ELEVEN YEARS IN THAILAND
Many people accompanied Prince Phetsarath to Thailand, including Prince Khamtan, Prince Khamphay, Prince Bounyavat (who took the palace at Luang Prabang), thao Bua Ket, and about forty royal pages. [They crossed the Mekong River at Luang Prabang and made their way to Uttaradit, Thailand.] When they reached the Lan Xang region, they had to be evasive and avoid the roads because they knew that the French were following them. The French were checking the roads from the air but were unable to see the Prince and his followers, for they followed the Meo opium trails linking the villages along the mountain ridges.
When they reached Uttaradit, Prince Phetsarath met the Thai Minister of Interior, luang Chawengsongkram, who was there on an inspection tour.3 The Prince had no money for the trip to Bangkok, but luang Chaweng vouched for him, and so he was able to borrow 600 baht from the Governor of Uttaradit. The Prince was not properly dressed and had only two changes of mountaineer's clothing. He stayed at Lap Lae [near Uttaradit] and sent Prince Khamtan to fiongkhai to meet those who had come by boat. These escapees, including phanya Muang Saen, a King's counselor, were staying at Chieng Khan in Loei Province in Thailand. Prince Somsanith had slipped away from Vientiane and had brought many clothes to distribute among the escapees. Before going on to Bangkok, the soldiers and royal pages stayed in Phltsanulok province with the Governor, Phrom Sutsukhon. On May 18, 1946, luang Chaweng found a house for the Prince and asked a woman named mom Aphinaphon to be his housekeeper. When times became hard, the Prince had the generous help of this widowed woman, with whom he fell in love because she was so completely dedicated to him even when he was ill. Their house was in Bangkapi in the Phra Khanong District of Bangkok. Around a year later, Prince Souphanouvong came to Bangkok, and it was necessary to rent two more houses from Police Lieutenant Chua Suwannason. Thao Katay Don Sasorith, the present  Deputy Prime Minister, followed Prince Phetsarath to Lap Lae but did not find him there and came on to Bangkok. He brought news of events that had occurred in Vientiane after the Prince's departure. When thao Katay came, they rented another house since they also needed room for thao Kleuang, the present Minister of Information, and his family. There were altogether around fifty people. Mom Aphinaphon played a large part in supporting the Prince's group through a pawnshop in Bangkok. Later they moved to Thung Mahamek on Ngam Du Pli Lane with the families of Prince Souphanouvong, Prince Somsanith, Prince Khamtan, and thao Kleuang. Thao Katay went to live in Ban Chaiya, Hua Lamphong district with the help of luang Chaweng.
To work for his country, Prince Phetsarath arranged for weapons for national liberation. When the war in East Asia was over, there were many bootleg guns available. At first they were cheap, only 90 or 100 baht each, but the Prince had no money. Mom Aphinaphon borrowed 50,000 baht from luang Seriroengrit, with whom the Prince was acquainted. Luang Seri understood that the money was to support the Prince's followers. Though ten years have passed, the Prince has not yet repaid the money and does not know how much the interest will be, but he firmly believes that luang Seri, in his goodness, will demand only the principal. The Prince said that when he returned to Laos he would repay the money, and he intends to honor that promise.
During the same period, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and Indonesia were also thinking of national liberation. The leader of the Burmese national liberation group was named Bunchuai. The Cambodian leader was the Governor of Siem Reap. The Indonesian leader served as an ambassador after independence and was not able to achieve a very high status.
Since the national liberation movements of five countries competed in the purchase of guns, the prices of bootleg weapons increased many-fold. The Prince then arranged a secret meeting of representatives of the five countries, the outcome of which was an agreement on two important points:
Point1. Investigation of places to buy bootleg guns: if any of the countries found weapons sources, they would be the sole buyers and the others would not compete. When their needs were met, the other countries would buy. Countries without money would be helped. For example, the Cambodian national liberation group found a source of weapons but had no money. The Lao group loaned them 5,000 baht. At that time, the Cambodians could not pay, but such help was to be repaid in the future.
Point 2. Because various groups in the five countries were doing different things for national liberation, it had been impossible to cooperate in the beginning and this was why the enemy had the advantage. However, it was clear that for Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, France was the common enemy. In view of this situation, the following three subsidiary agreements were made:
1. Anyone from any of the countries could hide in the area of the other countries, but they had to be under the authority of that country. For example, if Vietnamese entered Laos, they had to be accompanied by Lao.
2. Laos and Cambodia had small populations and were unable to fight large battles, but they would work as guerrilla bands seeking every possible opportunity to weaken the French. They would stay in Cambodia and Laos and not join forces with Vietnam. However, the Vietnamese, with their large population, would take whatever opportunity to use their strength on the battlefield to destroy the French in Vietnam. Whenever the Vietnamese fought a large battle, the Cambodians and Lao would begin guerrilla warfare to harass the French as much as possible.
At the beginning of the national liberation movement, the Prince did not seek the total defeat and removal of the French, but only to make them restore the independence they had stolen. Prince Phetsarath then sent Prince Souvannaphouma to contact Mr. [Edwin F.] Stanton, the American ambassador to Thailand, to request that he mediate with the French for the restoration of Lao independence. There were no results. Later Mr. Stanton was replaced as ambassador by Mr. [William J.] Dono-van, and Prince Souphanouvong was sent to contact him. At first there was some hope from Col. [James H. W.] Thompson, and the Free Thai continued to help. Then Col. Thompson was dismissed and Lt. Col. Law became the military attache. The Lao National liberation group contacted him many times, but the more they talked to him, the dimmer their hopes of securing American mediation grew. The Lao group finally concluded that America was reluctant to impose upon the French and would do nothing to make the French lose face.
Later, Prince Phetsarath appointed Prince Souphanouvong as head of military and foreign affairs. The Lao National Liberation soldiers stayed in Thailand. They were in the areas of Tha Bo District in Nong-khai Province, Chieng Khan District in Loei Province, and in the general area bordering Laos.
On December 1, 1946, phanya Khammao, Prince Somsanith, Prince Souvannaphouma, and the exiled government requested that Prince Phetsarath be Prime Minister. He argued that he could not accept since only four of the ten members of the cabinet had requested his participation, and he asked them to contact those who had not concurred with the plan. Later there was a written invitation signed by all except thao Sing, thao Tham, and phanya Oun Heuan. The Prince then accepted the position as head of the Free Lao Government. By this time, the government had no money, and to take care of their needs they had to borrow and pawn what they could. Prince Khamtan pawned a gold sword to the head of the Metropolitan Police for 20,000 baht, and Prince Phetsarath, through his new wife, mom Aphinaphon, borrowed money for the costs of national liberation from many sources.
The new government included Prince Souphanouvong as Military Com-'-mander, thao Katay [Don Sasorith] as Minister of Information, and Prince Khamtan as Treasurer.
Then there was a coup d'etat in Thailand by which luang Thamrong Nawasawat was deposed from his position as Prime Minister and replaced by Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram [April 1948]. The situation in Laos changed immediately. The French government appointed Prince Boun Oum, who had been amenable to the French since the Japanese occupation, as Prime Minister. The American government and Field Marshal Phibunsong-khran's Thai government recognized Boun Oum's Government as the legal government of Laos. This meant that phanya Khammao's Lao National Liberation Government had lost everything. The Thai government was unable to allow the government in exile to station soldiers in Thailand and ordered the Free Lao Government to return across the Mekong. Prince Phetsarath, to maintain friendly foreign relations, then ordered all the National operation troops to return to the east bank of the Mekong following the Thai Government's policy. The cabinet, however, remained in Thailand.
Later, in October 1949, Prince Soyvannaphouma returned to Indochina along with thao Katay and phanya Khammao. Prince Souvannaphouma's wife, who was French, had contacted the French government and had negotiated their return to Indochina. Although Prince Phetsarath was not informed of this agreement, he did jot punish them. The French agreed to restore the status of all the members of the Lao cabinet who chose to return and gave them 800,000 piasters for the trip. The Prince-Prime Minister felt that it was improper that they had made the agreement on their own without first consulting him. Consequently, he told the cabinet that he was the head of the Free Lao Government, and for those under his authority to make agreements without telling him was a breach of custom, especially since the soldiers had refused to surrender and were standing firm. Thao Khammeun, thao Tulan, thao Singkhapo, thao Sithon Ratchakhun, and thao Seum, for example, charged that the government had betrayed them. The Free Lao Government then dissolved itself, leaving the Prince in the position of being effectively dismissed as Prime Minister, since he no longer had a government. Thus Prince Phetsarath, the Iron Man of Laos, had been dismissed for a second time.
Later, when the Prince had been dismissed by his government, the French government of Laos began increasing its strength with great quantities of American money, weapons, and war materiel. The French in Indochina were given enough to force the Lion of the Sip Song Chu Thai [Prince Souphanouvong] into submission. However his fighter's blood of the family of Kings would not allow the Lion of the Sip Song Chu Thai to surrender. Since the French had outside help in their continued oppression of the Lao, the Lion Prince cast his angry glance sideways to find friends to help him fight. When America refused to mediate, the Lion sprang to shake hands with the Viet Minh, and joined them in fighting without making any time-consuming agreement. Prince Phetsarath was not informed about this, and at first he was angry. However, out of love for his younger brother, who was arrogant in royal honor and refused to be anyone's slave, he kept his feelings to himself.
The Free military side, which had no government, invited the prince to join them, but he came to the conclusion that he could join neither side. The eldest of his younger brothers [Souvannaphouma] was with the French, but the younger of his siblings [Souphanouvong] was fighting with the Viet Minh. The Prince foresaw that neither side would gain an absolute victory and that both sides were puppets without effective power. In the end, both Princes would have to turn to him as chief mediator. "For the time being, I will let you fight, my dear brothers, for your opinions are different; but in the end you will both have to come to me."
From that time on, the Prince took the middle road. He refused to join either side, and he remained in the Thai capital. The French continued in their attempt to persuade the Prince to return to Indo-china, but he refused. The French Foreign Minister invited him to Paris as a guest, but he saw clearly that if he went, he would fall forever into the status of a guest and would never return to Asia.
A former High Commissioner of Indochina sent his envoy to consult with the Prince. M. Tucatier [?] and many other Frenchmen came and invited him to return to Indochina, but all were unsuccessful. The Prince knew well that the people were dissatisfied with both sides. They did not like Prince Souvannaphouraa because he was a Francophile, and they did not like Prince Souphanouvong because his wife was Vietnamese. Even though she was high-class Vietnamese, the daughter of a District Chief, they tended not to like Vietnamese. Prince Phetsarath resolutely formulated his plan; he would return only when the people and representatives of all sides came to invite him. The Prince maintained his resolution for ten years, and it all came true just as he had predicted.
The fact that the Prince did not return to Laos was not because he worried about his new wife. It was not necessary to worry, for when he returned he would take her with him. However firmly he believed in gratitude toward his country, the Prince needed a wife. Mom Aphinaphon was of Thai-Lao blood, the daughter of a man of the Thai lineage of the Honorable chaophraya Surasak." On her mother's side she was descended from the pure bloodlines of Luang Prabang which were intimately joined with the Prince's family. His wife's goodness was manifested in their eleven years in Thailand, from fashioning the Prince's clothes out of sheets in times of hardship to borrowing money to support themselves. She helped him in every way, from serving the government by finding money for national liberation to representing the Prince in political contacts and various other affairs both within and outside Thailand. She met King Sihanouk of Cambodia and went to Rangoon to contact U Nu, the Prime Minister of Burma. She represented the Prince in cooperation for national liberation with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, as though she were his Secretary and Foreign Minister. For these reasons, the Prince openly stated that when he returned to Laos, he would take his new wife along with his original wife, who was the older sister of King Sisavangvong.
Concerning the Gold Buddha Image
While the Prince was working for national liberation under the phanya Khammao government, the issue of the gold Buddha image arose. This was the six-kilogram gold image that the Prince had retrieved when the French High Commissioner was seized by the Japanese. The Prince had brought the image to Thailand with him because he feared it would be lost if it were left behind. When he reached Thailand, the Prince gave the image to phanya Khammao, the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile.
Later, phanya Khammao's government gave the Buddha image to a Western company in Bangkok as security for a 200,000 baht loan. Phanya Khammao was personally responsible for the loan. However, his government spent all but 20,000 baht of the money while in Bangkok. Prince Souvannaphouma wanted to spend the rest, but phanya Khammao stopped him; however, he later learned that it had all been spent anyway. When the money was gone, phanya Khammao invited the Prince to accept the position of Prime Minister to find more money for national liberation.
The Prince had acquired this ancient Buddha image forty years earlier, while he was still in power in Laos. In excavating for ancient artifacts in various wats, the Prince told the monks to take turns watching, and when artifacts were turned up, to make a list of these religious treasures. Formerly, the French had taken anything they had excavated back to France. Consequently, this Buddha image remained a national treasure. It was necessary for the Prince to bring the image with him to Thailand, for there was no bank in Indochina that would accept responsibility for keeping it. He had to carry it with him while fleeing the Japanese from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Fortunately, no one knew he had it, and so he was able to take it out of danger. The Prince worried a great deal about using the image as security for the loan, because no one could redeem it. He considered it fortunate that this national treasure was still safe, even though it was in the hands of a large creditor as a result of the actions of Prime Minister phanya Khammao's government. When the phanya Khammao government gave the Prince the position of Prime Minister, he also assumed responsibility for this loan. The Prince was strict with the members of his cabinet. He did not allow them to spend money on extravagant pleasures as they had been doing and made them expend their sweat and blood on the serious work of national liberation. Consequently, the rumor that Prince Phetsarath still had the treasure had no foundation and was just a cruel effort to smear the Prince.
This site was last updated 07/30/05