Insurgency in Laos

The insurgency in Laos refers to the ongoing, albeit 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.

Insurgency in Laos
Part of the Third Indochina War
Date1975 – Present
Hmong: Central and Northern Laos (1975–2007)
Royalist, Right-wing: Southern Laos (1980–early 1990)

Ongoing, no defined conflict reported

  • 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
  • Pockets of active, armed resistance combatants still exist
  • Hmong who fled to Thailand have since been forcibly repatriated; others immigrated to the U.S., as well as French Guiana
  • Further plots for a revolution or a coup in Laos initiated by Hmong citizens living in the U.S. have been alleged, yet no conclusive evidence has been made public so far.[4]

Laos Laos

Vietnam Vietnam
 North Vietnam (until 1976)
 Soviet Union (until 1978)

Hmong insurgents



Supported by:
China China (PRC) (until 1988)
[1]Cambodia Democratic Kampuchea (until 1979)
Khmer Rouge (1980-1981)
Party of Democratic Kampuchea (1981-1990)
Thailand Thailand (Rightists: early to mid-1980s) (Hmong: until 1990)
United States United States (Hmong: 1990)
Neo Hom (support. 1981-)[2][3]
Laos Royal Lao Government in Exile

Various Hmong exiles
Commanders and leaders
Laos Bounnhang Vorachith
Laos Choummaly Sayasone
Laos Khamtai Siphandon
Laos Nouhak Phoumsavanh
Laos Kaysone Phomvihane
Laos Souphanouvong
Laos Thongloun Sisoulith
Laos Thongsing Thammavong
Laos Bouasone Bouphavanh
Laos Bounnhang Vorachith
Laos Sisavath Keobounphanh
Laos Khamtai Siphandon
Laos Kaysone Phomvihane
Casualties and losses
Unknown Over 100,000 civilians (1975–1980).[5][6]

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 US by allege plot to overthrow Laotian communist government. His arrest led to an end of attempt to overthrow Laotian government by the Hmong people, the royalists and the 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 the 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 Cold War combined.

Insurgent historyEdit


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 insurgencyEdit

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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10][11] 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.[12] Most casualties occur while people are gathering food from the jungle, since any permanent settlement is impossible.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

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."[20]

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.”[21]

Royalist-in-exile insurgencyEdit

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[22] (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,[23] 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.[23] 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.[22]

The Royalists had also cooperated and were involved to a limited degree in the attempts to overthrow the Vietnamese-installed puppet regime of the People's Republic of Kampuchea alongside the Khmer Rouge.[22] 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.[22]

Right-wing insurgencyEdit

An insurgency politically correlative to the Royalist insurgency led by the United Front for the Liberation of Laos (LPNLUF) and minor allied similar groups[24] 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.[22]

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.[25]

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,[22] and all of these operated with little coordination.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Edward C. O'Dowd (April 16, 2007). Chinese Military Strategy in the Third Indochina War: The Last Maoist War. Routledge. pp. 186–. ISBN 978-1-134-12268-4. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
  2. ^ "The Thwarted Overthrow of Laos Government By American Hmong". Global Politician. June 14, 2007. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  3. ^ "Laos' controversial exile". BBC News. June 11, 2007. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
  4. ^ "Hmong Conflict". Archived from the original on July 23, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  5. ^ Statistics of Democide Archived October 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Rudolph Rummel
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 16, 2016. Retrieved August 26, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992 (Indiana University Press, 1999), pp337-460
  8. ^ The Hmong: An Introduction to their History and Culture Archived October 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Minority Policies and the Hmong in Laos(Published in Stuart-Fox, M. ed. Contemporary Laos: Studies in the Politics and Society of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (St.Lucia: Queensland University Press, 1982), pp. 199 - 219)"Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 1, 2007. Retrieved December 21, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Perrin, Andrew (April 28, 2003). "Welcome to the Jungle". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on May 3, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2007.
  11. ^ Arnold, Richard (January 19, 2007). "Laos: Still a Secret War". Worldpress. Archived from the original on May 9, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2007.
  12. ^ "Rebecca Sommer Film Clips". Archived from the original on January 5, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  13. ^ "Lao People's Democratic Republic". Amnesty International. March 27, 2007. Archived from the original on April 10, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2007.
  14. ^ Kinchen, David (November 17, 2006). "438 former "Cob Fab" removed by helicopter after they came out of hiding". Hmong Today. Archived from the original on February 22, 2007. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  15. ^ "Tragic Mountains". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  16. ^ See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 17, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Al Jazeera English - News - Nine Charged Over Laos 'Coup Plot' Archived July 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ The Christian Science Monitor. "US agents thwart planned Laos coup plot". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on February 8, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  19. ^ Zoroya, Gregg; Leinwand, Donna (October 28, 2004). "Opium threatens Afghan security". USA Today. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  20. ^ CIA's Lao ally faces 'outrageous' charge, Asia Times Online, May 8, 2009.
  21. ^ U.S. Drops Case Against Exiled Hmong Leader," The New York Times, September 18, 2009. Archived November 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ a b c d e f Political Terrorism. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  23. ^ a b[permanent dead link]
  24. ^[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ =mRImFVsuG9&sig=mA89v6ZCDLLSoUasn1dvFiH1X-A&hl=en&ei=4Z4bTLSEB8L48AaR5NGsCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=lao%20liberation%20royalist%20cambodia&f=false

External linksEdit