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The Confrontational Relationship with Thailand

Despite cultural and linguistic ties between Laos and Thailand, after 1975 relations between these two countries were often marked by severe strains (see Bilateral Relations , ch. 4). Such strains often resulted in exchanges of gunfire followed by border closures.

Relations between Laos and Thailand entered a new phase of tension in the middle of 1984 after a period of relative calm. Thai Army roadbuilding crews encountered three remote villages whose location on available maps they apparently took to favor Thai sovereignty. The LPDR government and army thought otherwise, and a military and diplomatic standoff ensued for several months. Laos took the dispute to the United Nations (UN), where Thailand was striving for election to the Security Council. In keeping with such aspirations, Thailand announced that it would remove its troops from the three villages and seek a peaceful settlement through a resurvey of the watershed border.

Further complicating the border situation, in late 1984 Thailand accused Vietnam of meddling in Laotian affairs by pushing Laos into hostilities with Thailand in order to draw attention away from the situation in Cambodia. Thailand also complained that Laos was harboring Thai communists belonging to a new organization called Green Star, whose cadre numbered 2,000, and were said to be training in six insurgent camps along the Laos-Thailand border. Little came of Thai accusations because world attention was focused on Vietnam's activity in Cambodia, not on Laos.

Following the mid-1984 incident and until early 1986, relations were tense. However, by mid-1986 tension began to ease as both sides attempted to downplay the various minor border incidents. For example, in mid-July 1986, approximately thirty-five Laotian ethnic minority refugees were killed in Thailand. Thailand alleged that LPA troops had attacked a refugee settlement near the village of Ban Huai Pong, Phayao Province, killing the refugees. The government said Thailand prevaricated the accusation. Previously, less significant border incidents had become contentious; this time, however, after trading vitriolic charges in both countries' media, the issue died down, foreshadowing an improvement in crossborder relations.

In late 1986, relations between Laos and Thailand moved forward when several delegations were exchanged in order to work out border differences. Of significance were discussions between military and police delegations, who exchanged information on problems with resistance groups, infiltration, smuggling, and bandit gangs. Laos was concerned with the embargo Thailand had placed on strategic goods crossing Thailand for import into the country. As a landlocked country, Laos is dependent upon goods transiting from and through its neighbors. Negotiations ended the embargo on these goods, excluding some military-related items. Laos was also concerned about restrictions on commercial goods.

Between 1986 and 1990, the number of border incidents along the Laos-Thailand border declined significantly. However, there was a major border dispute in December 1987. A cease-fire was proclaimed in February 1988, ending the fighting that resulted in 1,000 deaths, and meetings were held to defuse the conflict (see Developments in the Lao People's Democratic Republic , ch. 1).

Other factors helped to soften the confrontational relationship. Thailand's criticism of Laotian-Vietnamese military ties lessened after 1988 when the majority of Vietnamese troops had departed Laos. Commercial trade continued to be a stabilizing force. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were normal but wary. The fact that resistance fighters operated from refugee camps in Thailand, however, remained a constant source of irritation.

In 1991 several high-level Laotian-Thai military delegations were exchanged in hopes of resolving remaining border incidents. These talks resulted in agreements in which both sides agreed to withdraw military forces from disputed areas in Xaignabouri Province. The withdrawals, which took the form of a mutually supervised pullback, created several unpopulated demilitarized zones. Thailand also promised to help curtail the illegal activities of Laotian refugees and exiles residing in Thailand. Specifically, it agreed to cooperate in disarming and arresting any armed individuals apprehended crossing the border. In 1992 Thailand reportedly made good on its promise to arrest border violators, and the brother of General Vang Pao and a group of Hmong were taken into custody in northern Thailand as they were attempting to stage a cross-border incursion.

In August 1992, Laos again called for increased Laotian-Thai cooperation to suppress anti-LPDR activity by ethnic resistance fighters. Cooperation was to include tougher restrictions on exiled Hmong wishing to travel to and in Thailand. Vientiane wanted Bangkok to strengthen its screening procedures of visa applications from exiled and ethnic Lao living in third countries of resettlement. It was also seeking Thai cooperation in patrolling the common border to combat the resistance movement. In 1993 the LPDR's ambassador to Thailand, Bounkeut Sangsomsak, summed up the resistance problem when he noted that the two countries still needed to resolve the problem, that both sides had been consulting each other at government and military levels, but that stringent measures were needed to further disrupt resistance efforts.

Data as of July 1994

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