Insurgency in Laos

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Insurgency in Laos
Part of the Third Indochina War
Date2 December 1975 – 2008 [1]
Hmong: Central and Northern Laos (1975–2008)
Royalist, Right-wing: Southern Laos (1980–early 1990)

End of the conflict was proclaimed in 2008: [1]

  • 2007 Hmong coup attempt, allegedly organized by Hmong refugees in the United States, crushed by Laos forces
  • Plotters in America brought to trial (all charges dropped)
  • Lao–Vietnamese collaboration has ended any notable confrontation within Lao borders
  • Hmong who fled to Thailand have since been forcibly repatriated; others immigrated to the U.S., as well as French Guiana

Flag of Laos.svg Laos

Flag of Vietnam.svg Vietnam
Flag of North Vietnam (1955-1975).svg  North Vietnam (until 1976)
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg  Soviet Union (until 1989)

Hmong insurgents



Supported by:
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China (PRC) (until 1988) [2]
Flag of Democratic Kampuchea.svg Democratic Kampuchea (until 1979)
Flag of Democratic Kampuchea.svg Khmer Rouge
Flag of Democratic Kampuchea.svg Party of Democratic Kampuchea (1981–1990)
Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand (Rightists: early to mid–1980s) (Hmong: until 1990)
Flag of the United States.svg United States (Hmong: 1990)
Neo Hom (1981–2007) [3] [4]
Flag of Laos (1952-1975).svg Royal Lao Government in Exile



Hmong exiles
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Laos.svg Choummaly Sayasone
Flag of Laos.svg Khamtai Siphandon
Flag of Laos.svg Nouhak Phoumsavanh
Flag of Laos.svg Kaysone Phomvihane
Flag of Laos.svg Souphanouvong
Flag of Laos.svg Bouasone Bouphavanh
Flag of Laos.svg Bounnhang Vorachith
Flag of Laos.svg Sisavath Keobounphanh
Flag of Laos.svg Khamtai Siphandon
Flag of Laos.svg Kaysone Phomvihane
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The insurgency in Laos was a sporadic military conflict between the Lao People's Army, and Vietnam People's Army opposed primarily by members of the former "Secret Army" or the Hmong people as well as various other ethnic lowland Lao insurgencies in Laos, who have faced governmental reprisals due to Royal Lao and Hmong support for the American-led, anti-communist campaigns in Laos during the Laotian Civil War—which is an extension to the war itself. The North Vietnamese invaded Laos in 1958-59 and supported the communist Pathet Lao. It continued on the day after the end of the civil war with the Pathet Lao's capture of the Laotian capital Vientiane, who overthrew the Royal Kingdom of Laos and established a new government known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

While severely depleted, the remnants of an early 1980s-era, and 1990s-era, Royalist insurgency has been kept alive by an occasionally active guerrilla force of several thousand or so successors to that force. In June 2007 Vang Pao was arrested in the United States for an alleged plot to overthrow the Laotian communist government. His arrest led to an end of various attempts to overthrow the Laotian Government by the Hmong People, the Royalists, and right-wing rebellions.

A right-wing insurgency with foreign support has appeared to have continued into at least 2008, and thus the Laotian and Hmong insurgency remains by far the most active of the historical post-1975 trio of insurgencies known as the Hmong, Laotian and Lao Royalist-in-exile against the Pathet Lao, and Vietnamese People's Army which traces its origins from World War II. The running time for the Insurgency in Laos has outlasted the previous Second World War, First Indochina War, Laotian Civil War, as well as the current for a time Vietnam-Cambodia War combined.

Insurgent history


Vietnam and Laos have a complicated past. After Vietnam invaded and destroyed Laos during the Vietnamese–Laotian War, the Vietnamese didn't interfere into Laos for more than 200 years. However, Vietnamese influence had grown radically since the conquest, and played a major role on absorbing Laos into Vietnamese foreign policy. The Hmongs at the time had yet to be touched, owning by its neutrality to the Vietnamese and Laotians. The Hmongs had maintained a degree of autonomy with respect from Imperial Vietnamese Government, and on the same time the Hmongs demonstrated its role on developing Laos in the aftermath of the disastrous war of 1470s with Vietnam. So while Vietnam kept interfering on Laotian affairs, the Hmongs were mostly left alone until the French conquest. It was the French rule that saw Hmongs converted in majority to Christianity, though large segments remained Buddhists, and allied with the French while maintaining its tie with Laos. This would put up the future conflict between Vietnam, the Laotian communists and Laotian insurgents.

Lao Hmong insurgency

The conflict stems from three events prior to Laos independence: a failed coup attempt by the "Red" Prince Souphanouvong, Hmong aiding the French in Xieng Khoung against Lao and Vietnamese forces, and the French giving Hmong rights in Laos as equal to the Lao.[ citation needed ]

In 1946, with the end of the Japanese occupation, Prince Souphanouvong and his half-brothers Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Phetsarath formed two separate independence governments, briefly overthrowing the Laos King Sisavang Vong who wanted to hand the country back to the rule of imperial France. The Hmong people had, for over half a century been closely allied with the French, who treated them as equals of the Lao people. Touby Lyfoung, an important Hmong leader was decorated by the French administration for leading a combined French, Lao, and Hmong force to relieve the Village of Xieng Khoung from a combined Communist force of Laotians and Vietnamese and saving the French representatives in the village. This action was part of larger First Indochina War.

When the French withdrew from Indochina shortly after their defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Americans became increasingly involved in Laos due to the threat of Communist insurgents in Indochina. They saw Laos as one of dominoes in their Domino Theory. Under the leadership of the General Vang Pao, Hmong forces with US support prevented the Pathet Lao and their Vietnamese backers from toppling the Kingdom of Laos. They also rescued downed American pilots, and helped the US, from their base in the "Secret City" of Long Tieng to coordinate bombing missions over Vietnam and Laos. [5]

By 1975, with the collapse of the South in the Vietnam War and loss of American support, the Pathet Lao was able to take control of the government. Hmong people, especially those who had participated in the military conflict were singled out for retribution.

Of those Hmong people who remained in Laos, over 30,000 were sent to re-education camps as political prisoners where they served indeterminate, sometimes life sentences. Enduring hard physical labor and difficult conditions, many people died. [6] Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions - particularly Phou Bia, the highest (and thus least accessible) mountain peak in Laos. At first, these loosely organized groups staged attacks against Pathet Lao and Vietnamese troops. Others remained in hiding to avoid conflict. Initial military successes by these small bands led to military counter-attacks by government forces, including aerial bombing and heavy artillery, as well as the use of defoliants and chemical weapons. [7]

Today, most Hmong people in Laos live peacefully in villages and cities, but small groups of Hmong people, many of them second or third generation descendants of former CIA soldiers, remain internally displaced in remote parts of Laos, in fear of government reprisals. As recently as 2003, there were reports of sporadic attacks by these groups, but journalists who have visited their secret camps in recent times have described them as hungry, sick, and lacking weapons beyond Vietnam War-era rifles. [8] [9] Despite posing no military threat, the Lao government has continued to characterize these people as "bandits" and continues to attack their positions, using rape as a weapon and often killing and injuring women and children. [10] Most casualties occur while people are gathering food from the jungle, since any permanent settlement is impossible. [11]

Faced with continuing military operations against them by the government and a scarcity of food, some groups have begun coming out of hiding, while others have sought asylum in Thailand and other countries. [12] In December 2009 a group of 4,500 refugees were forcibly repatriated to Laos from camps in Thailand despite the objections of, amongst others, the United Nations and the USA. [13]

Some Hmong fled to California in the United States after the U.S. military withdrew from Vietnam and Laos, ending its wars in Indochina. In June 2005 as part of "Operation Tarnished Eagle" U.S. FBI and anti-terrorism officials allegedly uncovered a "conspiracy to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time" and violently overthrow the government of Laos. The alleged plot included ex-U.S. Army Rangers, former Green Berets and other guns for hire. [14] The plotters were accused of attempting to use rifles, FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank rockets and other arms and munitions smuggled from the U.S. via Thailand to "reduce government buildings in Vientiane to rubble", said Bob Twiss, an assistant U.S. attorney. [15]

Lieutenant-Colonel Harrison Ulrich Jack, a retired California National Guard officer who reportedly served in covert operations during the Vietnam War (in Laos in co-ordination with the Hmong and other tribal groups) and former General Vang Pao were named as the probable ringleaders of the purported coup plot. Vang Pao had reportedly built up a strong network of contacts within the U.S. government and corporate circles sympathetic to his cause. [16] Some speculated that the proposed new government would be much more accepting of large foreign business and may also lead to an explosion of the drugs trade as has been the case in Afghanistan. [17]

The defendants' lawyers argued that the case against all of their clients was spurious at best. "The case cannot proceed [because] the process has been so corrupted by the government's misconduct that there can never be any confidence in the validity of the charge," said Mark Reichel, one of the defense attorneys involved in the case. "[W]hile the [prosecution] tries to portray the 'conspiracy' as a dangerous and sophisticated military plan, it cannot refute the extensive evidence demonstrating otherwise - from the agent's informing the so-called conspirators that they would need an operational plan; to his providing a map of the region when they couldn't procure a useful one; to his explanation of what GPS was (including that it requires batteries); to the so-called conspirators' inability to finance the operation." [18]

On September 18, 2009, the Federal Government dropped all charges against Vang Pao, announcing in a release that the "continued prosecution of this defendant is no longer warranted," and that the federal government was permitted to consider "the probable sentence or other consequences if the person is convicted.” [19]

Royalist-in-exile insurgency

Beginning in 1980, the anti-Communist, pro-Royalist forces organized under the so-called Lao National Liberation Front (LNLF) carried out their own insurgency in southern Laos; such of which had been initiated by a series of reasonably successful guerrilla warfare attacks upon its seizure of weapons from the militaries of Laos and Vietnam. In 1982, the LNLF succeeded in briefly establishing the Royal Lao Democratic Government [20] (proclaimed in exile in Bangkok on August 18, 1982 earlier that year) in a collection of southern Lao provinces largely due to support and aid from the People's Republic of China, [21] which despite being a communist state like Laos, maintained rather hostile relations with Laos (largely due to Laos' staunch alignment with and unequivocal support for Vietnam.).

During this time, Laos was allied with the Soviet-backed communist Vietnamese government. The Lao government had referred to China's ruling clique as "the direct enemy of the Lao people" and further stated that relations could potentially be improved between itself and Thailand as well as with the United States, but gave no mention of a possibility for diplomatic amends with China. [21] Despite allying itself formally in writing with Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge; also communist) during the Third Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, allegations would surface that the Khmer Rouge (closely allied to China, and vehemently anti-Vietnamese and anti-Soviet) had also been funding and allotting supplies to the anti-communist Royalist insurgents for use in their insurgency against the government of Laos, while the majority of purported support would be divulged during the forever displaced regime's exile along the Thai border and perhaps to a lesser degree, in Thailand itself during the 1980s. [20]

The Royalists had also cooperated and were involved to a limited degree in the attempts to overthrow the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea alongside the Khmer Rouge. [20] During the early 1980s, the Khmer Rouge had largely abandoned (or perhaps halted) communist ideals and were instead focused primarily on exuding Cambodian nationalist fervor and an increase in anti-Vietnamese rhetoric.

The Royalist insurgency gradually fell into disrepair and in terms of its 1970s and 1980s-era form, it has almost entirely vanished militarily as well as ideologically. A correlated movement of sporadic insurgents succeeded the LNLF and while divided into the congruent style of multiple minimally-proportioned bands of insurgents, have been estimated to contain a strength nearing 2,000 to 3,000 men as of the early 1990s. [20]

Right-wing insurgency

An insurgency politically correlative to the Royalist insurgency led by the United Front for the Liberation of Laos(LPNLUF) and minor allied similar groups [22] had also transpired around the same time period, and reportedly was equipped with a strength of 40,000, Chinese and Khmer Rouge funded and trained right-wing insurgents who placed their desire to expel Vietnamese political and military standing in Laos above any other goal. While the movement managed to proclaimed their own provisional or "liberation" government (speedily disbanded by the Lao military), this insurgency proved to be as by chance less effective than the lesser-trained Royalist-focused insurgency. [20]

This insurgency has no reported standing in terms of force within Laos today. While its claims have never been verified nor widely accepted, the LPNLUF claims to have put some one-third of Laotian territory under its provisional jurisdiction before it was put down by the Lao government. [23]

The insurgents of the LNLF were largely former Royalist government officials who had fled into exile after the Kingdom of Laos' demise in 1975 in the conclusion of the Laotian Civil War and Vietnam War. The LNLF proved successful in recruiting fair numbers of rural militiamen from Champassak and Savannaket provinces. Individual units varied from as few as ten men to as many as 50, [20] and all of these operated with little coordination.

Human rights and refugee situation

During the insurgency, human rights of Hmong people were not respected. [24] Around half of the 300,000 Hmong in Laos were forced to flee, becoming refugees and settling in countries such as the United States. [25] [26]

See also

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The Military history of Laos has been dominated by struggles against stronger neighbours, primarily Thailand and Vietnam, from at least the 18th century.

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Campaign Toan Thang was the first communist wet season offensive of the Laotian Civil War. Launched on 18 June 1969 and successful by the 27th, the assault by People's Army of Vietnam troops from the 312th Division and sappers of the 13th Dac Cong Battalion captured Muang Soui. Although the defenders outnumbered the assailants by three to one, the only hard surfaced airfield near the Plain of Jars would fall to the communists, depriving the defending Royal Lao Government of its only forward fighter-bomber base.

The Battle of Ban Pa Dong was fought between 31 January and 6 June 1961 in Ban Pa Dong, the Kingdom of Laos. Troops from the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Pathet Lao attacked Hmong recruits being trained as Auto Defense Choc guerrillas via Operation Momentum. Although the Hmong made the tactical error of defending a fixed position, their eventual escape from the communist invaders left their fledgling L'Armee Clandestine intact and able to wage war for the Royal Lao Government. However, they abandoned four howitzers and two mortars to the victorious Vietnamese communists. The partisans had also set a deleterious precedent for themselves with their defense of a fixed position.

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Campaign 139 was a major military offensive of the People's Army of Vietnam, launched against its Royalist enemies during the Laotian Civil War. Larger than previous invading forces, Campaign 139 was also a combined arms expedition containing tanks, artillery, engineers, and Dac Cong sappers. As such, it was a decided escalation in the war. It was also an exceptional rainy season offensive by PAVN, which usually withdrew during the wet season.

Unity was the code name for Thailand's covert supply of mercenary soldiers to the Kingdom of Laos during the Laotian Civil War. From 4 July 1964 until March 1973, battalions of Thai volunteers fought Communist insurgents on the Plain of Jars in Military Region 2. As the Hmong L'Armée Clandestine was sapped by ongoing casualties and a limited basis for replacements, Unity battalions replaced them.


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