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Facts About Laos

Laos, or the official name Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia bordered by Thailand, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), China and Vietnam. Beginning in the 8th century, Lao people migrated from southern China into what is now Laos.

Between the 14th and the 17th centuries, Laos was occupied by a Lao King and called the country Lan Xang kingdom or “Land of One Million Elephants.” During the 17th century it was split into three kingdoms at constant conflict with each other. At the end of the 18th century it came under Thai control.

In 1893 Laos became a French protectorate and its territory was incorporated into Indochina, with Vientiane as the capital. During World War II, the Japanese invaded Laos but in 1946 the French re-established a constitutional monarchy. The Pathet Lao, a Communist independence movement headed by Prince Souphanouvong, was established inside North Vietnam in 1951. The Pathet Lao and the Viet Minh invaded central Laos and this led to the division of the country as part of the 1954 Geneva accords. Later the kingdom gained full control, and for a short period the royal premier Prince Souvanna Phouma and the Pathet Lao tried to form a unified government. Fighting broke out again in 1960.

When the U.S. entered in the Vietnam War, Laos was profoundly affected. The Pathet Lao fought alongside the Communist Vietnamese and, in 1964, the U.S. bombed Eastern Laos as part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At the same time, the CIA began hiring many ethnic Hmong living in Lao mountain areas to fight against the Communists of Laos and Vietnam. Over the next decade, Laos became the most bombed country in the history of warfare. Thousands of Lao fled their hometowns in fear of the bombing.

In 1973 a ceasefire and coalition government was negotiated in Laos. When communists took over Vietnam in 1975, the Royalists of Laos left, mostly for France. The Pathet Lao then took complete control of the country and established what is now known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

During the 1990s the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted a new constitution, retaining one-party rule but dropping the word socialism. The economy became more market-oriented and the U.S. lifted its prohibition of aid to Laos. Today this Communist state is headed by a President and a Prime Minister.

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