Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents




Wat Pa Huak, one of Louangphrabang's oldest Buddhist temples, has gilded and carved wood front doors, a mosaic facade depicting Buddha riding a three-headed elephant, and beautiful interior murals showing historical scenes along the Mekong River.
Courtesy Gina Merris

The French presence in Laos was sufficient to preserve internal peace and cope with sporadic localized revolts among some of the mountain tribes in the years 1900-40. These revolts owed their origin to resistance to paying taxes and supplying corvée labor or to outbreaks of messianic hysteria. However, the French military in Indochina were too ill-equipped to contemplate resisting Japan's movement to the south, which by 1940 had become the main focus of Japanese military strategists. On August 30, 1940, the French Vichy government signed the Matsuoka-Henry Pact granting Japan the right to station troops in Indochina and use bases there for movement of forces elsewhere in the region. The agreement, although recognizing Japan's preeminent role in Southeast Asia, preserved France's sovereignty over Indochina.

To the west, French forces in Indochina were confronted by a threat from Thailand (Siam adopted this name in June 1939), where Pibul Songkram's government was arousing public opinion with inflammatory speeches in Bangkok and radiobroadcasts to those he called his brethren across the Mekong. The broadcasts called for an uprising against the French, an endeavor in which Pibul promised help--and for which he had secretly sought Japanese backing. After a series of increasingly serious incidents in the last months of 1940, Thai ground troops attacked French forces in Cambodia in January 1941. The May 9, 1941, Peace Convention Between France and Thailand, under mediation from Japan, was highly favorable to Thailand, which regained the right-bank territories that it had given up in 1904.

Lao outrage was predictable. King Sisavang Vong of Louangphrabang (r. 1904-59) only had the promises made to his grandfather by Pavie as the basis for France's intentions to treat his kingdom as a protectorate. Worried in this regard, he had obtained in 1932 from Paul Raynaud, the French minister for colonies, written guarantees that France would continue to honor Pavie's promises. Therefore, the French were obliged to explain their giving away part of his kingdom or else offer the king suitable compensation. As a result, the French governor general, Admiral Jean Decoux, offered the king a treaty regularizing the protectorate and enlarging his domain. The Franco-Laotian Treaty of Protectorate between France and the Kingdom of Louangphrabang of August 29, 1941, attached the provinces of Vientiane, Xiangkhoang, and Louang Namtha to Louangphrabang, which already included Phôngsali and Houaphan.

Data as of July 1994