Monday, April 6, 2009

Laos - history

Unfortunately for Laos it has been plagued by invasions by the surrounding countries struggling to expand their power, such as Burma (aka Myanmar), Siam (aka Thailand), Vietnam and eventually the French...

Laos as a unified state within its present geographical boundaries had only existed for little more than one hundred years. Its national history stretches back six centuries to the legendary kingdom of Lane Xang, once a rival to the powerful empires of mainland Southeast Asia.

The Burmese invaded Lao in the 15th century. Despite the relocation of the capital from Luang Phrobang to the more strategic site of Vientiane in 1563 Burmese warrior-kings still managed to reduce Lane Xang to vassalage within a decade ...

In 1767, the Burmese also razed Ayutthaya (the capital of Thailand aka Siam), but the Siamese quickly rebuilt their kingdom downriver from the city, near Bangkok, and within a decade had retaken its territory, and were preparing to expand eastwards.

Twenty thousand Siamese soldiers set out for Vientiane in 1778, devastating the city and dragging hundreds of prisoners back to Thailand, as well as the kingdom's precious Pha Bang image.

Over the next century, Siam and Vietnam jockeyed for control over the fragmented Lao muang, or principalities, with the Lao territories eventually forming a buffer zone between the two powers. this balancing act was upset, however, by the arrival of the french.

France's initial interest in Laos stemmed from a belief that the Mekong River would provide a backdoor route to China and the resource rich Yunnan region (soon the discover that a large strech of the river was unnavigable). Auguste Pavie conducted a "conquest of hearts" in the name of France in the 1880's and 1890's ... bu 1893 Siam had relinquished its claim to all territory east of the Mekong River. for half a century, Laos was rules as a French colony ... but their half-hearted interest neglected Laos as just "another" french Southeast Asia acquisitions.

The fall of France to Germany in 1940 suddenly changes the political landscape ... the Japanese occupied Laos, and Siam renamed Thailand in 1939, seized the west-bank territories. In April 1945, the Japanese forced the pro French Lao king to declare independence.

The Potsdam Agreement, which marked the end of World War II, failed to recognize the Lao government. In March 1946, French reoccupation forces, along with their Lao allies, recaptured Vientiane and Loung Phrobang ... Laos had to struggle quiet a bit more before they were able to rule over themselves ... but it got really interesting again during the 1960's, when the former French colony became a player in the Vietnam War.

December 2, 1975 the Lao People's Democratic Republic was proclaimed, followed by years of xenophobic communist rule.

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