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French Rule in Laos History

Having established protectorates in Tonkin and Annam, the French, with Siamese consent, opened a consulate at Luang Phrabang. Soon thereafter, they convinced Laos to apply for protectorate status as well. It was probably the only feasible choice at the time, though the monarch Oun Kham has been vilified since for giving up Lao sovereignty.

Having established protectorates in Tonkin and Annam, the French, with Siamese consent, opened a consulate at Luang Phrabang. Soon thereafter, they convinced Laos to apply for protectorate status as well. It was probably the only feasible choice at the time, though the monarch Oun Kham has been vilified since for giving up Lao sovereignty. To avoid being carved up between China and Vietnam, Laos had essentially two choices ? the French or the Siamese.

French-Siamese treaties between 1893 and 1907 relieved Siam of all her territory east of the Mekong. Uniting the remaining Lao principalities into one colonial territory, the French had little fear of dissatisfied entities uniting. They named the country Laos, apparently abbreviated from les Laos, the plural of Lao.

The treaty of 1896-97 as they stand today established the boundaries of Laos during a joint commission with China, Britain and Siam. Frances disregard for cultural differences on either side of the Annamite Mountain Range proved to be a major blunder, as aggression immediately broke out between them when the French left.

Except as a buffer state between British influence in Burma and the economically important French colonies of Tonkin and Annam, Laos was of little importance to the French. It was simply too isolated to make exploitation of natural resources viable. The Mekong could not be navigated and the majority of the country was comprised of rugged mountains.

Corvees and draft labor were nevertheless instituted. Each male was forced to contribute 10 days labour a year to the colonial government. While producing tin, rubber and coffee, Laos only accounted for about 1% of French Indochina exports.

Laos became known as the Land of the Lotus Eaters, due to the dissolute reputations of French Civil servants who adopted native mores and indulged in their vices shamelessly. The presence of the French undermined the fabric of traditional Lao interpolitical flexibility and cut off the most populated area of the Champasak kingdom ? Isan ? on the Korat plateau by ceding it to Thailand. Through peaceful means, the French effectively weakened Laos more than would have been achieved by war. Furthermore, the French, by imposing a Vietnamese staffed civil service upon Laos, effectively slowed down modernization to a snails pace.

With the support of the Vichy regime, in 1945, the Japanese occupied French Indochina The Lao mounted little resistance, and gained more local autonomy than they had had under the French. Near the end of the war, the French-installed King Sisavang Vong was forced by the Japanese to declare independence, in spite of his loyalty to France. Prince Phetsarat, the prime minister and viceroy, did not trust Sisavang Vong and formed the Lao Issara (Free Lao) resistance movement to ensure colonial rule once the Japanese left.

In 1945, When French paratroopers arrived in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Prince Phetsarat was relieved of his official positions and once again Laos was declared a French protectorate. Phetsarat and the Lao Issara formed the Committee of the People. In October 1945, they drew up a new constitution, proclaiming Laos independent of French rule. The National Assembly deposed Sisavang Vong when he refused to recognize the new document.

In April 1946, Sisavang Vong was re-instated as king (the first time a Lao monarch actually ruled all of what is today called Laos), after having came around to the Lao Issara view of things. Two days after the coronation, French and Lao guerrillas, calling themselves the 'Free French', captured Vientiane and destroyed the Lao Issara forces, as well as forces sent from Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh. Phetsarat and many of his comrades fled to Thailand. They set up a government-in-exile with Phetsarat acting as regent. This brutal suppression of the Lao Issara sent many recruits to join Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh movement.

Financially in a shambles the French by late 1946, were willing to concede autonomy to Laos and bid the Lao Issara to enter into formal negotiations. But three factions split the Lao Issara. Phersarat?s faction refused to negotiate with the French, insisting on immediate independence on Lao Issara terms Phetsarat's half-brother, Prince Souvanna Phouma, headed the second faction. He wanted to negotiate with the French in forming an independent Laos. Another half-brother, Prince Souphanouvong, wanted to work out a deal with the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh.

In 1949, the French proceeded without the cooperation of the Lao Issara and held a French-Lao convention which recognised Laos as an independent associate state, but remained part of the French Union. For the first time Laos was recognised by the world as a separate nation. The treaty gave Laos the right to become an independent member of the United Nations. The Lao Issara dissolved, and Phetsarat remained in exile in Thailand for most of his remaining years. France granted full sovereignty to Laos Four years later with the Franco-Laotian Treaty of October 1953. By this time heavily preoccupied with the Viet Minh offensives in Vietnam, the French were looking to reduce their colonial burden.

 
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