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.
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.