The Lao people are believed to have begun to migrate into Southeast Asia from southern China (8th century AD). The first Laotian state was the Lan Xang kingdom (14th century). It split into three kingdoms (1713). The three kingdoms weakened by the split were overwealmed by the Thais. France ended Thasi rule and estanlished a protectorate (1893) as part of Indochina. Nationalist movements developed in Indochina during the early 20th century. The Japanese occupied Indochina during World War II which fueld the growrth of the nationaslists movements. France reestablished control after the defeat of the Japanese (1946). King Luang Prabang was constitutional monarch of Laos during French rule. France granted semiautonomy (1949). As a result of the growing Viet Minh rebellion against the French in Vietnam, France granted Laos independence within the French Union (1950). Prince Souphanouvong from Viet Minh conrolled territory organized the Pathet Lao, a Communist guerrila force (1951). Pathet Lao forces invaded central Laos leading to a civil war. A temporary ceasefire resulted from the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and an ensuing armistice. The Pathet Lao were left in control of the two northern provinces (1955). The Royalists were left in control of the rest of Laos. The French transferred full sovereignty to the Laotian Kingdom as a result of the Paris Agreements of 1954. Prince Souvanna Phouma, the royal prime minister, and Pathet Lao leader Prince Souphanouvong, the prime minister's half-brother, agreed to a unified government (1957). Thd Pathet Lao were to participate in the govermnent and their forces were to integrateon into the Royal Lsotian Army. This agreement broke down and fighting resumed (1959). The struggle became more complicated when Gen. Phoumi Nosavan, who controlledmost of the Royal Army, supported a pro-Western revolutionary government headed by Prince Boun Oum in the south. General Phoumi took Vientiane (December 1960). Souvanna Phouma fled to Cambodia. The Soviet bloc supported Souvanna Phouma. Another cease-fire was arranged (1961). The three princes agreed to a coalition government headed by Souvanna Phouma. Laos' future was determined in large measure by the much larger Vietnamn War.
The Lao people have been described as Thai tribes that inhabited . are believed to have begun to migrate into Southeast Asia from southern China--Yunnan Province (8th century AD). We note other sources which provide a later date. They gadually moved into northern areas controlled by the Kymer Empire.
The first Laotian state was the Lan Xang kingdom (14th century). The founder was Fa Ngoun (1353–73), who also introduced Theravada Buddhism as well as Kymer culture. Lan Xang was involved in wars with competing Southeast Asian kingdoms (Khmer, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Thai). Lan Xang at its peak controlled areas of what is now (southern China--Yunnan, Myanmar, northern Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia) (17th century).
The Lan Xang K kingdom split into three kingdoms (1707-13). The two most important were Luang Phabang in northern Laos and Vientiane in southern Laos. The two kingdoms were constantly at war wiyh each other. This made Laos vulnerable to the neigboring kingdoms.
The three kingdoms weakened by internal divisions were overwealmed by the Thais or Siam as it was then called. The Viettnamese also encroached on Laotian territory. Siam was dominant the dominant influence over both Laotian kingdoms. Annam (the central Vietnamese kingdom) also claimed Laos.
French extended its colonial outreach by moving into Southeast Asia (late-19th century). The first established outposts in Vietnam. France ended Thai rule and established a protectorate (1893). The Thais were forced to recognize the French protectorate. The French eventually incorporated the the Laotian protectorate into their Indo-China colony. Nationalist movements developed throughout Indochina during the early-20th century.
Nationlist sentiment throughout southeast Asia gained momentum during the inter-War era. This was the case in the British and French colonies as well independent Thailand. Developing Lao national identity gained importance in 1938 with the rise of the ultranationalist Prime-minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram ('Phibun'), also the army chief, in Thailand. This affected Laos because during the 19th centurt Thailand invaded and occupied laosand transferred over 0.1 million Laotians to Thai territory. The French subsequently seized what is now Laos, but the Thais continued to view it as their territory. Phibunsongkhram renamed Siam to modern name of Thailand. This had the political purpose of heling the process of unifying all Tai peoples under the leadership of the central Thai of Bangkok. The French were concerned with these developments, but were preoccupied by the need to confront NAZI Germany and ultimately the outbreak of World War II (September 1939). France and Thailand signed a non-aggression treaty efore the outbreak of war. The fall of France suggested to the Thais that it might be possible to confront the French and the weak Vivhy Government (June 1940). The Japanese after the fall of France, moved into northern French Indochina (September 1940). This included Laos, but the Japanese showed little interest in Laos. The Thais were, however, very interested, but primarily in Cambodia. The earlier negotiatios between France and Thailand suggested that France was willing to make some limited boundary changes. Following the Fall of France in 1940, Pibulsonggram decided that France's defeat gave the Thais an opportunity to seize the land they claimed. The French colonial military could except no assistance or reinforcement from Vichy. Japan forced the French to allow them to set up military bases. This weakness convinced Phibun that France no longer had the capability to resist Thail demands. The result was the Franco-Thai War (October 1940–May 1941). The Thais made major gains. The Jpnese negotiated an end to the War. The Thais were allowed to hold only about a quarter of their gains. Japan gained a concession from Phibun, to aid in their conquest of British Malaya and Burma. The Japanese had first moved into northern Vietnam, but subsequently southrn Vietnam from which they could launch attacks on Malaya and the American Philippines (July 1941). This provoked a stiff American response, the oil embargo. American code breakers revealed Japanese intentions as did the geograohy of the area. This ultimately led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor lauching the Pacific War. The Japanese extended their control west into Laos, but did not heavily occupy the colony to any extent. The Japanese occupation fueled the growrth of the Laotian nationaslists movements. The Japanese before the surrender to the Americans and the return of the French, convinced the king of Luang Phabang to declare independence (1945). The Pacific War ended unfavorably for Lao interests with the Treaty of Tokyo, and the loss of trans-Mekong territories of Xainyaburi and part of Champasak. The result was Lao distrust of the French and the first overtly national cultural movement in Laos. Rather strangely it had some French support. Charles Rochet the French Director of Public Education in Vientiane, and Lao intellectuals led by Nyuy Aphai and Katay Don Sasorith were key forces of the Movement for National Renovation. The Japanese gave little attendion to Laos, but late in the War a Japanese Imperial Army detachment entered Xieng Khouang (February 1945). The Japanese were intent on preventing the allied Vichy administration under Admiral Decoux from being be replaced by a Free French regime loyal to Gen. DeGaulle. They launched Operation Meigo Sakusan. The Japanese interned French citizens Vietnam and Cambodia, but in the remote Laos the French were able with the help of the Lao and Garde Indigene to hold off the Japanese from establish jungle bases. Here they were supplied by British airdrops from recently liberated Burma. French control in Laos, however, had been weakebed by dependence on Laotian fighters.
France ater the surrender of Japan could reestablished control over Indo-China (September 1945). The French recognized King Luang Prabang as the constitutional monarch of all of Laos. The French granted an increasing measure of self-governmentto Laos. Finally France granted semiautonomy (1949). As a result of the growing Viet Minh rebellion against the French in Vietnam, France granted Laos independence within the French Union (1950).
Prince Souphanouvong in Viet Minh controlled territory of North Vietnam organized the Pathet Lao, a Communist guerrila force (1951). Pathet Lao forces with Viet Minh units invaded central Laos leading to a civil war. The Pathet Lao established a government at Samneua in northern Laos.
After the Viet Minh victory over the French at Dien Ben Phu, France granted full sovereignty to Laos.
A temporary ceasefire resulted from the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and an ensuing armistice. The Geneva Agreements provided for the control of all foreign forces. The Pathet Lao were left in control of the two northern provinces (1955). The Royalists retained control of the rest of Laos. The French transferred full sovereignty to the Laotian Kingdom as a result of the Paris Agreements of 1954. Prince Souvanna Phouma, the royal prime minister, and Pathet Lao leader Prince Souphanouvong, the prime minister's half-brother, agreed to a unified government (1957). Thd Pathet Lao were to participate in the govermnent and their forces were to integrate into the Royal Lsotian Army. This agreement broke down and fighting resumed (1959). The struggle became more complicated when Gen. Phoumi Nosavan, who controlled most of the Royal Army, supported a pro-Western revolutionary government headed by Prince Boun Oum in the south. General Phoumi took Vientiane (December 1960). Souvanna Phouma fled to Cambodia. The Soviet bloc supported Souvanna Phouma. A succession of coups occurred as unstable Laos descebed into a three-way struggle for power among neutralist, rightist, and Communist forces. Another cease-fire was arranged (1961). The three princes agreed to a coalition government headed by Souvanna Phouma. With Pathet Lao and neutralist forces in control of about half of Laos, a cease-fire was arranged (May 1961). As the North Vieetnamese lsunched their effort to take over the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Laotian Civil War became a part of the larger Vietnam War.
Once in control of North Viet Nam, the Communists began their effort to seize control of the south. Laos' future was determined in large measure by this much larger struggle--the Vietnamn War. A 14-nation conference was convened in Geneva to end the Laotian Civil War. The outcome was an agreement to create a neutral Laos under a unified government (1962). A provisional coalition government with representatives of all the different factions was set up with Prince Souvanna Phouma as premier. The attempt to unify the three separate military units failed. The Pathet Lao began attacking the neutralist forces.
Open warfare brokeout (1963). Only the North Vietnamese were willing to commit combat troops to Laos. Strengthen by Norrth Vietnamese troops and supplies, the Pathet Lao was able to gain control over much of northern an eastern Laos. This was important because it gave the North Vietnamese access to unimpeded supply routes to support Viet Cong operatiojs in South Vietnam. Military leaders disturbed with the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese incursions staged a coup (1964). They attempted to force Souvanna Phouma to resign. The United States and the Soviet Union refused to recognize the coup leaders. Souvanna Phouma thus retained the premioership, but with a right-wing neutralist government. It is at this time that President Johnson decided tgo intervene heavily with combat units to support South Vietnam. He also ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, primarilt to limit supplies reaching the Viet Cong in the south (1965). As a result, Pathet Lao guerrilla activity decreased. The American bombing also targeted the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was the North Vietnamese supply route in eastern Laos just west of border of North and Sout Vietnam. The bombing at first targeted eastern Laos, but not the extendion on into Cambodia. Communist pressure increased during 1969 when the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offendive. Pathet Lao forced aunched several major offensives against South Viet Nam (early 1970). South Vietnam responded with incursions into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail (early 1971). The North Vietnamese fell back to safer areas deeper into Laos making the country another battleground of the Vietnam War. The United States targeted the Vietnamesec with air raids deeper into Laos. The United states entered the war in Lsos in several ways. First the United States provided military and economic aid to the Laotian government. Secpnd, it armed the Hmong tribes who wwre strongly opposed to the Vietnamese. The Hmong also fought in South Vietnam. Third, the United States also financed Thai mercenary troops. Their numbers reached 21,000 men (1972). The Pathet Lao, supported by North Vietnamese supplies and combat troops, achieved major victories and exerted control over more than two thirds of Laotian territory, but only about a third of the country's population. Heavy fighting fighting occurred for several years. A cease-fire was finally negotiated (February 1973). An agreement between the Government and the Pathet Lao was concluded (September 1973). This was the same time the Paris Peace accords ending the Viet Nam War were and enablong the withdraw of American combat firces were approved. The agreement involved the formation of a coalition government under Souvanna Phouma (April 1974). The agreement orivided for the stationing of an equal number of government and Pathet Lao troops in both capitals. Another provision was the withdrawal of all foreign troops and advisers.
The Communist North Vietnamese Government as widely expected ignored the Paris Peace Accords. The United States Congress cut off aid to South Vietnam. The Republic of Vietnam (RVN) was thius cunable to resist the North Vietnamese invasion. The Pathet Lao after the Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia seized complete control of Laos (1975). Thgey abolished the monarchy and made Laos a People's Republic. Souphanouvong became president, and Kaysone Phomvihane, head of the Communist party, became premier. Fearing reprisals, large numbers of Laotians including many Hmong fled across the border into to Thailand where they were confined to dismal refugee camps.
Many sought entry into the United States. Small groups of Hmong tribesmen continued to resist the Communists.
Communist Laos was heavily dependent on Vietnam for military and economic support. The two countries signed a 25-year treaty of friendship (1977). The Laotians like most other countries after nearly two decades concluded that Communism offered no reak economic future. Laos like Vietnam and North Korea were among the poorest countries in Asia. The Vietnamese themselves were reaching similsr conclisions. Laos instituted a series of economic reforms permitting capitalist economic activity. Folloeing the Chinese/Vietnamese model, the Laotian Comminist Party retained tight political control. Any form of political dissent continues to be brutally suppressed. The Government has pursued more open relations with other nerigboring countries besides Vietnam (China and Thiland) as well as the United states.
Kaysone was appointed president (1991), but he died the following year. He was replaced by Nouhak Phoumsavan. Khamtay Siphandone, a Pathet Lao military figure, was appointed Communist Party Leader. Nouhak retired (1998) and Khamtay replaced him. Laos joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. Khamtay retired as party leader (2006). Vice President (and Lt. Gen.) Choummaly Sayasone succeeded him. Choummaly also became president a few months later.
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