The South Vietnamese invasion of Laos may well be dubbed 'the war of the Ho Chi Minh trail'.
The South Vietnamese invasion of Laos may well be dubbed 'the war of the Ho Chi Minh trail'. The Americans and the South Vietnamese seek to break this vital Communist supply line to the war in Vietnam, while the pro-Communist pathet Lao in Laos seek to protect it.
This Visnews feature sets the new crisis in Laos in the context of its troubled development since the end of the Second World War, and includes film of two Geneva Conferences which considered its future. Giving it peace and stable Government, and preventing the drift to civil war has never been wholly achieved. Now the internal divisions and the Ho Chi Minh Trail look likely to draw Laos into the wider conflict in Cambodia and Vietnam.
SYNOPSIS: U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers. Only last year he looked on Laos, invaded on February 8th by South Vietnamese Forces, as a neutralist huffer state: Much of the pro-Communist war-effort in Laos is directed towards protecting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the vital supply line through a mountainous and forest region to the war-effort in Vietnam. To protect the Ho Chi Minh Trail the pro-Communist Forces spread the Laos war last year to the south for the first time, taking the southern provincial capitals Attopeu and Saravane. The Ho Trail has been bombed by the Americans for a decade. It is the major objective of the present South Vietnamese offensive.
It was partly to protect the Ho Chi Minh Trail that the pro-Communist or Pathet Lao forces fought so bitterly to control the central strategic Plain of Jars. They had achieved control from Government forces by 1964, were dislodged in the summer of 1969, but re-took the Plain in January 1970. This helps them to remain a threat to the Vientiane Government.
The Pathet-Lao leader and founder is Prince Souphannouvong, half-brother to the present neutralist Prime Minister Souvannah Phouma. Souphannouvong founded the pro-Communist Pathet Lao in the 1950's & with the help of the Viet Minh in neighbouring Vietnam, began armed attacks against the Laotian Royal Government at the end of 1952. The Pathet Lao are now strong in the south as well as the north and east.
The end of French colonial power in Indo-China came in 1954 with the dramatic collapse of the French fortress of Dien Bien Phu. The French had fought their way back to Indo-China - a colony they'd ruled for fifty years - in 1945. But the Viet Minh ended their bid for colonial power at Dien Bien Phu, snatching a victory before the 1954 Geneva Conference.
The nine-nation conference met in 1945, and its plan for Laos was that it should remain a United Neutralist State. But this scheme was frustrated by extremes of right and left. Peace was achieved for two years under Prince Souvannah Phouma's neutralist Government in 1957, but this was succeeded by a succession of right-wing and neutralist Governments fighting a civil war with the Pathet Lao.
The present political shape of the country dates from 1962, when all the parties came to Geneva once again, with the U.K. and Soviet Union as Conference co-chairmen, to restore peace and again try to make Laos a neutral buffer state under Prince Souvannah Phouma. The neutralist-led Coalition included Pathet Lao representatives, but they left the Government after only nine months. By 1963 civil war was steadily increasing, with the North Vietnamese aiding the Pathet Lao.
Prince Souvannah Phouma has remained Premier ever since, despite a right-wing coup in 1964 which enabled right-wingers to gain power in Government at the expense of the neutralists. Here he is addressing the National Assembly in Vientiane, hotly attacking North Vietnamese infiltration. But despite his survival in a chaotic situation the South Vietnamese invasion may have unpredictable consequences for Prince Souvannah Phouma and his coalition "Government of National Union"; it could provoke the North Vietnamese to strike against Luang Prabang, seat of the Laotian King Savang Vatthana.