The Lao People's Democratic Republic was founded as a socialist, multiethnic nation in 1975 at the conclusion of the second Indochina war. With a population of just over four million, it is home to nearly forty different ethnic groups.' Many leaders of the communist resistance were from ethnic minorities, and the avowed intent of the new government was to create a nation in which historic ethnic differences and prejudices would be erased. When this ideal confronted the practical realities of creating a nation-state, where no unified government had existed before, and of operating a government with virtually no resources, it was perhaps inevitable that the pluri-ethnic ideal would take second place to the immediate needs of administrative consolidation and economic growth. After 15 years of peace, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in the world, although political and economic changes have facilitated more rapid economic growth during the last four years. The Laotian2 development process is significantly affected by ethnic issues, which in some ways are sharpened by the same policy changes that facilitate growth. In this article, we will first outline the historical, cultural, and developmental context that shapes present-day ethnic relations in Laos, and then describe three examples of development practice illustrating the interconnection of development and ethnic issues. The Laotian government presently classifies all indigenous ethnic groups into three general categories, named after traditional residence patterns

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