History, French Colonization
Geneva Conference, French Union, independent government, French officials, constitutional monarchy
France seized control of most of present-day Laos from Siam in 1893 and gained the rest in 1907. The French administered the kingdom of Louangphrabang indirectly through its king, while French officials directly administered the rest of the country. They did little to develop Laos, which became the sleepy backwater of Indochina.
During World War II (1939-1945) Japan stationed troops in Indochina under an agreement with the French, who maintained their administration throughout most of the war. In the last six months of the war the Japanese seized control of Indochina and interned French officials and troops. The Japanese granted Laos nominal independence in 1945.
After Japan and its allies lost the war, a nationalist movement known as the Lao Issara (Free Laos) formed an independent government in Laos. However, France reoccupied Laos the following year, and the nationalists fled to Thailand. The French unified their Lao territories into a single country with the king of Louangphrabang, Sisavang Vong, as head of state. Under French supervision, the new government adopted a constitution and joined the French Union. In 1949 France granted Laos partial independence and extended an offer of amnesty to the nationalists in exile, most of whom returned to the country. A few dissidents under the leadership of Prince Souphanouvong, however, allied themselves with the forces of the pro-Communist Vietnamese liberation movement known as the Viet Minh, who were still fighting the French. The Lao dissidents called their movement Pathet Lao (Lao State). When Viet Minh forces invaded Laos in 1953, they handed over large areas of the country to the Pathet Lao. France accorded Laos full independence in 1953 as a constitutional monarchy, the Kingdom of Laos. Delegates to the 1954 Geneva Conference, who were negotiating France’s withdrawal from Indochina at the end of the First Indochina War (1946-1954), endorsed the country’s independent status.
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