Laos. In March, the country’s first international rail link was opened. The 30-minute stretch between Thailand and Laos across the Mekong River was part of the UN-supported Trans-Asian Railway. Present at the opening ceremony included Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. According to countryaah, the Lao government hoped that the connection would significantly reduce export costs for the coastless country, whose exports to date have been via highways. Two trains would travel the route every day with a total of about 500 passengers. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for abbreviation LA which stands for the nation of Laos.
During the very last days of the year, over 4,000 members of the hmong ethnic minority population were deported back from northern Thailand back to their country of origin Laos. The Lao Hmong refugees had been in Thailand for five years. The deportations aroused strong protests from several parts of the world, including the UN refugee agency UNHCR. The Thai authorities regard the many Hmong refugees as illegal economic immigrants, while the Hmong themselves state that they are being persecuted by the Laos communist regime because Hmong was on the United States side in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. After the Communist takeover of power in 1975, some hmong fled into the mountains and began waging a low-intensity guerrilla war against the communist regime – a rebellion that is today largely wounded. More than 150,000 hmong have since 1975 moved across the border to Thailand, where they live in poor refugee camps. Tens of thousands of them have been granted residence permits in the United States, where many of them today live.
Another odd find from the animal world was made in central Laos during the year when a new species of songbird bulbyl was discovered. The forest bird was found in an isolated area inland where few people live, which was probably the reason why it has escaped contact with humans for so long. The bird was described as olive-green with a bright chest area and with a distinctive orange-pink and light-blue face without feathers. Only about seven specimens of the rare bird had been found so far. In 2002, a new rodent was discovered in the same nature-protected area and three years earlier a unique striped type of rabbit was found.
Incorporated into French Indochina in 1893, Laos underwent a troubled process of decolonization hegemonized by Communist-inspired forces after World War II, in a regional framework strongly conditioned by the politics of the blocs. Having achieved independence in 1954, the country was in fact upset in the following years by a long civil war that pitted the communist Pathet Lao movement against the realist forces, supported by the United States, and which ended in 1975 with the abdication of the king and the proclamation of the People’s Republic. Since then, the Laos was uninterruptedly ruled by the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party (Neo Lao Haksak, the front of the left led by the Pathet Lao), which forged strong ties with Vietnam and joined the pro-Soviet camp. Despite the strong ideological connotation (which had not even completely eliminated regional and ethnic contrasts), the government soon abandoned the rigid criteria of a planned and collectivized economy, effectively adopting a mixed economy. This process was accelerated in the early 1990s, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the consequent lack of Soviet aid forced the choice of new strategies to attract foreign capital, paving the way for more intense relations with Western countries. Starting in 1993 the government undertook a new three-year program of economic reforms in the liberal sense, adopted at the suggestion of the International Monetary Fund, which gave the country the opportunity to access new international loans. At the same time, in terms of foreign policy, the government increased relations with Australia and the United States.
The collaboration established with the latter in the control of drug trafficking and in the search for the US military missing during the Vietnam conflict resulted in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992 and subsequently (1995) in the restoration of economic aid from Washington., notwithstanding the law that imposed financial restrictions on communist countries.
On the regional level, however, the main interlocutor became Thailand, which was one of the main financiers of the vast public works program launched by the government, even if relations with Vietnam and China remained close. In April 1995, Laos concluded an agreement with Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia for the economic development of the Mekong basin and for the joint exploitation of its resources.
The development process allowed for an increase in the gross domestic product but, involving only a small part of the countryside, increased regional imbalances and did not significantly change the standard of living of the majority of the population. Furthermore, economic liberalization did not have a similar consideration on the domestic policy level: the cautious opening sanctioned in August 1991 by the launch of the Constitution did not in fact affect the hegemony of the revolutionary party which remained the undisputed arbiter of the political life of the country: a it belonged both the head of the government, K. Siphandone, and the president of the Republic, N. Phoumsavanh (in office since 1992). Within the party, however, considerable disagreements arose on how to manage economic reforms and the conservative wing regained strength in 1996, accompanied by an increase in the political and economic role of the military. The new National Assembly, born from the elections held in December 1997 (on the basis of a list of candidates presented by the ruling party), reflected the new orientations and thus the component of the ‘technicians’, who had been the largest supporters of reforms. In February 1998 Siphandone was elected president of the Republic while the office of prime minister was taken over by Sisavat Keobounphan.