In the late 1880’s France conquered much of South-East Asia and subsequently held control of Laos for half a century. As with Vietnam, the Japanese then occupied the area during World War 2. However, in 1946 the French marched on Laos in order to regain occupation. By the time full independence was granted in October 1953, Laos was a divided country. Large areas were under control of the RLG (Royal Lao Government), and the rest controlled by the resistance group Pathet Lao.
By 1962 Laos had been drawn into the Vietnam War. Even though it was internationally declared a neutral state, its close proximity to Vietnam meant the country was at war. It is not well-known that between 1964 and 1973 America dropped over two million tons of bombs on Laos, the equivalent of one plane load of bombs every 8 minutes for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country in the history of warfare.
A ceasefire was declared in 1973 and in 1975 Pathet Lao forces took control of Laos and imposed a communist one-party state, allied with China. In 1986 a relaxation of laws meant less government intrusion in people’s lives, and the beginnings of a market economy. However, Laos remains a country reliant upon foreign aid and with a primitive infrastructure. It has no railways, an undeveloped road system, limited telecommunications and electricity is only available in urbanised areas. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice, accounts for about 80% of total employment.