Two years after the signing of the ceasefire agreement ending more than twenty years of civil war in the landlocked south-east Asian kingdom of Laos, the delicate balance of power within the country appears to have made a definite and final move towards the Left.
Two years after the signing of the ceasefire agreement ending more than twenty years of civil war in the landlocked south-east Asian kingdom of Laos, the delicate balance of power within the country appears to have made a definite and final move towards the Left. Following the resignation of four prominent rightist members of the coalition government last weekend, the pro-Communist Pathet Lao -- under the leadership of Prince Souphannouvong -- now exercise effective control of the country.
The crumbling of the rightist faction in the government of Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma has precipitated the "defection" of former leading military supporters who have since pledged allegiance to the aims and ideas of the Pathet Lao. In the country's administrative capital, Vientiane --and in other military centres-- officer cadets have staged protests against what they described as reactionary elements within the military structure.
The final stages of the Pathet Lao's rise to power have been completed in an atmosphere thick with charges of warmongering, treason and general uneasiness following the fall of both neighbouring Cambodia and South Vietnam to pro-Communist forces.
Anti-American demonstrations have taken place in the royal capital, Luang Prabang, and other major towns. Many thousands of foreigners and anxious Laotians have already fled the country, either by ship, air or simply by taking the short ferry-journey across the Mekong River to Thailand, and they hope, safety.
Prince Souvanna Phouma has appealed for calm and for a complete cessation of the military activity that has carried on despite the official ceasefire. Acting Defence Minister, Brigadier-General Kham Ouan Boupha has issued broadcast warning to opponents of the now leftist-dominated government against unauthorised troop or equipment movements. A number of leading rightists are among those who have already fled the country.
The rise of the Pathet Lao to effective power marks what might be the final and to Leos' civil war. The struggle dates back from the different approaches taken by Prince Souvanna Phouma and his younger half-brother Prince Souphanouvong to Laos's development following the end of French rule in Indo-China. Prince Souphanouvong formed the pro-Communist Pathet Lao in opposition to the neutralist policies of his half-brother, and -- with the help of Viet Minh forces -- began armed attacks against the Royal Laotian Government by the end of 1952. By 1973, twenty-one years later, they were estimated to be in control of two-thirds of the country while the neutralists controlled more than half of the country's meagre 3 million population.
It was only after 21 years and numerous military coups that a formal ceasefire was signed. The peace has been fragile, with many reported incidents, but the coalition government has maintained a programme of "National Reconciliation"...including the exchange of prisoners of war and the return of refugees to their homes.
The events of the past few weeks elsewhere in southeast Asia have raised fears that Laos would, in fact, become the next "domino" state to fall. The political developments in Vientiane appear to have given the pro-Communists power. Yet the neutralists still play a significant role in government. Indeed, the government is still headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma...advised--as he has been since the coalition was formed by the work of the Political Council dominated by Prince Souphannoubong Laos remains a monarch...although a monarchy where the King, Savong Vatthana, plays no part other than a ceremonial figurehead.
The Pathet Lao majority in government is now more or less an assured permanent feature. There is little evidence, at the moment, to suggest that an effective rightwing counter movement will take place. The political coup appears to have been bloodless. perhaps it is now possible that the conflict bedeviling Laotian development-since the end of the Second World War will now cease completely and that the state of the country described as the poorest and most backward in southeast Asia will now begin to improve.