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Historical Introduction

The Hmongs dire condition in Laos. 800 people on their knees begging. They are being described as insurgents. Undated Photo by P. Blenkinsop

Laos emerged as a feudal state in the 14th century and, after falling under French rule in the 19th century, regained full independence in 1954. The ruling monarchy attempted modernization but an invasion by North Vietnam's Communist forces dragged the country into Vietnam War, inflicting massive damage. The Communist invasion was followed by attacks from U.S. and South Vietnamese forces, a series of political turnarounds and, finally, a civil war between the Communist Pathet Lao movement and the government. By 1964, the country had been split into Communist North and East, supported by the Vietcong, and Royalist South and West that received support from the United States. The intermittent conflict claimed 30-40 000 lives.

Communists eventually won the civil war, proclaimed a Socialist People's Republic, started collectivization in rural areas and nationalized industry and commerce. Members of the royal army and government were sent to „re-education camps". Repressions were relatively limited and about 300 000 people, or 10% of the Laotian population, managed to flee to neighbouring Thailand. This included 100 000 or 30% of Hmongs, an ethnic minority opposed to Pathet Lao, and as many as 90% of intellectuals, specialists and government officials. According to some estimates, 130 000 people may have been killed in the civil war and two thirds of the deaths are attributable to Communist North Vietnam's activities. Although Laos initiated economic reforms in 1986, the authoritarian regime remains in power and the country still suffers from isolation and poverty.