Kingdom of Laos

Last updated
Kingdom of Laos
ພຣະຣາຊອານາຈັກລາວ  (Lao)
Royaume du Laos  (French)
Anthem:  Pheng Xat Lao
"Hymn of the Lao People and the King"
Laos (orthographic projection).svg
StatusFrench protectorate
Independent state
Capital Vientiane (administrative)
Luang Phabang (royal)
Largest city Vientiane
Official languages Lao
Spoken languages
Ethnic groups
Buddhism (state religion [1] )
Tai folk religion
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Sisavang Vong
Sisavang Vatthana
Prime Minister  
 1947–1948 (first)
 1962–1975 (last)
Souvanna Phouma [lower-alpha 1]
Legislature Parliament
Royal Council
National Assembly
11 May 1947
22 October 1953
21 July 1954
14 December 1955
23 August 1975
2 December 1975
236,800 km2 (91,400 sq mi)
Currency Kip (₭) (LAK)
Time zone UTC+7 (ICT)
Date formatdmy
Driving side right
Calling code +856
ISO 3166 code LA
Internet TLD .la
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Laos (1893-1952).svg French Protectorate of Laos
Flag of France (1794-1815, 1830-1958).svg French Indochina
Lao People's Democratic Republic Flag of Laos.svg
Royal Lao Government in Exile Flag of Laos (1952-1975).svg
Today part of Laos
  1. Held the position several times.

The Kingdom of Laos was a landlocked country in Southeast Asia at the heart of the Indochinese Peninsula. It was bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, North Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Thailand to the west and southwest. The country was governed as a constitutional monarchy that ruled Laos beginning with its independence on 9 November 1953. It survived until December 1975, when its last king, Sisavang Vatthana, surrendered the throne to the Pathet Lao during the civil war in Laos, who abolished the monarchy in favour of a Marxist–Leninist state called the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which has controlled Laos ever since. [2]


Given self-rule with the new Constitution in 1947 as part of the French Union and a federation with the rest of French Indochina, [3] the 1953 Franco-Lao Treaty finally established a sovereign, independent Laos, but did not stipulate who would rule the country. In the years that followed, three groups led by the so-called Three Princes, contended for power: the neutralists under Prince Souvanna Phouma, the right-wing party under Prince Boun Oum of Champassak, and the left-wing, North Vietnamese-backed Pathet Lao under Prince Souphanouvong and future Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane.

The Pathet Lao would eventually emerge victorious in the Laotian Civil War and establish the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975.


The Kingdom of Laos was officially proclaimed when the new Constitution was promulgated in 1947, as part of the colonial French Union, [3] and obtained full independence in 1953. The monarchy lasted until 2 December 1975, when the last king Sisavang Vatthana abdicated the throne to the Pathet Lao who abolished the kingdom and proclaimed Laos as a communist state.


Following the Franco-Lao Treaty of 1953, which gave Laos independence, the Royal Lao Government took control of the country. This treaty established a constitutional monarchy, with Sisavang Vong as King and Prince Souvanna Phouma as Prime Minister.

Many attempts were made by the Three Princes and King Sisavang Vatthana to establish a coalition government. The First Government of National Unity was established in 1958 under Prince Souvanna Phouma, but collapsed after two months. The Prime Minister, who under the constitution appointed his ministers and received advice from the King, made a deal with his brother Prince Souphanouvong.

Souvanna Phouma gave the Communists two seats in the Cabinet, and in return Souphanouvong would integrate 1,500 of his 6,000 Communist troops into the royal army. Prince Souphanouvong was given the post of Minister of Planning, Reconstruction and Urbanization, while another member of the Communist Party was named Minister of Religion and Fine Arts.

The legislature of the Kingdom was bicameral.


The Kingdom of Laos was divided into five military regions. The Royal Lao Armed Forces were responsible for the defense of the country, comprising three branches of service: the Royal Lao Army, the Royal Lao Navy, and the Royal Lao Air Force, which was under the control of the Ministry of Defence in Vientiane.

The United States supplied the Royal Lao Navy with twenty river patrol boats and sixteen amphibious landing craft. Between 1962 and 1971, the United States provided Laos with an estimated US$500 million in military assistance.

Foreign relations

The Royal Lao Government had close relations with the United States, which gave the country aid and assisted it in the campaign against the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Communist movement. During 1957, the United States spent more per capita on foreign aid for Laos than it had on any other nation. That worked out as US$150 per Laotian, twice the average person's annual income. Some of the money went to support pro-American candidates in an election, while other money went to a program to support the local currency, the kip. [4]

King Savang Vatthana visited the United States in 1963 to meet with President Kennedy.

Laos was also supported by France, Australia, Burma, Thailand and Japan.

North Vietnamese invasion of Laos and Civil war

North Vietnamese troops march through Laos, 1967 Nvamarch.jpg
North Vietnamese troops march through Laos, 1967

In 1960, amidst a series of rebellions, fighting broke out between the Royal Lao Army and the Soviet Union-backed, communist Pathet Lao, a second Provisional Government of National Unity formed by Prince Souvanna Phouma in 1962 proved to be unsuccessful, and the situation steadily deteriorated thereafter as the conflict in Laos became a focus for superpower rivalry. During the North Vietnamese invasion of Laos, the Pathet Lao were backed militarily by the NVA and Vietcong.

Laos was also dragged into the Vietnam War after parts of Laos were invaded and occupied by North Vietnam for use as a supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese positions, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos, including those led by Hmong General Vang Pao, and supported South Vietnamese incursions into Laos. It also provided supplies, training and funding for the central government.

In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack to help the Pathet Lao fight the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing, leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand.

Massive aerial bombardment against Pathet Lao and NVA forces was carried out by the United States. It has been reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the Second World War. Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xiangkhouang Province on the Plain of Jars, some 80 million failed to explode and continue to injure and kill residents to this day. [5]

Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. Because it was particularly heavily affected by cluster bombs during this war, Laos was a strong advocate of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to ban the weapons and assist victims, and hosted the First Meeting of States Parties to the convention in November 2010.

In 1975, the Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People's Army and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in captivity.

Fall of the government

A ceasefire was finally attained in February 1973, following the Paris Peace Accords between the United States and North Vietnam. In April 1974, another Provisional Government of National Unity was established, with Prince Souvanna Phouma as Prime Minister. However, by this time, Pathet Lao forces controlled large areas of the country, and following the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh to communist forces in April 1975, removed any chances of a coalition government forming in Laos. [6] Following the communist victories in both countries, they advanced on to Vientiane.

On 2 December 1975 in Vientiane, Prince Vong Savang submitted the letter of abdication of King Savang Vatthana to the Pathet Lao. The Lao People's Democratic Republic was established with Prince Souphanouvong as President. Kaysone Phomvihane acted as Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.


About 30,000 to 40,000 [7] citizens and members of the old government, including the royal family, were taken to re-education camps in remote areas of Laos after the coup.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kaysone Phomvihane</span> Lao politician, communist leader (1920–1992)

Kaysone Phomvihane was the first leader of the Communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955 until his death in 1992. After the Communists seized power in the wake of the Laotian Civil War, he was the de facto leader of Laos from 1975 until his death. He served as the first Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic from 1975 to 1991 and then as the second President from 1991 to 1992.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Souphanouvong</span> Laotian politician

Prince Souphanouvong, nicknamed the Red Prince, was along with his half-brother Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Boun Oum of Champasak, one of the "Three Princes" who represented respectively the communist (pro-Vietnam), neutralist and royalist political factions in Laos. He was the President of Laos from December 1975 to August 1991.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phetsarath Ratanavongsa</span> Laotian prime minister and prince

Prince Phetsarath Ratanavongsa (Somdej Chao Maha Uparaja Petsaraj Ratanavongsa was the 1st Prime Minister of Luang Phrabang in French Laos from 21 August 1941 to 10 October 1945, and Head of State of Laos between 12 October 1945 and 4 April 1946.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Souvanna Phouma</span>

Prince Souvanna Phouma was the leader of the neutralist faction and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Laos several times.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sisavang Vatthana</span> Last monarch of the Kingdom of Laos (reigned 1959-75)

Sisavang Vatthana or sometimes Savang Vatthana was the last king of the Kingdom of Laos and the 6th Prime Minister of Laos serving from 29 October to 21 November 1951. He ruled from 1959 after his father's death until his forced abdication in 1975. His rule ended with the takeover by the Pathet Lao in 1975, after which he and his family were sent to a re-education camp by the new government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pathet Lao</span> 1950–1975 left-wing national liberation movement of Laos

The Pathet Lao, officially the Lao People's Liberation Army, was a communist political movement and organization in Laos, formed in the mid-20th century. The group was ultimately successful in assuming political power in 1975, after the Laotian Civil War. The Pathet Lao were always closely associated with Vietnamese communists. During the civil war, it was effectively organized, equipped and even led by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). They fought against the anti-communist forces in the Vietnam War. Eventually, the term became the generic name for Laotian communists.

The Three Princes was a name given to Princes Boun Oum, Souvanna Phouma and Souphanouvong who represented respectively the royalist, neutralist and communist factions in the Kingdom of Laos in the post-WWII period. The trio were named by King Sisavang Vatthana to form a coalition government following the independence of Laos.

Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, grandson of the last King of Laos Savang Vatthana, is the pretender to the Lao throne. Laos was a monarchy until 1975, when the communist Pathet Lao seized control of the nation, causing Savang Vatthana to abdicate his throne. Soulivong Savang lives in exile in Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laotian Civil War</span> Civil war in Laos from 1959 to 1975

The Laotian Civil War (1959–1975) was a civil war in Laos which was waged between the Communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Government from 23 May 1959 to 2 December 1975. It is associated with the Cambodian Civil War and the Vietnam War, with both sides receiving heavy external support in a proxy war between the global Cold War superpowers. It is called the Secret War among the American CIA Special Activities Center, and Hmong and Mien veterans of the conflict.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French protectorate of Laos</span> 1893–1953 French protectorate in Southeast Asia

The French protectorate of Laos was a French protectorate in Southeast Asia of what is today Laos between 1893 and 1953—with a brief interregnum as a Japanese puppet state in 1945—which constituted part of French Indochina. It was established over the Siamese vassal, the Kingdom of Luang Prabang, following the Franco-Siamese War in 1893. It was integrated into French Indochina and in the following years further Siamese vassals, the Principality of Phuan and Kingdom of Champasak, were annexed into it in 1899 and 1904, respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Lao Government</span> 1953-1975 government of Laos

The Royal Lao Government was the ruling authority in the Kingdom of Laos from 1947 until the communist seizure of power in December 1975 and the proclamation of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The Franco-Lao Treaty of 1953 gave Laos full independence but the following years were marked by a rivalry between the neutralists under Prince Souvanna Phouma, the right wing under Prince Boun Oum of Champassak, and the left-wing, Lao Patriotic Front under Prince Souphanouvong and future Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane. During this period, a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to establish coalition governments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Lao Government in Exile</span>

The Royal Lao Government in Exile (RLGE) is a Laotian government in exile opposed to the Lao People's Democratic Republic. It purports to seek to institute a constitutional monarchy in Laos that ensures freedom, justice, peace, and prosperity for the Lao people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">North Vietnamese invasion of Laos</span> Campaign of the Vietnam War

North Vietnam supported the Pathet Lao to fight against the Kingdom of Laos between 1958–1959. Control over Laos allowed for the eventual construction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that would serve as the main supply route for enhanced NLF and NVA activities in the Republic of Vietnam. As such, the support for Pathet Lao to fight against Kingdom of Laos by North Vietnam would prove decisive in the eventual communist victory over South Vietnam in 1975 as the South Vietnamese and American forces could have prevented any NVA and NLF deployment and resupply if these only happened over the 17th Parallel, also known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a narrow strip of land between North and South Vietnam that was closely guarded by both sides. It also helped the Pathet Lao win against the Kingdom of Laos, even though the Kingdom of Laos had American support.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lao Issara</span> Laotian anti-French movement (1945-49)

The Lao Issara was an anti-French, nationalist movement formed on 12 October 1945 by Prince Phetsarath. This short-lived movement emerged after the Japanese defeat in World War II and became the government of Laos before the return of the French. It aimed to prevent the French from restoring their control over Laos. The group disbanded in 1949.

The 1960 Laotian coups brought about a pivotal change of government in the Kingdom of Laos. General Phoumi Nosavan established himself as the strongman running Laos in a bloodless coup on 25 December 1959. He would be himself overthrown on 10 August 1960 by the young paratrooper captain who had backed him in the 1959 coup. When Captain Kong Le impressed the American officials underwriting Laos as a potential communist, they backed Phoumi's return to power in November and December 1960. In turn, the Soviets backed Kong Le as their proxy in this Cold War standoff. After the Battle of Vientiane ended in his defeat, Kong Le withdrew northward to the strategic Plain of Jars on 16 December 1960.

The following lists events that happened during 1975 in Laos.

Siho Lanphouthacoul was a Laotian paramilitary police officer. He used his powers as the National Director of Coordination to build Laotian police forces into a national power. Appointed as Director prior to the August 1960 coup by Kong Le, Siho gathered and trained two special battalions of paramilitary police during the latter part of 1960. When his patron, General Phoumi Nosavan, seized power in December 1960, Siho's new battalions helped carry the day at the Battle of Vientiane. Acquiring the National Police from the Ministry of the Interior, and co-opting local military police, Siho consolidated the Lao police into the Directorate of National Coordination. Attaining a strength of 6,500 men, the DNC would be Siho's instrument for his short-lived 18 April 1964 coup.

The 1964 Laotian coups were two attempted coup d'etats against the Royal Lao Government. The 18 April 1964 coup was notable for being committed by the policemen of the Directorate of National Coordination. Although successful, it was overturned five days later by U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger. In its wake, Neutralist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma forged a fragile coalition with the Pathet Lao communists. On 4 August 1964, Defense Minister Phoumi Nosavan attempted to take over Vientiane with a training battalion. This coup was quickly crushed by the local Royal Lao Army troops, as the police sat out the conflict.

Operation Xieng Dong was a successful defensive strike by the Royal Lao Army (RLA) against an invasion by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). In early February 1971, PAVN forces swept RLA defenders from a line of hilltop positions guarding the royal capital of Luang Prabang. The city's perceived invulnerability to attack was shattered. King Sisavang Vatthana refused to leave his capital. Other Military Regions of Laos hastily forwarded to Luang Prabang's Military Region 1 any troops that could be spared from the rest of the Laotian Civil War. On 7 April, the resulting patchwork force of RLA battalions, Forces Armee Neutraliste half regiment, and Central Intelligence Agency-backed Special Guerrilla Units managed a three-pronged offensive supported by tactical aviation that surrounded and defeated the invading PAVN 335th Independent Regiment, which had gotten within eight kilometers of Luang Prabang. By 5 June 1971, the 335th was in full retreat.


  1. [ bare URL PDF ]
  2. "About this Collection - Country Studies". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  3. 1 2 "Library of Congress - Laos - The Kingdom of Laos". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  4. John Holt (2009). Page 110. Spirits of the Place: Buddhism and Lao Religious Culture.
  5. MacKinnon, Ian (3 December 2008). "Forty years on, Laos reaps bitter harvest of the secret war". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  6. "Laos". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  7. "Laos under communism". Archived from the original on 2013-08-28. Retrieved 2012-04-25.

Coordinates: 17°58′N102°36′E / 17.967°N 102.600°E / 17.967; 102.600