(2) Timeline: Laos
Following its defeat in the Franco-Siamese War, Siam (Thailand) cedes the entire Kingdom of Laos to France on 2 October 1893. Laos becomes a protectorate of France and joins the larger territory known as French Indochina (which includes Cambodia and Vietnam).
The Hmong of Laos – approximately 30,000 – are heavily taxed and oppressed by French and Laotian authorities. In early 1896, Hmong leaders revolt against the French in response to these unfair taxes, the first of several armed rebellions that continue into the 1940s.
During World War II, Laos falls under Japanese control, at first through the collaborationist Vichy French government (from 30 August 1940 onwards), and later through outright occupation (9 March – 15 August 1945). During this period, most Hmong stayed loyal to the French and the Royal Lao Government, though some joined the Communist Party (renamed Pathet Lao in 1950).
The first constitution of Laos, written by popularly elected Lao delegates under French supervision, is put into effect on 11 May 1947. It declares Laos to be an independent state within the French Union, and also officially recognizes all ethnic groups, including the Hmong, as citizens of Laos.
The French assembly passes the Elysée Agreement on 29 January 1950, granting limited autonomy to the Associated States of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) within the French Union.
As war between France and Vietnam escalates, the Viet Minh’s People’s Army of Vietnam invades the northeastern part of the French Protectorate of Laos on 12 April 1953. This provides the opportunity for the Pathet Lao to establish a "resistance government" in Viet Minh territory on 19 April 1953, in opposition to the Royal Lao government.
On 22 October 1953, the Franco-Lao Treaty of Amity and Association was signed, recognizing Laos as a fully independent and sovereign state under the control of the Royal Lao government.
In 9 November 1953, the Pathet Lao begins its conflict with the Kingdom of Laos, signaling the start of both the Laotian Civil War and the Second Indochina War (referred to in the U.S. as the Vietnam War). To fight against Communist groups in Laos and Vietnam, CIA operatives begin clandestine activities in Laos in 1953, and eventually form alliances with the Hmong, who are led by Major General Vang Pao (Royal Lao Army). Such covert war-making, known alternatively as “the Secret War” and “the Dirty War,” will continue until 1975.
On 21 July 1954, the Geneva Agreements end the First Indochina War, temporarily dividing Việt Nam along the 17th parallel into two zones for the two rival military forces: the pro-democracy forces in the south and the Communist Việt Minh in the north. The question of reunification is supposed to be decided by a Việt Nam-wide election in 1956. However, the United States refuse to sign the declaration and proceed to support the government of the new Republic of Việt Nam (South Việt Nam) under the leadership of Emperor Bảo Đại and Ngô Đinh Diệm as prime minister. The Communist north declares its own separate state, the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam, with Hồ Chí Minh as its president. Nearly one million refugees, mostly Catholics, flee the north to the south in fear of persecution.
At the Geneva Conference, France negotiates a cease-fire agreement with Laos on 20 July 1954 and withdraws its troops from Laos on 1 August 1954. Laos – along with North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Cambodia – gains independence from France. However, the Laotian Civil War persists.
On 9 August 1960, Captain Kong Le leads the Second Paratroop Battalion of the Royal Lao Army in a bloodless coup d’état and takes over the Lao capital, Vientiane. He returns temporarily returns Prince Souvanna Phouma to power. Known as one of the “three princes,” Souvanna Phouma was a neutralist, whereas Prince Boun Oum (of Champassak) was right wing and Prince Souphanouvong was leftist.
The Battle of Vientiane was fought 13-16 December 1960, which ended with General Phoumi Nosavan winning control of the Kingdom of Laos with the aid of the Royal Thai government and the CIA. The neutralists began an uneasy co-existence with the Pathet Lao. Newly elected U.S. president John F. Kennedy authorizes the recruitment of ethnic minorities in Laos, such as the Hmong, to participate in covert operations to stop the spread of communism.
Out of 300,000 Hmong in Laos, more than 19,000 are recruited into the CIA-sponsored secret operation known as Special Guerilla Unites (SGU). Each soldier was paid roughly $3 a month. The CIA-owned airline, Air America, drops 40 tons of food per month for Hmong soldiers.
The United States continuously wages numerous carpet bombing campaigns over Laos as per increased involvement in the region due to the Vietnam War. More bombs are dropped on Laos than were used during the entirety of World War II. To this day, Laos carries the somber distinction as the “most bombed” country in the world.
February 21, 1973
The Pathet Lao and the royalists sign a peace agreement in Vientiane (the nation’s capital). This ceasefire divides the country between communist and royalist rule. More than 120,000 Hmong become refugees. 18,000 Hmong soldiers are left in Laos, and 50,000 Hmong civilians had been killed or wounded in war.
The Pathet Lao, with the assistance of the North Vietnamese Army, begins attacking government strongholds. Influenced by the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh (April 17, 1975) and the “Fall of Saigon” (April 30, 1975), the Lao national government elects to peacefully allow the Pathet Lao to take power.
August 23, 1975
The Pathet Lao enter Vientiane.
December 2, 1975
The Pathet Lao take over the government, abolish the monarchy, and establish the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
The Hmong, previously U.S. allies, are systematically targeted by the new regime, prompting an exodus to refugee camps and eventually to other countries, including the United States.
Joe Bee Xiong becomes the first Hmong to be elected to a city council in Wisconsin.
May 15, 1997
The federal government acknowledges that it supported a prolonged air and ground campaign in Laos against the North Vietnamese Army. A Laos Memorial is dedicated on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery to honor the Hmong and other combat veteran from the Secret War.
Mee Moua is the first Hmong American woman elected to a state legislature.
The last temporary shelter for 15,000 Hmong remaining in Thailand – the Buddhist monastery at Wat Tham Krabok – closes. This signals the last wave of Hmong who come to the United States.
Vang Pao is arrested – along with nine others – for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the Pathet Lao communist government of Laos, in violation of federal Neutrality Acts. In 2009, all charges were dropped. Vang Pao dies in 2011.
As of the most recent 2010 census, an estimated 260,000 individuals of Hmong descent live in the United States.