the new National Assembly.
The one-sided Communist Party has as its stated goal to
maintain economic growth that has been around 5 percent
annually since the turn of the millennium. Fighting
corruption is defined as another main task. Corruption has
become increasingly widespread and malignant and threatens
our very existence, said incumbent top leader Choummaly at
the 2006 party congress.
Resistance of the Hmong minority
Occasional guerrilla activity has taken place since the
1975 revolution, but without any real threat to the regime.
During the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the
revolution in December 2000, Vientiane was shaken by several
bombings. A United States-based resistance group, the Lao
Citizens Movement for Democracy, claimed in 2003 to have
active guerrilla groups in 11 provinces, authorities denied.
However, occasional reports of guerrillas and sabotages
in some parts of the country come against the communist
regime. In May 2007, Western embassies in Vientiane issued
warnings about fighting operations not far north of the
capital. The loosely organized resistance movement consists
almost exclusively of members of the minority people, hmong,
and has hardly more than about a thousand men under arms,
according to diplomatic sources. During the wars in Laos and
Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands of Hmong
soldiers were recruited to fight on the United States
against North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In
2006, a 400-member hmong group surrendered after living as
an outlaw in the jungle since the communists took power in
Since the 1975 revolution, over 100,000 Hmong refugees
have settled in the United States. The Federal Police FBI
announced in May 2007 that a plot was revealed among exiled
laotere with the aim of overthrowing the present regime in
Vientiane. The foremost hmong leader, Vang Pao, was arrested
along with nine alleged conspirators. According to a
preliminary charge shall Vang Pao group have tried to buy
weapons for nearly 10 million USD, and had planned to enlist
saboteurs to blow up government buildings in Vientiane. Vang
Pao was the general and chief executive of a US-funded army
that included forces of up to 30,000 men during the Vietnam