The first exchange of prisoners of war, held by the pro-communist Pathet Lao and the Vientians faction, marked another step in the political reconciliation of Laos.
The first exchange of prisoners of war, held by the pro-communist Pathet Lao and the Vientians faction, marked another step in the political reconciliation of Laos. But the effect of the exchange on the stability of the present coalition government is still uncertain.
Three issues threaten to disrupt the five-month-old coalition government -- the continued presence of North Vietnamese forces in Laos, the health of Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, and the country's shaky economy.
Under the terms of the peace agreement signed last yoar, ail foreign troops were to have been pulled out of Laos by July 4th. All US and Thai forces have since been withdrawn.
But according to Laotian Defence Pinister, Sisouk Machampassa, a member of the vientians side, there were still some 14,500 North Vietnamese troops stationed in Laos, and another 24,000 to 29,000 guarding the Ho Shi ???inh train, which runs through Laos on its way from North to South Vietnam.
Uncertainty surrounds the health of the Prime Minister, Souvanna Phouma, one of the ??? architecto of the present coalition government.
The 73-year-old Prince suffered a heart attack last month, and is presently conv??? in France. His absence and two dissolution of the 60-member ??? - Assembly because of its right wing make-up has created an ??? in the coalition.
The role of Prime Minister is currently performs by Thoumi Vongvichit, a member of the ???thot Lao, headed by Souvanns thouma's half brother, Sou??? anouvng.
After more than 15 years of civil war, the saotian economy has been badly hit by inflation, a week currency, and recently. a sories of crippling strikes that have disrupted the country's public transportation system, hospitals and the police forces.
The civil war has also turned Laos into the worst-affected country in Indochine in terms of refugees. About one third of the country's 3 million population have been displaced, and if it was not for the United Nations did ??? of US$12 million (to be shared by Vietnam and Laos). ??? ??? would not be able to ??? the refugees.