Military branches: Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF): Lao People's Army (LPA; includes Riverine Force), Air Force (2011). Military expenditures: 0.2 percent of GDP (2012), country comparison to the world: 168. [Source: CIA World Factbook ++]

1) Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age for compulsory or voluntary military service; conscript service obligation - minimum 18-months (2012). 2) Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 1,574,362; females age 16-49: 1,607,856 (2010 est.). 3) Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 1,111,629; females age 16-49: 1,190,035 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 71,400; female: 73,038 (2010 est.) ++

Serving one of the world's least developed countries, the Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF) is small, poorly funded, and ineffectively resourced; its mission focus is border and internal security, primarily in countering ethnic Hmong insurgent groups; together with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and the government, the Lao People's Army (LPA) is the third pillar of state machinery, and as such is expected to suppress political and civil unrest and similar national emergencies, but the LPA also has upgraded skills to respond to avian influenza outbreaks; there is no perceived external threat to the state and the LPA maintains strong ties with the neighboring Vietnamese military (2008). ++

Unexploded Bombs in Laos

In the 1960s and 70s in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam: US forces make extensive use of cluster munitions in bombing campaigns. The ICRC estimates that in Laos alone, 9 to 27 million unexploded submunitions remain, and some 11,000 people have been killed or injured, more than 30 percent of them children.

An estimated 30 percent of the two million tons of bombs dropped on Laos around the time of the Vietnam War didn’t explode and continue to kill about 200 people a year. Most of them are in eastern Laos, around the former Ho Chi Minh Trail. In the 1990s as many as 10 people died every month from stepping on bombs. About 50 victims alone were claimed in the province of Xieng Khoung, 120 mile north of Vientiane. Some 60 percent of all ordnance victims died from their wounds because infection was such a problem in the unsanitary hospitals. It is estimated that two tons of bombs were dropped for every person in Xieng Khoung.

Authorities in Laos, which has a total population of 6.7 million, estimate that since the war ended 10,500 people have been killed and 11,500 wounded by these leftover bombs — roughly equivalent to one person every day. More than 30 years after the end of U.S. military action in Laos, the communist nation still holds the title as the single-most bombed country per-capita in global history. [Source: AFP, November 20, 2008, Margaret Brennan, CBS News, July 11, 2012]

The U.S. State Department estimates that some 80 million unexploded American bombs remain in Laos. Unexploded bombs and explosives litter the forests, villages, mountains and fields of eastern and central Laos. It is estimated that 30 percent of the cluster bomblets—known locally s "bombies"—didn't detonate. Many injuries and deaths are caused by these cluster bomblets, which corrode and become dangerous with the passing of time and in many ways are as dangerous as land mines.

The ancient and mysterious Plain of Jars was pockmarked by bombs and littered with unexplosded bombs. Many cluster bombs didn't explode. If a farmer walks on the bombs they generally don't go off but if he swings hard and smashes one with his hoe...that's another story. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, June 1987]

Laos is so contaminated with unexploded ordnance that bombs prevent the use of land for agriculture or animal husbandry, and have a direct impact on food security. In this context, malnutrition remains a challenge for the country. The International Food Policy Research Institute 2012 Global Hunger Index describes the situation in Lao PDR as serious.

See Vietnam War, Vietnam, History.

Unexploded Bombs, Everyday Objects and Scrap Metal in Laos

The salvaging of scrap metal from bombs, tanks and downed planes has become a major industry in Laos. Spent brass shell casings have been used as flower planters, house stilts, pig sties, storage sheds, and fences, and have been hammered into gongs.

Some of the corroded bombs look like stones. Non-corroded ones are brightly colored, and these are used by children as play things. A third of the casualties of unexplosded bombs are children at play, half the victims are under the age of 16.

Farmers keep parts of F-105 Thunderbirds and S-1 Skyraiders under their houses and sell pieces to scrap metal dealers. Spoons and tools are forged from the metal. According to Laotian law it is illegal to sell leftover war weaponry. The punishments can range from six months to five years in prison. AFP reported in 2008: “Rising metal prices now mean one kilo of scrap could fetch up to three dollars at the local foundry — a substantial sum in a country where 40 percent are malnourished and just under half have no access to clean water, according to UN figures.”

In some places bombshells are used to construct houses. Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, “Deadly explosives have become part of everyday life. In the town of Phonsavan there are fences made of shell casings. Unexploded bombs are forged into axes, sickles, cow bells, rice cookers, belt buckles, boats and ladders. One particular cluster bomb with a tripod-shaped fin is commonly fitted with a light bulb and used as a lamp. “This familiarity is a real problem,” said Joe Pereira, a British occupational therapist whose charity, Cope, supplies prosthetic limbs to victims. “People grow up with bombs in their houses and so when they see them in the forest they don’t appreciate the danger.” [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

Cluster Bombs and the Vietnam War

Cluster bomblets are packed by the hundreds into artillery shells, bombs or missiles, which scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode immediately and can lie dormant for years until they are disturbed, often by children attracted by their small size and bright colors. A bomblet can kill or maim someone within 10 to 50 yards (meters). [Source: Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, February 16, 2010]

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, Cluster bombs are “one of the most stubborn, long-lasting and cruelly undiscriminating weapons of modern war.” They were scattered by American B52 bombers in the so-called “Secret War” intended to drive back communist guerrillas and block supply lines for US enemies in Vietnam. They are small, innocuous looking, and often colourful – almost as if designed to attract the attention of playful children. And like the bomblet that killed Bounma, they can lie in the ground for a generation until the chance touch of a spade or a curious hand triggers them into deadly life. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

“Cluster bombs consist of an outer casing that splits open to release as many as 700 individual “bomblets” designed to explode on impact, spreading blast and deadly fragments over soldiers and armoured vehicles in a 30 metre radius. But invariably, between 10 per cent and 40 per cent of the bomblets fail to detonate. The first cluster bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe on Grimsby in 1943, and since then they have been used in more than a dozen conflicts. /=\

The group Handicap International says 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims are civilians, and nearly a third are children.

The Cluster Munition Coalition represents 200 activist groups against cluster bombs.

Cluster Bombs and Laos

No nation in the world has suffered more from cluster bombs than Laos, where up to a quarter of the country's 10,000 villages are still plagued by the explosives. Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, “Between 1964 and 1973, when the Secret War was abandoned, US aircraft flew 580,000 missions and dropped two million tonnes of bombs on Laos. These included 277 million cluster bomblets. Assuming a failure rate of 30 per cent, 84 million of these are still lying in the ground. The best figure for casualties caused by cluster bombs is 4,847 since the end of the war, almost half of them children. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

AFP reported: Cluster bombs and other munitions rained down on more than 87,000 square kilometres (33,590 square miles) of Laos, but nearly a third failed to explode as they fell on boggy rice paddies and forests. The proportion of children killed by cluster bombs has risen to 50 percent over the last decade, as curiosity and the hope of making a few dollars from scrap metal make them more vulnerable, according to unexploded bombs Lao, the government agency dealing with unexploded ordnance. [Source: AFP, November 20, 2008]

Children come across the bombs lying in playing fields and rice paddies. "They are about the size of a D-cell battery and have a ribbon hanging from them that just makes a kid want to go and pick it up and twirl it around with their fingers to which will arm it and function it very quickly," Mark Hiznay, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

Cluster Bomb Casualties in Laos

While digging a fish pond a 14-year-old boy named Thao Mee hit a cluster bomb with his hoe. "The land was full of stones and rocks," he told Mathew Pennington of Associated Press, "but I realized I hit something when I heard an 'ick, ick, ick sound. That's the last thing I remember." His face was charred, he was unconscious for three days and lost his left arm. Even though the bomb exploded in his face, he miraculously didn't lose his vision.

Margaret Brennan of CBS News, “It was a painful sixteenth birthday for Phongsavath Souliyalat. It was the day he lost both arms and his eyesight when a U.S. cluster bomblet exploded in his hands. While walking to school, a friend handed him the unexploded bomb without realizing that it would nearly kill Souliyalat. [Source: Margaret Brennan, CBS News, July 11, 2012]

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, “Viengkeo Kavongsone had lived in fear of such a catastrophe all his life – in the jungle, in the paddy fields, on the mountain – but never in his own back yard. It was late afternoon when it happened, and his wife, Van, and three young children were at home in their village in the province of Xieng Khouang in northern Laos. They were clearing the ditch that drains rainwater from their little wooden house. The tin shovel scraped upon something hard and metallic – and that was the last thing they recalled. The explosion peppered shrapnel into the legs of Van and her six-year-old daughter, Phetsida. The oldest boy, Soulideth, took the blast in the face and may lose his sight. Closest to the explosion was the youngest boy, Bounma. “He was the littlest,” his father said as he stood by the hospital beds of his wife and surviving children, “and he was right next to it.” The blast threw the child six metres (20ft) out of the ditch, and he died immediately – the latest victim of a spectral war that came to an end a generation before he was born. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

“The South-East Asian nation of Laos is not a country in conflict - in fact few places in the world are so torpid and peaceful. The weapon that killed Bounma was a tennis ball-sized pod of ball bearings that fell to earth when Lyndon Johnson was US President and the Beatles were at the height of their powers. “I remember when the bombs fell,” said 54-year-old Mr Viengkeo, who was a teenager at the time. “I remember seeing them falling. I taught the children to be careful: ‘If you see something and you don’t know what it is, leave it and tell an adult’. But I had no idea there was a bomb there all the time, under my home.” /=\

Nowhere Safe to Play for Children in Cluster-bombed Laos

AFP reported from Xieng Khouang in northeast Laos: “Laotian children chase each other through their school playing field, unaware of the 248 unexploded bombs buried a few steps away — the lethal legacy of a war that ended three decades ago. Staff and the 132 pupils at Tontai school in northeastern Xieng Khouang province, one of the worst hit areas, have lived with the daily fear of such incidents for years. Xiang Khouang, in the country's northeast, is an eight-hour drive over mountainous roads from the capital Vientiane, and was the second most bombed province in Laos during the war, with an estimated 63,000 munitions deployed. [Source: AFP, November 20, 2008]

“In Tontai village, where just 220 people live, four explosions have already killed one person and injured five. "I was surprised they built the school here," said Sithat Sitavang Sent, a mine clearer sent to rid the area of ordnance. "But the village has no choice, they have to, even though they know there are unexploded bombs around." A mine clearance team has cleared 4,000 square metres (43,055 square feet) of land in Tontai and uncovered 3,900 cluster bomblets buried underground, including 248 in the field adjoining the school.

Educating Children About Cluster Bombs in Laos

AFP reported: In an attempt to stop the rising numbers of children being injured or killed, teachers are now sent to schools in a joint enterprise between the Laos government and humanitarian organisations. They visit and lecture elementary school students on the dangers of cluster munitions, before getting them to act out plays, song and dance, and puppet shows for each other. [Source: AFP, November 20, 2008]

For some, at least, it is working. "If I see unexploded bombs (unexploded ordnance) I will inform the village chief and ask him to tell unexploded bombs Lao to come and destroy it," said eight-year-old Sonexny at a school in Xiang Khouang. His teacher, Monesy Bounmaksidavong, said the lessons are aimed at ears beyond the classroom. "I can see their behaviour has changed," said Monesy. "They promise they will explain to their parents and their friends who weren't at the meeting about the danger of unexploded bombs."

International Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs

An international treaty on cluster bombs was signed in Oslo, Norway on December 3, 2008. The treaty bans the use, stockpiling and trade of cluster munitions and provides for the clearance of contaminated land within ten years. The process of drafting the convention was launched when 46 states agreed in February 2007 to conclude a legally binding international treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. Negotiations involved pro-ban governments and organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. The convention was adopted in Dublin, Ireland by 107 states on May 30, 2008.[Source: Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, February 16, 2010]

In December 2008, about a hundred countries met in to negotiate the last details of a draft treaty on cluster bombs in Dublin. The biggest military powers, including the US, Russia, China, Pakistan and India, did not take part. Controversies included on the amount of time countries would be given to stop using cluster bombs, and the degree of military co-operation between states that signed a treaty and those that did not. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times (London), May 4, 2008 /=]

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, Many governments, including the victorious communists who still govern Laos, are pressing for a complete ban. The world’s biggest military powers, including Russia, China and the US, are refusing to take part in the negotiations. And then there are those governments, including Britain, that want to retain the right to use certain kinds of cluster bomb. “We refer to cluster bombs as the weapon that never stops killing,” said Peter Herby, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is lobbying for an unconditional ban. “It’s bad enough when civilians get caught up and injured in conflict. But for us it’s repugnant when killing goes on for years and decades simply because of the wrong choice of weapon. In the end politicians have to decide that some weapons are beyond the pale.” The momentum for the present treaty negotiations gathered after 2006 when the Israeli army fired four million bomblets on to southern Lebanon, where they continue to cause civilian casualties. /=\

Britain wanted the term “cluster bomb” to be defined as a device with ten or more “bomblets” – which would allow it to continue using the M73 bomb, with only nine Britain also argues for exemption of the M85 because of its “self-deactivation device”. Such “smart cluster bombs” are said to have a failure rate of 1 per cent, but when used by Israel in Lebanon in 2006, up to 10 per cent failed to explode or deactivate. /=\

United Nations Ratifies Ban On Cluster Bombs: US Still Has Not Signed Agreement

In February 2010, Edith M. Lederer of Associated Press wrote: “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the international convention banning cluster bombs has received the 30 ratifications required and will enter into force on August 1, 2010. The convention prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, sets strict deadlines for the destruction of stockpiles and clearance of contaminated land, and obliges states to support survivors and affected communities. Only those countries that have ratified the convention will be bound by its provisions. [Source: Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, February 16, 2010 -]

“The U.N. chief said the convention's impending entry into force just two years after its adoption demonstrates "the world's collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons" which are "unreliable and inaccurate" and kill and maim civilians long after conflicts end, the statement said. Ban urged all countries to sign and ratify the convention. But some of the world's top military powers – including the U.S., Russia and China – and big users like Israel, India and Pakistan, have refused to support the convention, arguing that cluster bombs have legitimate military uses. -

“Faced with growing international pressure, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in July 2008 that the United States would reduce its inventory of cluster bombs that don't meet new safety requirements and would require that after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets must detonate. -

“The London-based Cluster Munition Coalition said Burkina Faso and Moldova ratified the convention on Tuesday, bringing the total number of ratifications to the required 30. The 28 other countries that have ratified the convention are Norway, Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Albania, Croatia, Laos, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Burundi, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Niger, San Marino and Uruguay. -

Steve Goose, the coalition's co-chair and director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, said reaching the 30 ratifications so rapidly "reflects the strong global commitment to get rid of these weapons urgently." "Cluster munitions are already stigmatized to the point that no nation should ever use them again, even those who have not yet joined the convention," he said in a statement. -

Cluster Bomb Convention and Vientiane Declaration of 2010

In November 2010, Kyodo reported: “The first formal meeting of states that have ratified an international treaty banning cluster munitions was brought to a close with the adoption of political declaration and an action plan. The four-day First Meeting of State Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions laid the foundation for future engagement on the convention by bringing together for the first time ratifying countries, U.N. agencies, international organizations, civil society, and cluster bomb survivors. [Source: Kyodo, November 12, 2010 ||||]

“The convention bans the use, production, and trade in cluster munitions, and obliges states to compensate victims. It is binding only on countries that have signed and ratified it. The convention entered into force on August 1, 2010. To date, 108 governments have signed the convention, of which 46 have ratified. However, some of the biggest stockpilers — including the United States, Russia, China and Israel — are not among the signatories. Neither the United States nor Russia were represented at the meeting. How to involve military superpowers in order to help the treaty bear fruit is a challenge for the future. ||||

“The Vientiane Declaration said cluster munitions kill indiscriminately long after conflicts and constitute a serious threat to peace, human security and development. In order to realize a world free of cluster munitions, it calls for the clearance of cluster munitions remnants, destruction of stockpiles cluster munitions, and provision of risk reduction education. ||||

“The Vientiane Action Plan consists of over 60 concrete steps for ratifying countries to take in order to implement their legal obligations under the convention. The steps include supporting cluster munitions programs by providing funding to facilitate long-term planning to least-developed nations, and putting in place a support system for cluster munition victims. Thomas Nash, coordinator of the nongovernmental Cluster Munition Coalition, said many results were achieved at the meeting. ''By cooperating with various countries, it's possible to continue applying pressure on military superpowers like the U.S. and Russia,'' he said. ||||

Land Mines in Laos

Mine casualties in 2003: 1) Iraq, 2189; 2) Afghanistan, 847; 3) Cambodia, 772; 4) Columbia, 668; 5) Angola, 226; 6) Chechnya, 218; 7) Burundi, 174; 8) Democratic Republic of Congo, 152; 9) Laos, 118; and 10) Sri Lanka, 99.

Mines: See Vietnam, Cambodia.

Counties with unknown number of mines (1996): Russia, Mongolia, Belarus, Moldova, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Oman, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos, South Korea, Mexico, Cuba, Columbia, Peru, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Sierre Leone.

U.S. Help for Clearing Unexploded Bombs from Laos

In the Guardian article "The Casualties of Cluster Bombs Must Not Be Forgotten" Melody Kemp implies that the United States has done little to assist in clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos – and nothing to aid Lao victims of unexploded bombs accidents. In response to this US chargé d'affaires in Vientiane Peter Haymond wrote: “One of the US government's top priorities in Laos has been – and is – the removal of unexploded ordnance. The United States remains Laos's largest donor for unexploded bombs clearance and victim assistance. To date, the United States has provided Laos with more than $51 million in assistance to the Lao people for unexploded bombs clearance, support for victims and education. The United States began providing assistance to unexploded bombs victims in Laos in 1993, through the Leahy War Victims Fund (managed by the US Agency for International Development). In fact, USAID will provide more than $1.7 million to Cope, the organisation mentioned in Kemp's article, to fund a joint US-Lao comprehensive orthotics programme. [Source: Peter Haymond, The Guardian, September 30, 2010 ^^]

In fiscal year 2010, “the US state department will spend more than $5 million in Laos on a range of unexploded bombs-related activities, including more than $3.5 million to fund the mine and unexploded bombs clearance operations both of the Lao government's own unexploded bombs clearance agency and of international clearance organisations operating in Laos. Lao national authorities coordinate these operations, which every year destroy many thousands of items of unexploded ordnance, returning land to safe and productive use. ^^

“The state department also provides financial assistance to support risk education, mostly aimed at school age children, in programmes developed by the Lao government and international NGOs, and victims' assistance projects conducted by international NGOs with Lao medical centres. Brett Dakin may not be aware of it, but our department of agriculture has separately contributed over $11 million towards unexploded bombs clearance since 2007 through programmes that combine supplementary school food provision with unexploded bombs clearance near those schools. ^^

The U.S. pledged $9.2 million dollars in financial assistance in 2012 to disarm unexploded ordnance, and has provided more than $59 million to remove ordnance since 1995, according to the State Department. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. effort is focused on bringing "the legacy of the Vietnam War era to a safe end." [Source: Margaret Brennan, CBS News, July 11, 2012]

Associated Press reported in 2012: “Cleanup has been excruciatingly slow. The Washington-based Legacies of War says only 1 percent of contaminated lands have been cleared and has called on Washington to provide far greater assistance. The State Department has provided $47 million since 1997. The U.S. spent $9 million in 2012 on cleanup operations for unexploded ordnance in Laos.”

Insurgents in Laos

A small-scale insurgency that has existed since 1975 continues in the early 1990s, although at a much lower level than in previous years. This insurgency has never seriously threatened the regime, but it is troublesome because the insurgents commit sabotage, blow up bridges, and threaten transport and communications. The great majority of insurgents are Hmong, led by ex-soldiers from United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-supported units who fought against Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops in the 1960s. Hmong groups, most of them formerly associated with the RLG, draw recruits and support from Hmong refugee camps and operate from bases in Thailand with the cooperation of local Thai military officers. As relations between Thailand and Laos continued to improve in the 1990s, support for this insurgent activity declined. Resistance spokesmen claim that their principal source of funds for weapons and supplies comes from Laotian expatriate communities overseas, including the 180,000 Laotians in the United States. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Even though the government lacks widespread public support, insurgency is less a measure of discontent than evidence of a serious ethnic problem. The LPDR, like the RLG that preceded it, has been dominated by lowland Lao. The two governments exemplify the traditional Lao disdain for upland peoples, in spite of Pathet Lao rhetoric in favor of ethnic equality. On the one hand, because many Hmong fought on the side of the "American imperialists," government leaders feel additionally suspicious of them. On the other hand, Hmong and other upland minorities who served with the United States-supported forces have been suspicious and uncomfortable under their former enemies. Thus, a core of insurgents, composed largely of ethnic minorities, continues to fight against the authorities. It will be extremely difficult — perhaps impossible — for the government to pacify them, especially without help from Vietnamese military units, if the insurgents enjoy access to sanctuary in Thailand along the easily crossed 1,000 kilometer Mekong River border. *

In the early 1980s, Hmong insurgents claimed that the Lao People's Army (LPA) was using lethal chemical agents against them. The Hmong refugees in Thailand often referred to the chemical agents as "poisons from above;" foreign journalists used the term "yellow rain." The government vehemently denied these charges. The United States Department of State noted in 1992 that "considerable investigative efforts in recent years have revealed no evidence of chemical weapons use" in the post-1983 period. The LPDR again denied these charges. The United States Department of State noted in 1992 that "considerable investigative efforts in recent years have revealed no evidence of chemical weapons use."


Royalist Fighters

In July 2000, 60 royalist fighters, armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers, crossed the border from Thailand and attacked a customs post and briefly raised the royalist flag. They took some hostages and released them and were shot at by government forces as they retreated to Thailand. Five of the fighters were killed and 28 were captured.

The attack was the biggest anti-government offensive in years and was partially funded by Laotians living in the United States. According to Thai sources, the fighters were linked to Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, the heir to the defunct Laotian monarchy.

Terrorism and Bombings in Laos

Laos has been on the list of states that sponsors terrorism.

In 2000, there was a string of 15 or explosions in Vientiane—including ones at a restaurant, a bus station, a marketplace, a hotel and on a bus—as well as in Savannakhet and Paks. In Vientiane, one person was killed in a blast at the airport, six Western tourists were hurt when a grenade was thrown in a restaurant and 15 Laotians were injured by a crude bomb that exploded in a downtown market. A bomb was found at the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane. Another was defused at Vientiane’s domestic airport.

The government denied any bombing took place and said some explosions from left over Vietnam War ordnance may have been ignited by bonfire. When pressed they blamed Hmong insurgents. Many foreign analysts doubted that was the case. The bombs seem to have been set off with no apparent plan and no one claimed responsibility.

All the attacks used either grenades or small homemade bombs. Many think they were connected with business or personal disputes. Some think the attacks were believed to be part of an effort to embarrass the government by showing it was incapable of maintaining order despite devoting a great deal of resources to security.

In November 2004, Reuters reported: “Two small explosions hit a duty-free shop at a checkpoint on the Lao side of the border between Thailand and Laos, but nobody was injured, diplomats and Thai customs officials said. The explosions come shortly after a U.S. warning that anti-government forces in the communist southeast Asian nation might be planning bomb attacks during a regional ASEAN summit in the capital, Vientiane, at the end of the month. In a leaflet faxed to Bangkok reporters from the Thai border province of Nong Khai, a group calling itself the Free Democratic People's Government of Laos claimed responsibility for the blasts. "We would like to warn foreigners attending ASEAN meetings in November in Vientiane that they won't be safe because there will be bombs in other major provinces in Laos to protest against the Lao People's Democratic Republic government," it said. [Source: Reuters, November 9, 2004 ]

“Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalansy denied reports of bombs, saying explosions heard by Thai customs officials across the Mekong river were fireworks set off ahead of a Buddhist festival later this month. "If you said they were bombs, you would have them every day at this time of the year when Lao people light fireworks as part of merit-making rites ahead of our That Luang fair," he said by telephone from Vientiane, adding that one person had received minor injuries. However, one Laos-based diplomat said he understood the blasts were caused by bombs. "As far as we know, there were two small explosions at the bridge near the duty free shops ... last night. There was minimal damage and nobody was killed or injured," he said. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) holds its annual summit in Vientiane on Nov. 29. “

Attacks on Buses in Laos

In April 2003, at least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded after gunmen, believed to be Hmong rebels, attacked a bus full of students near Vangieng on Route 13. Some were killed and injured after bullets from the gunmen hit the bus’s fuel tank, which exploded. No foreigners were killed. The attack was the second on a bus in 2003.

In 2000, gunmen stopped a rural bus, removed its passengers, set it on fire, photographed the blaze and disappeared. In 1995, a French expatriate travel agent and his staff were ambushed and murdered by Hmong insurgents in the mountains just outside the village of Kasi, about halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. For five years after that U.S. Embassy personnel in Vientiane were forbidden to travel to Luang Prabang by road. Security was beefed in the places where attacks occurred. Bus drivers began carrying guns. Today most people regard the road as safe.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress,, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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