Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents


Internal Threats and Resistance Movements

After December 1975, the newly formed LPDR was faced with disarming and neutralizing former rightist soldiers and police, countering armed resistance efforts by those who had fled to Thailand and by their supporters who had remained in Laos, and preventing Thailand from interfering in political developments in Laos. The ease with which the Pathet Lao had managed to neutralize the rightist armed forces and police and form a coalition government reflected how tired the Laotians were of war. The prevailing attitude at the time seemed to be general relief that the civil war was over. Even most middle- and lower-ranking officers in the Royal Lao Army--who had spent their adult lives fighting the insurgents of the Neo Lao Xat (Lao Patriotic Front-- LPF; see Glossary)--were prepared to cooperate in building a united and socialist Laos. When opposition to the new regime materialized, it came mainly from across the Mekong River in Thailand. Insurgents found sanctuary across the 1,000-kilometer boundary with Thailand, where, under the new, strongly anticommunist government, the military provided them with supplies and intelligence data.

The armed resistance movement--a shadow force of several thousand persons--never gained enough momentum to become any more than a nuisance to the communist government because the combination of approximately 50,000 Vietnamese troops stationed in Laos and the LPA ensured adequate protection against the relatively minor threat. Broad security measures, including control of the media, were implemented.

Nonetheless, armed resistance was led mainly by individuals who had played a military role during the hostilities of the 1970s. Former members of the Royal Lao Army and the special guerrilla units supported by the CIA intermittently harassed government installations such as police stations and army posts, blasted bridges, ambushed vehicles, and blocked roads. The honeymoon period following the communist takeover ended abruptly when thousands of members of the previous government and military apparatus failed to be released from remote reeducation centers or "seminar camps" (see "Seminar Camps" and the Death of King Savang Vatthana, ch. 1).

In cooperation with Vietnamese forces in Laos, the government launched a military campaign intended to control dissidents, notably the irregular forces--made up of ethnic tribes who had long resisted Vietnamese and Laotian communists from their mountain hideouts. The military campaign, along with deteriorating economic conditions and government attempts to enforce political control, prompted an exodus of lowland Lao and Hmong in the early years of LPDR rule. About 10 percent of the population--approximately 300,000 persons--fled Laos after 1975, passing through refugee camps in Thailand on their way to receiving refugee status and taking up residence in the United States, France, Australia, and other countries. Those who remained in the refugee camps in Thailand provided the recruits for the resistance movements, supported by funds sent from their friends and relatives who had resettled abroad. Resistance forces continued operating from sanctuaries in refugee camps across the border in Thailand--with numerous reports of cross-border resistance actions--much as the Pathet Lao had originally operated from sanctuaries in North Vietnam. Resistance forces are perceived as a stumbling block for the repatriation of individuals in refugee camps in Thailand.

The deteriorating political situation between China and Laos in 1980 worked in favor of the resistance forces. And, following the outbreak of hostilities between China and Vietnam, China took a greater interest in the Laotian resistance movement by providing sanctuary, military training, and equipment to various resistance elements including Kong Le's Neutralists. China's involvement was intended both to tie up the Vietnamese troops stationed in Laos and to provide China with intelligence on Vietnamese troop movements along the border. China also supported the political activity of Laotian exiles and reportedly established insurgent training camps in Yunnan Province for as many as 3,000 Laotian resistance fighters. Despite training and equipment from China, the influx of newly trained resistance fighters were no match for the LPA and Vietnamese troops. The resistance was relegated to committing acts of sabotage against government facilities and mounting small unit attacks on troops. China cut off support to the resistance when moves toward normalization of relations between Laos and China began in 1986.

In 1985 the resistance movement escalated its military campaign against the government. Laotian resistance groups based in Thailand claimed to have as many as 7,000 to 8,000 members in 1985. These groups were active in mounting limited guerrilla operations, such as harassing LPA transportation routes and sabotaging military supply depots, and reportedly bombed the Wattai Airport in Vientiane in 1985. In April 1985, the guerrillas reportedly downed a helicopter, killing several senior LPA officers, as well as three Soviet military advisers and two Vietnamese major generals. General Phoumi Nosavan's death in exile in Thailand in November 1985, however, left a significant leadership void and caused a serious setback to the resistance movement.

Although the resistance movement was losing momentum in the early 1990s, and resistance operations do not appear to threaten the stability of the communist government in Vientiane, incidents continue. In March 1992, fighting between resistance forces and Laotian troops took place at Ban Tak Huai Sao. Scores of people on both sides were wounded and killed by artillery and small arms fire. In June 1992, there were reports of 300 Laotian rebels attacking LPDR military positions in Muang Sanakham across the Mekong from Chiang Khan, Thailand. In July 1992, Thai military officials reported sporadic antigovernment activities and skirmishes in different parts of Laos, especially in the remote mountainous border areas with Thailand.

Laos continued to seek Thai action against rebel forces remaining in Thailand, and the decline in resistance activity was attributable both to an improvement in relations between Laos and Thailand and to the once isolationist LPDR's successful negotiations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (see Glossary) to close refugee camps in Thailand and repatriate the remaining inmates, mostly Hmong tribespeople. Not only did these negotiations cut off the sanctuaries, but they also cut off the traditional sources of new recruits and arms. Further, the Thai government began steps in 1992 to stop anti-LPDR forces from using Thailand as a base to stage attacks into Laos. Also, the United States pressured Thailand to cut back on tacit military assistance to Hmong resistance elements. As a result of these developments, armed resistance was reduced by mid-1994 to isolated incidents of little more than armed banditry--hardly a threat to the stability of Laos.

As of the early 1990s, it remained difficult to garner and confirm information about the strength of the various resistance forces and their activities because of the nature of their operations and the remoteness of their locations. The main resistance forces are the Lao National Liberation Movement (also known as the United Lao National Liberation Front) and the Ethnic Liberation Organization of Laos. The former resistance movement, remnants of the "Secret Army" led by Vang Pao, is estimated to have approximately 2,000 members in the early 1990s and is a bitter enemy of the latter. The Lao National Liberation Movement continues to work toward replacing the government with a coalition of opposition groups.

Data as of July 1994

Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents