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  Chapter 2: The Japanese seize Laos

07/30/05

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ວັງຫລວງແລະວັງຫນ້າ
ເຈົ້າມະຫາຊີວິດສີສວ່າງວົງ: ເພິ່ນຢືນຢູ່ຈຸດໃດແທ້?
ເຈົ້າເພັຊຣາດ: ຣັຖບຸຣຸດຂອງຊາດລາວ
ເຈົ້າເພັຊຣາດ: ພາກວິເຄາະວິຈານ
Iron Man of Laos
Chapter1: Biography of Prince Phetsarath
Chapter 2: The Japanese seize Laos
Chapter 3: Dismissal from Viceroy
Chapter 4: Eleven years in Thailand
Chapter 9: Phetsarath is invited to return
Chapter 10: A critique of Phetsarath's neutrality
ເຈົ້າບຸນອຸ້ມ ນະຈໍາປາສັກ
ເຈົ້າມະຫາຊີວິດສີສວ່າງວັທນາ
The politics of ritual & remembrance
ເຈົ້າສຸວັນນະພູມມາ: ຄວາມເປັນກາງຢູ່ໃສ?
ເຈົ້າສຸວັນນະພູມມາ ຕອນທີ໒
ເຈົ້າຊີວິດ
ເຈົ້າເພັຊຣາດ
ເຈົ້າສຸວັນນະພູມມາ
ເຈົ້າສຸພານຸວົງ
ເຈົ້າຈອມທັງຫລາຍ
Lao history ແລະເພງຊາດລາວ
ອະຣັມພະບົດແລະຄວາມເປັນມາຂອງເມືອງລາວ
ເຈົ້າສຸພານຸວົງ: ເຈົ້າຊາຍແດງ
Khun Borom Stories

 

CHAPTER 2 THE JAPANESE SEIZE LAOS

 

Let me briefly relate the events of March 10, 1945, the day the Japanese seized Laos.  No one in Vientiane knew that the army of the Rising Sun had reached the outskirts of the city.  French and Lao in­telligence officers were unaware that anything was happening.  I don't know how they conducted their investigations, but there were no reports of any incidents.  Mo one reported anything, and anyone who wanted to know what was happening had to investigate for himself.  Even a visit­ing French commander on a routine inspection trip was arranging for a party and had already prepared decorations for the soldiers.  At dawn, the soldiers went to target practice and met the Japanese army, which had already captured the target range.  The Prince had received an in­vitation to the party that was being prepared.  At seven o'clock in the morning, while waiting for his escort, the Prince heard the sound of guns from the target range. The sound did not seem to be the rhythmi­cal shooting of target practice, and he became suspicious.  Just then a pale-faced Prince Souvannaphouma came running in and reported that Saigon radio had announced that Saigon had fallen.  The announcer's voice was that of a crying woman, and the announcement was that French .soldiers should cease fighting.  They then realized that the sound of guns from the target range was real fighting. Next some alarmed Viet­namese soldiers came running in to report that French officers had gone to review target practice, had met with Japanese soldiers waiting on the target range, and fighting had ensued.

 

The French High Commissioner then called a meeting at which the heads of the government divisions tried to persuade the Prince to re­main in Vientiane as a friend, but the Prince told them it was neces­sary for him to go to Luang Prabang as quickly as possible.  In this situation, the King must not be abandoned; the Prince must be with him. The High Commissioner asked how he could get to Luang Prabang, since the Japanese controlled the roads. The Prince answered that he knew the roads better than the Japanese and there were still many ways to avoid them. He asked if he could borrow the High Commissioner's car for the trip, but the High Commissioner replied that he needed the car himself to receive the Japanese.  The Prince countered that when the Japanese captured the city, they would capture the car also, and asked to take it before that happened. The High Commissioner then agreed that he could borrow the car, but asked him to return it as soon as he was finished with it as he felt he was about to be captured and was worried about the car. Moreover, the High Commissioner sent a servant to get his formal uniform to prepare for a reception at his house--which was extremely humorous.

 

Although the High Commissioner invited twenty-four people to dinner, only four came: the Prince, the High Commissioner, his secre­tary, and his wife.  Perhaps the others went underground either to fight or to flee. While they were eating, the High Commissioner asked the Prince what he would do if the Japanese came. The Prince answered that since there were twenty extra places, he would invite them to eat since they probably were very hungry and would not object.

 

The Prince went by the Commissioner's car until he was seventeen miles from Muang Kasy.  Then, because he was afraid the car would be attacked, he got out and went on foot with two royal pages, ten sol­diers, and two horses.  When he reached Muang Kasy, the Prince called a meeting of all the Lao civil servants there-  He said, in summary, that the French and Japanese were fighting; that this did not concern the Lao, and that they should work as/usual and wait for further orders. Then he went on to Kilometer 95-97 where he met some French soldiers guarding the bridge.  They asked about the Japanese, and when the Prince had crossed, they blew up the bridge.  He then went on to Kilom­eter 157, to Vang Vieng.  There he met the French general who had come far the inspection.  He was hiding there with several French families, altogether around sixty or seventy people.  He reached Vang Vieng around 7:00 P.M. and called a meeting of the Lao civil servants at Ban Thao Lai.  He gave them the same message as at Muang Kasy, and then' continued on toward Luang Prabang.  Rather than entering the city, he stayed outside at the Sieng Keo Palace. The people of the capital had evacuated the city, though the Japanese had not yet taken it. The Prince sent his younger brother to tell Crown Prince Savang Vatthana that the Viceroy-Prime Minister had returned, and that he should call a meeting of the Cabinet to inform them of events in Vientiane.  He also explained that he had done this in each city he had passed, and that he understood that Xieng Khouang had already fallen to the Japa­nese.

 

De Gaulle's political party, which was the military party, had taken over the civilian powers of the High Commissioner, who had fol­lowed the Vichy government of Petain.  However, when the soldiers of the Rising Sun came, the French method of defense was to retreat and run.  They retreated so fast that the Japanese could not catch them, and the Japanese took over with little resistance.  During the occupa­tion, it was demonstrated that in a country ruled by a king, people will respect the King and will not behave arrogantly as they do in second class powers that do not have kings. The Japanese soldiers did not set foot in the palace, and though a few clumsily entered the pal­ace gates, they were quickly chased out by their military officers. My fellow Thai: both during and after the war in East Asia we could see which foreign power treated our royalty with the greatest respect.

 

During their occupation of Luang Prabang, the Japanese searched out and inspected the political documents of Laos.  The Prince saw a document which was the most important of his life.  It was an accusa­tion against him by the French, sent from the High Commissioner of Indochina to the High Commissioner of Laos, and read as follows:

 

"Prince Phetsarath will seek independence. Be careful of this Prince when the war is over, because he will join with Thailand to seek independence."

 

One hardly needs to explain how false this is. All of the Thai peoples want independence for Laos.  Prince Phetsarath does not lead Laos by himself, for all the Thai give their cooperation in every way. Crazy people will not make Laos a part of Thailand. My Lao brothers:

 

please don't be distrustful!  No one thinks like that.  Thai-Lao cul­ture from ancient times shows that by blood and marriage we are one family that has become separated.  We Lao must carry our own responsi­bilities.  Thailand has had its own share of troubles and does not need to annex Laos.  Only dollar-seeking opportunists would think along this line.  Such a plan would also be in violation of the United Nations Charter.  Every Thai still remembers that the Lao people accepted the role of scapegoat and allowed the French to rule and exploit them for two hundred years.  The memory of the two kings of the Ayuthia Period who built the Si Song Rak Chao reliquary in Dan Sai, Loei Province, is good evidence.  This will be discussed in a later chapter so that the oath of our ancestral kings can be understood.

 

The Japanese entry into Luang Prabang was very clever.  At first, they brought their soldiers by truck from Xieng Khouang.  Then when they came near the city, the soldiers got into monk's boats at various monasteries and continued by water.  The Japanese soldiers took off their hats and looked almost like monks going out to receive alms.  The French watched only the roads and did not worry about phony monks. When they reached the French, the phony monks emerged from the boats with grenades and guns instead of alms bowls.  The French surrendered, but before surrendering, they still deceived the people.  They con­scripted villagers to build a bamboo bridge [across the Nam Khan] to the airport and alleged that they would lead their army to defend .the city. When the bridge was finished, the French crossed with their cars, and when all had crossed, they blew up the bridge.  The people realized that they had built the bridge for the French to escape, not to fight. After that, the French conscripted villagers and civil ser­vants to do the fighting.  They distributed guns to fight to the death, but ordered that if the fighters heard a whistle, they should retreat. Some of the Lao fought, including Prince Phetsarath's younger brother, Prince Chintavong, who led the villagers in destroying two Japanese soldiers, but the French retreated first. The Lao fighters did not retreat at first because they didn't hear the whistle, but when they finally heard it, it seemed that the French had already retreated al­most a kilometer.  In their attempt to persuade the people to fight, the French urged the Prince to join, but he refused.

 

When the French prepared their escape from Luang Prabang, they urged Prince Phetsarath to accompany them, but he refused this also. If he had gone, the samurai would surely have decapitated him.  He asserted that the King was still in Luang Prabang, and if he had to die, he would do his duty and die for his country as his grandfather had done. He let only his younger brother Chintavong escape because he feared that the Japanese would probably investigate his brother's shooting of Japanese soldiers. The Crown Prince also stayed, but he let Prince Thongsuk, his brother-in-law, escape.  When the Japanese came, the Crown Prince worried about the King and asked to recall those who had escaped.  He felt that the Japanese came to free the Lao from their yoke and drive away only the French; they would not endanger the Lao. The Prince knew that these people had already escaped to safety, so he equivocated by saying that they were French sympathizers and to let them go.  The Crown Prince ordered that the arms and ammunition the French had left behind be sent to the occupying Japanese troops.

 

Later a Japanese military envoy from Saigon came to Luang Prabang and brought a letter for the Prince from Souphanouvong, who was building roads in Vietnam. The message was that Prince Souphanouvong would cooperate with the Japanese in proclaiming independence.  Later Prince Phetsarath and the Japanese envoy discussed the proclamation of Lao in­dependence.  The Prince realized that this was a highly significant issue that should first be presented to the King. Then, if the Prince were to proclaim independence, the Japanese would have to agree.  How­ever, Crown Prince Savang Vatthana was also at the meeting and asked to make the proclamation himself.  Prince Phetsarath objected that this was the concern of the government, butane Crown Prince countered that the Japanese did not want to deal with the government and that he him­self should make the proclamation. This was the opposite of the proce­dure used in Thailand, where in government matters the Japanese spoke with the Prime Minister and did not intrude upon the King.  Because of his rank, the Crown Prince is not at government level.  The government must receive the royal commands of the King or the Crown Prince, who acts in the King's place as the government's protector.  Finally the Japanese and the Lao agreed, independence was proclaimed in April 1945, and on the evening of the proclamation there was a large independence celebration.  Later the Crown Prince ordered Prince Phetsarath to go with the Japanese envoy to Saigon, but the Prince told the messenger to tell the Crown Prince that the Japanese didn't like to deal with the government, and that the Crown Prince himself should go. After­wards, he understood that no one dared to tell this to the Crown Prince and thus other excuses were made.

 

Later Prince Settha came to tell Prince Phetsarath that the King had ordered him to go to Saigon, but he refused the King as well, and again told ,£he Crown Prince to go.  It was obvious that Prince Phetsa­rath was displeased that the Crown Prince had set himself up in place of the government. He should have put himself above politics so that the Japanese would honor him, but the "Crown Prince thought that they already respected him. However, to speed things along, the Crown Prince finally went to Saigon himself.  Along the way, he was attacked by an American airplane, but with luck he escaped and managed to reach the city. When the sirens wailed, everyone in Saigon, regardless of rank or status, had to stay in air raid shelters.  Along with the Japa­nese, the Crown Prince made announcements on Radio Saigon.

 

Later, Colonel Ishibashi, the Japanese military commander, agreed to provide weapons and financial aid for distribution by the Lao gov­ernment. This was unlike the case in Thailand, where the Japanese borrowed several hundred million [baht] and still have not returned it. The Crown Prince called a meeting of the cabinet to consider this mat­ter, but Prince Phetsarath did not attend because he was not informed that it was being held.  Later Colonel Ishibashi appointed thao Katay to be his secretary because he was familiar with the workings of Vien­tiane. Colonel Ishibashi also met with the King and told him that the Crown Prince's government activities were not proper, and that if the King did not favor the government, he would dissolve it.  From then on, Ishibashi consulted directly with Prince Phetsarath, who acted with .resolution. The Japanese did not involve themselves with the work of the government in Luang Prabang.  However, in the other three Provinces [Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Champassak], they controlled things in the same way as the former French administration. The Prince discussed this with Ishibashi on two different occasions and requested that the four provinces be unified.  However, the Japanese alleged that the French had administered the provinces separately and had refused Lao requests to unite them; the Japanese would do the same.  The freedom which the Japanese brought to Laos was just in word, not in deed.

 

The Prince received a letter from the French High Commissioner saying that he was happy that the Prince had returned to Vientiane, which was now independent, but that he was being kept in a Japanese jail.  He described the various difficulties of life in prison, and asked the Prince if he could help alleviate matters.  Out of compas­sion toward a fellow human being in difficulty, the Prince negotiated with the Japanese for the release of the prisoner into his custody. At first, the Japanese authorities refused, and claimed that the Com­missioner was their prisoner. The Prince replied that Luang Prabang was now independent and that since Vientiane was a part of the Luang Prabang Kingdom it was not right for other countries to keep prisoners there; if they did so, their independence was counterfeit.  He also told the Japanese that if they thought the Frenchmen were their pris­oners, they should imprison them as they wished in some area that was under Japanese control.  The Japanese asked time to consider the matter for a day, and then replied that they would turn over sixty French prisoners, including the High Commissioner, to the Lao Government.  The Frenchmen who read this should be aware of the high principles of the Lao Government in their humanity toward the sixty prisoners.  I don't know whether the Frenchmen realized the compassion of the Lao while they were still in the country.  They probably were satisfied for only a short time.  Later the Lao Government held the French in the Municipal Public Works Building instead of in prison.  When the Japanese had been defeated, their authorities came to consult the Lao Government and told the government they should not release the French and should not insult the Japanese in their defeat or there would be useless slaughter in the streets. The Japanese surrendered on August 27-28, 1945. Prince Phetsarath announced that the Frenchmen who escaped to the for­est could return to the cities. With this, the former French High Com­missioner, who had been helped by the Lao Government and had been re­leased from prison in the government's custody, put on his uniform and announced that on September 1, 1945, he would return to his duties as High Commissioner. The Lao Government was dazed.  Prince Phetsarath, as Prime Minister, answered that the French had been unable to fulfill any of the conditions of the Protectorate, that they had lost to the Japanese, and that Laos was now independent.  If the French were going to return, they would have to make a new treaty since the King had al­ready proclaimed independence.  The French had run away rather than protect Laos, and Laos had unilaterally declared its independence. Was it right for them to try to come back? When no agreement was possible, the High Commissioner tried another tactic and went directly to the King.  Thus arose the events that led to the Prince-Viceroy's being dismissed and having to seek refuge in Thailand. The Prince's heroic performance can be understood by one word:  "independence." This single goal took eleven years to realize.

 

To continue its oppression, the French administration tried to gain the support of the Lao civil servants by tempting them with re­muneration and jobs under important officials. They aimed directly at the King, because they believed that if the King preferred French prac­tices, they could administer with a free hand.  In France, civil ser­vants were affiliated with various political parties, but in the colony, Lao civil servants had to obey the High Commissioner and were not allowed to respect their own leaders. The King was close to his people only in Luang Prabang and Vientiane provinces.  In other areas, though the people knew there was a King, they had never seen him.  They had seen only the French leaders.  After World War 11, the French had only two important political parties:  Petain's Vichy party, the group that had surrendered, and De Gaulle's party, the group that fought to save the country.

The French civil servants' loyalties we're divided into two camps. The Petain camp had followers both within France and outside it.  De Gaulle's group, which loved freedom and truly fought regardless of the odds, never administered the country because it had never gained elec­toral victories.  In the Petain group's acquiescence to defeat at the hands of the Germans, they joined the winning side and continued to rule France.  The feelings of this group were widely expressed in Laos. Later, Prince Phetsarath's "brother, Prince Souvannaphouma, held admin­istrative power as Prime Minister under the French; his other brother, Souphanouvong, having feelings like De Gaulle's, lost authority but Won the hearts of the people.  With this, the Lao people began to know true freedom, because real freedom must be bought with blood and iron and not by words alone.  Small nations with hearts strong enough to make the sacrifice can survive.  This does not threaten other nations in the world and should neither offend people nor provoke their attacks.

 

According to the Chinese history of the Han Dynasty, before Han Sin became the hero of the dynasty he was challenged by villains, who said that if he refused to fight them he would have to crawl between their legs.  Han Sin complied because it was a small matter and because the job of attaining independence for China was much more important. If he had fought the villains at that time and succeeded in killing them, he would have been arrested as a murderer.  However, if he com­plied and crawled between their legs, the matter would be ended, and the tasks ahead could be accomplished.  Prince Souvannaphouma might try to follow Han Sin rather than Petain.  However, in this case it is a total and unending acquiescence.

 

The Japanese Seize Laos, 1945 (From Prince Phetsarath's Journal)

 

When the Japanese seized Laos, the newspapers in Bangkok carried many reports on what was happening, but these reports were not always accurate. It looked as though the writers had not experienced things themselves but were only reporting secondhand news.

When the Japanese took Laos from the French, I myself saw the cap­ture of Vientiane and Luang Prabang and recorded what I saw and heard at that time in my diary.  Here are the passages from what I wrote long ago:

 

Tuesday, March 6, 1945

 

In the morning, I left by car from Luang Prabang to go to Vien­tiane to confer with the French High Commissioner of Laos about the government civil service. When I reached Muang Kasy (around 185 kilometers), I stayed with my brother, District Chief Chintavong.

 

Wednesday, March 7

 

I went to inspect the new road that I had ordered built from Muang Kasy to the villages along the Nam Kai River.  The purpose of the road was to make connections with the highway more convenient for these vil­lages and especially to facilitate transporting their surplus rice.  I saw that the building of the road had progressed considerably and hoped that the earth fill would be completed before the rainy season.  In the afternoon, I went on to Vang Vieng and stayed with District Chief thao Lai.

 

Thursday, March 8

 

I went to inspect the sanitation of the villages of Khoua Phan, Vang Vieng Kao, and Vang Vieng Mai, to see that the people there were following government orders, and to advise them to build new village roads to make it more convenient to travel by car.  I saw that the vil­lages were sanitary and ordered that the roads be finished by the first of May, the day I planned to return from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. When I had given this order, I went on to Vientiane and reached my palace at 9:00 P.M.

 

Shortly after I arrived, H. Brasey, the French High Commissioner, came to visit me, and we talked until 10:30 P.M.  He told me that the next day, General Turquin, the military commander of Annam and Laos, would reach Vientiane to inspect the Vientiane battalion, and on the tenth he would have a reception and dinner to honor the General and the senior military officers; he wanted to invite me to join them. He said that the formal invitation card would be sent the next day, and I re­plied that I was happy to be invited and would surely be there.

 

Friday, March 9

 

At 10:00 A.M. I went to visit the High Commissioner and talked with him about the government. In the afternoon I talked about the government with several Lao leaders, including Governor phanya Khammao.

 

At 6:00 P.M. I saw General Turquin go to the High Commissioner's house, which is next door to my palace.  I watched the reception from my second story window.  When General Turquin had inspected the mili­tary honor guard, he asked the Major, "What have you prepared for me to see tomorrow?"

 

"There will be target practice at 6:00 A.M. for you to observe the -soldiers' skills," the Major answered.

 

"Good!  Pick me up at the appropriate time," the General ordered, then went into the High Commissioner's house where he was staying.

 

Saturday, March 10

 

At 6:00 A.M., I heard the sound of gunfire from the direction of the target range, which is six kilometers from Vientiane along the road to Nongkhai. The gunfire was not normal for target practice, but I did not take much interest because I thought they might have been shooting several overlapping rounds.

 

However, at 7:00 I saw a single soldier riding a galloping horse like a streak of lightning.  He had a paper clamped in his teeth be­cause he held the reins in his left hand and a gun in his right hand. His appearance made me suspect that something must have happened at the target range, and I went into the living room to send someone to investigate.

 

When I reached the living room, my brother, Prince Souvannaphouma, came in with an abnormally pale face and/said, "A few minutes ago, Saigon radio announced that the Japanese have taken Saigon.  Admiral Decoux, the High Commissioner of Indochina, along with the military officers and civil servants, have all been captured.  The Japanese have taken over from the French. The)* order the soldiers and civil servants in all provinces to'-surrender to them because further resis­tance will be useless."

 

When Prince Souvannaphouma had told me this, M. Trudaille [?], the Assistant Director of the Vientiane Arsenal, came into the living room and told me the same news.  Then both of them asked me, "What are you going to do?"  I answered, "I must go to Luang Prabang to be with the King, and I will turn over Vientiane to Governor phanya Khammao and the government division heads.  Beyond that, I haven't yet consulted with the High Commissioner and don't know what the plans of the French are."

 

Then I telephoned the High Commissioner to ask when I could see him.  He replied that he had just heard the news and had called the French Division Heads to come for immediate consultations.  He said he was sorry that he couldn't find time to see me right then and asked me to find him liter in his office.  I answered that I would be there at 10:00.

 

While I was talking with Prince Souvannaphouma and M. Trudaille, we heard the sound of an explosion at the Arsenal, which is around three hundred meters from my palace. Then, at 9:00 A.M., we heard the sounds of many explosions from the direction of Ban Phone Kheng. Shortly after, someone came and told us that the French had blown up the garage at the Arsenal there, and it was burning.  They had blown it up to prevent the Japanese from getting the weapons.  Someone else came and said that the French were evacuating their families by car from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.

 

At 10:00 I went to the High Commissioner's office for my appoint­ment.  When I reached the office of M. Cerida [?], the High Commis­sioner's secretary, I saw a group of Lao and French civil servants searching the files for various important documents and burning them. All of these documents concerned the Japanese.

 

When the High Commissioner heard me talking with the civil ser­vants, he said he would receive me in his office immediately. When he spoke of the events in Saigon and Hanoi on the night of March 9 and 10, which was the time of the Japanese takeover, I asked him:

 

"As for us, what plans have you agreed upon with the military?"

 

"We have no hope of defending Vientiane because we weren't pre­pared for this.  Therefore, the soldiers plan to fight outside the capital and along the communication routes. As for me, it is my duty to stay.  When the Japanese arrive, I will put myself at their mercy," the Commissioner answered.  Then he asked me again, "What are you going to do?"

 

"I must return to Luang Prabang quickly," I replied, "because my position is that of Viceroy and Prime Minister, and I must be near the King.  However, my car broke down yesterday.  May I borrow one of your cars to send me to Muang Kasy? And can you send a telegram to the Commissioner of Luang Prabang and have him send a car to receive me in Muang Kasy tomorrow morning?"

"Yes," the High Commissioner answered, "but please send the car back to Vientiane as quickly as possible."  His response puzzled me a great deal because I did not see any benefit in sending the car back to Vientiane when the Japanese were about to capture the city.  When I sent it back, it would just be for the use of the Japanese.  However, I answered that I would certainly send the car back to him.

 

The High Commissioner then asked, "How can you possibly reach Luang Prabang?  The Japanese already have all the roads."

 

"That's right.  I can evade them by leaving the car and walking along the mountains where I won't be seen," I replied.

 

While we were talking, the High Commissioner telephoned a servant at his house and ordered him to prepare his uniform and send it to his office.  I asked him why he was bringing it there.

 

"In order to receive the Japanese in my position as High Commis­sioner," he answered.

 

I then took the opportunity to ask for the gold Buddha image and monk's requisites that I had kept in the High Commissioner's safe for several years.  I did this to protect them from Japanese confiscation. The High Commissioner called his secretary to open the safe and bring the box to me.  I gave him back a receipt for the goods.

 

These objects are very old.  Besides the six-kilogram gold Buddha image, there are several other gilded Buddha images, two gold relics, and many other things that District Chief Khampha Souvannavong, the monks, the civil servants, and I had collected since 1917. We had planned eventually to put them in a museum, and they had been in my care from the beginning.  However, when the incident between Thailand and Indochina developed in 1940, I took them to Saigon by airplane to put them in a French bank for safekeeping.  I took the monk lak kham Keo along to witness their deposit. However, no bank would accept them because they were afraid that they would not be secure.  I had to bring them back to Vientiane, but in order not to let anyone know that I was carrying such valuable things, I bought a leather suitcase to carry them in. When I got off the airplane, I told the people who had come to receive me that I had deposited the valuables safely in the bank, and they believed me.  Then when I had to move my family, I went to Ban Hat Kieng, which was thirty-two kilometers from Vientiane. To secure the things from airplane and artillery attack, I took them along with­out letting anyone know. They have been safe ever since. When the political situation returned to normal, I revealed the truth and then put them in the High Commissioner's safe as I have told.

 

When I bid him goodbye, the High Commissioner asked, "When are you leaving Vientiane so I can send the car in time? One more thing; aren't you coming to my house for dinner today?"

 

"I have already said that I will come to the reception for General Turquin and I won't break my word.  I'll be at your house at 12:00 as scheduled," I answered.

 

"I'm afraid that the group invited won't all attend," the High Commissioner added.

"That's all right; I won't refuse.  We'll have a chance to talk more while we're eating," I replied.

 

When I had bid farewell to the High Commissioner, I had a secre­tary carry the box of Buddha images with me to the palace.  The civil-servants waiting there to see me were all pleased, because none of them had known about these things before.  Then I ordered Governor phanya Khammao to call all the civil servants to come for orders at 1:30 P.M., after the dinner at the High Commissioner's house.

 

At the appointed hour of noon, I went to the High Commissioner's house.  He- said immediately, "It appears there won't be many guests at the party today because of the Japanese aggression."

 

The shooting was still going on, and it seemed that the sound of gunfire was much closer than in the morning.

 

For dinner that day, there were only the High Commissioner, the High Commissioner's secretary and his wife, and I myself--only four people. As for the General and senior military officers who were in­vited, not one was there.  Even Governor phanya Khammao was not there, since he was involved with calling the Lao civil servants to come and receive my orders.

 

Although there were only four people at the dinner, we still had an enjoyable conversation.

 

"If the Japanese came while we were eating like this, it wouldn't seem appropriate," the High Commissioner commented.

 

"We could invite them to join us at the table," I answered. "They probably wouldn't object since they're undoubtedly hungry from fighting long hours every day."

 

"If they actually came right now, we would lose this good wine we're drinking, because they aren't noted for their good taste," he said.

 

"It's better to drink it up quickly than to give it to people without good taste," I answered.

 

Then the director of the radio office came in and told the High Commissioner, "I've been calling the station at Luang Prabang for a long time, but there is no answer. The telegram to send the car to receive the Prince tomorrow at Muang Kasy still hasn't reached them."

 

"Has Luang Prabang fallen to the Japanese?" the High Commissioner asked.

 

"If there's no car from Luang Prabang, that's all right," I said, "when I reached Muang Kasy, I can walk by way of the Meo villages. It's safer than going by car since the Japanese probably already con­trol the road." Then I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:30.

 

"If the Japanese have already taken Luang Prabang, as it looks now, you're sure to be captured before you reach the city," the High Commissioner asserted.

"It's not sure at all," I answered, "because the road I'm taking goes directly to my Sieng Keo Palace.  I don't have to go through Luang Prabang."

 

After we had finished dinner, coffee, and some special brandy, I bid farewell to the High Commissioner, his secretary and the secre­tary's wife by saying that we would meet again soon if the Japanese didn't kill them, since the Japanese had no hope of winning the war.

 

When I returned to the palace, I told all the Lao civil servants waiting there:  "The present crisis is the concern of the Japanese and the French.  Fate will determine the winner.  We must all carry out our duties as usual, and demonstrate our abilities.  We cannot show any weakness.  If you hear anything interesting, send a telegram advis­ing the government as usual.  As for me, I must be near the King, be­cause it is the duty of the Viceroy and Prime Minister to be with the King at critical times such as this. Whether I will reach Luang Pra­bang in safety or not, I cannot guess, but I must try to reach the King."

 

At 3:30 I left the palace, driven by my old chauffeur, Daeng. The sound of gunfire was coming much closer to Vientiane, making me think that the Japanese had probably already taken the road to Luang Prabang, but when we reached Wattay airport and nothing looked out of the ordi­nary, I knew that there was no fighting in that area.

 

However, when we crossed the Nam Lik River and reached Kilometer 103, we saw an armed man crossing the road from left to right.  I thought he was Japanese and ordered Daeng to drive slowly and then to stop the car. Then we saw two or three Frenchmen emerge from the for­est along the road.  I recognized one of them as M. Parisot [?], the police inspector for Laos, and stuck my head out of the car.  When he saw me, he motioned to his followers in the forest not to shoot and yelled, "They aren't Japanese, don't shoot!"

 

Then four or five Frenchmen came out of the forest, one of whom was a Major. The Frenchmen's faces were pale as though they were bloodless. Apparently they thought they were about to fight the Japa­nese and the end of their lives was near.

 

When they saw me, they asked, "Have the Japanese taken Vientiane?" "They still haven't come into the city," I answered. "What time did you leave?"

 

"At 3:30, but at that time the sound of gunfire was very close to town," I answered.

 

"Where are you going?"

 

"I'm trying to reach the King in Luang Prabang."

 

"Then please stop in Vang Vieng and tell the news of Vientiane to General Turquin," they said.

 

"Yes, I'll stop and tell him the news," I finally answered.

 

Then the Major called the drivers of the three cars that were blocking the road in front of me to move their cars and let me pass, and I continued on.  Apparently the French plan was to block the road with the cars to delay and inconvenience the Japanese. This was to prevent the Japanese from reaching Vang Vieng easily and to give the French time to fight for the protection of the Major and the French families who had sought refuge there that morning.

 

I reached Vang Vieng at 10:00 P.M. and went to the French bungalow to report the news of Vientiane to Major Turquin.  There were many Frenchmen there, though I don't know how they all lived in that four-bedroom bungalow.

 

From the bungalow, I went to District Chief thao Lai's house to eat dinner, and then I ordered the Lao civil servants to continue with their duties, just as I had done in Vientiane.

 

When I had finished my business, I continued on and reached Muang Kasy at 3:00 A.M. on the night of March 10-11.

 

Sunday, March 11

 

I immediately ordered Prince Chintavong to call the civil servants to receive orders and conscripted a horse and eight porters to leave Muang Kasy at 6:00 A.M. When the civil servants gathered, I gave them orders to continue their duties, as I had done in Vientiane and Vang Vieng. Then I rested.

 

At 5:00 A.M., I ordered Daeng to take the borrowed car back to Vientiane and to hurry and fix my own car, which should be sent to Luang Prabang when there was an opportunity to do so.

 

The horse and porters came at the appointed time.  I left Muang Kasy at 6:00 A.M. and went by the following route:  to Ban Na Thong in one hour and ten minutes; to Muang Pong in twenty minutes; to Ban Ya Yao in three hours; to Ban Sen Sai in forty minutes; and to the foot of the mountains in three hours and thirty minutes.

 

Altogether it took eight hours and thirty minutes to travel around thirty-four kilometers.  I stopped to rest in the forest at the foot of the mountains, but it was difficult as it was raining and there was no place to stay.

 

Monday, March 12

 

I climbed the mountains before dawn.  The air was cool and invig­orating, but I couldn't ride the horse because the mountain was so steep that the horse would have tired quickly.  I climbed for a long time and reached the Nam Feuang River in four hours and thirty minutes. Then I crossed the water, climbed a little more, descended sharply, and reached the Yao village Ban Pha Khom in one hour and thirty min­utes.  There I ate, changed the porters for a pack horse, and continued on to the Meo village of Ban Pham Kalah, which I reached in two hours and thirty minutes.  From there, I climbed a steep mountain, which took one hour, and then reached the Meo village Ban Pa Hok in another hour, and slept there at the village chief's house. Altogether it took ten hours and thirty minutes to travel around forty-two kilometers.

 

When I had passed beyond the mountains, I met a corporal who recognized me.  He was leading six Vietnamese soldiers along the trail. When he had saluted me, he asked, "Why aren't you riding in a car in­stead of climbing the mountains? It would be faster and more con­venient."

 

"I'm tired of traveling by car," I answered, "I haven't seen the Meo and Yao villages for many years, so I'm coming to see how their opium fields are doing.  What are you doing in this region?" I asked.

 

"We're stationed with the brigade at Ban Na Muang. We have orders to come up here every month for inspection to see whether there are illegal opium merchants in the area," he answered.

 

His answer made me realize that he still didn't know that the Japanese had taken power in Indochina.

 

However, when I met these soldiers, I began to worry about the box with the gold Buddha image and monk's requisites on the pack horse following me.  I was afraid that if they saw it, they would take it. Consequently, after we had passed, I stopped and rested to let the pack horse catch up before going on.  If I hadn't seen the horse coming, I would have known that they had stolen it, but after waiting about ten minutes, I was greatly relieved to see the Yao keeper coming with the pack horse. Then I went on to Ban Pa Hok.

 

Tuesday, March 15

 

From Ban Pa Hok, I walked along the rolling but not too steep mountain ridge and reached the Meo village of Ban Nong Kham in one hour and thirty minutes.  Continuing on, I reached Ban Na Leng in two hours, and then a short way further descended a long, steep mountain until I reached Ban Sao Lao on the Nam Sanan River two hours later.  I ate lunch there and continued until I reached the road from Sieng Ngeun to Ban Na Muang, which I crossed after one hour and thirty minutes.  I then climbed another mountain and reached Ban Houei Lieng in two hours. Altogether it took an even nine hours.

 

I slept at the village chief's house and gave orders for the vil­lage chief of Ban Pha Sok to come and see Be, for I needed to find a fresh pack horse to change for the tired one I had brought from Pa Khom. At 10:00 P.M., the village chief of Pha Sok came with a pack horse to carry things for the next day.

 

Friday, March 14

 

I left the Yao village of Houei Lieng at night.  The road was rocky, which made travel very difficult.  I reached Ban Pha Sok (Meo) in one hour, and a little beyond it descended a high steep mountain until I reached Ban Nong Tok four hours later.  It was a Khmu village situated on somewhat of a plateau.  From there, I reached Ban Sat (Lao) in two hours, and then went on to the Sieng Keo Palace.  Altogether it took eight hours and thirty minutes.

 

When I reached Ban Sat, I saw many families from Luang Prabang, that the Jaoanese had already taken the city. But when I questioned them, I learned that it had not yet fallen, though the Japanese had already taken Vientiane, Xieng Khouang, and other provinces, and it wouldn’t be long before they reached Luang prabang. Knowing this, the people had left in advance to insure their own safety. This news was very satisfying, because it meant I would have time to do various things before the Japanese entered the city.

 

When I reached the palace, I had the military guards go tell the news to my brother, Prince Souvannarath, who was at my palace in Luang Prabang, and to invite the cabinet to meet with me that night.

 

At 9:00 P.M., the ministers Prince Souvannarath, Prince Settha, Uthong Souvannavong, and Phui Panya arrived, and shortly afterwards the crown prince, Savang Vatthana, came also.  They reported the news they had heard from the March 10 radio broadcast and the situation in Luang Prabajig at that time.  The news from the radio was that the Japa­nese had seized power from the French in all the large cities of Indo­china. There was French resistance only in the countryside and in the forests.  When the French soldiers in Luang Prabang heard on the radio that the Japanese had taken over, they dismissed the Commissioner imme­diately and" took control in order to resist the Japanese.  This was because the military was on De Gaulle's side, whereas the Commissioner and civil service personnel under him were on Petain's side, which had surrendered to the Germans and joined the Japanese.

 

CHAPTER 3 DISMISSAL  FROM POSITION AS VICEROY AND EXILE TO THAILAND

 

When  the Japanese   took Luang  Prabang  in April   1945,   they  accused the  French of resistance  and arrested  them all;   even  surrendering French civilians were arrested.     Since  the position of the  French had been destroyed,   the  conditions  of  the   1898  protectorate  treaty,   under which  the  French  were   to  defend  Laos--specifically  the  Kingdom of  Luang Prabang--were  abrogated.     King  Sisavangvong   issued  a  royal  order pro­claiming   the  independence  of  Luang  Prabang,   and  the  Lao  people were joyful.     Prince  Phetsarath maintained  his  position as Viceroy and act as  Prime Minister   in the  capital   at  Luang  Prabang.

 

Royal  Proclamation

of the  Independence of the

Kingdom of Luang Prabang under

King Sisavangvong of Luang Prabang

 

In consideration of the present world situation and particularly the situations of the various countries of East Asia--

I hereby declare that from this day forward, our Kingdom of Laos, formerly a colony of France,  is now an independent nation.    Hence­forth, the Kingdom of Luang Prabang will attempt to preserve its own

Consequently,  in order to work with the Japanese Empire as a trusted ally,  I hereby declare that our Kingdom has agreed to coop­erate in all things with Japan.

This royal order is hereby proclaimed in Luang Prabang on Sunday the eleventh day of the waning moon of the fifth month, 2487 (April 8, 1945).

 

In August, when Laos had been independent for four months, Emperor Hirohito of Japan surrendered to the Allies after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The French, who had fled in defeat, then returned to swallow up the country and to assume authority over Laos as before.  Prince Phetsarath was unwilling to go along with them because he maintained that French rights according to the 1898 treaty of Paris had ended with France's inability to protect the Kingdom of Luang Prabang.  If they were to return, they would have to negotiate a new treaty. The Prince appointed Ngone Sananikone to make contact with Khammuane, Savannakhet, Saravane, and Champassak provinces and ascertain the people's sentiments regarding whether they preferred to join the Kingdom of Luang Prabang or return to rule by the French. Since the treaty had been abrogated, they had the opportunity to choose to join together. The Prince resolutely made up his mind that Laos must be brought together as one indivisible country.

 

Later, the Prince received word from the four provinces that they would join together in a single kingdom. While making this settlement, the Prince was staying in Vientiane. Subsequently, on September 2, the Prince, in his status as Viceroy, telegraphed the King, requesting that the four provinces be united in a single kingdom by royal proclamation, without regard for the French.

 

He waited for the royal proclamation until September 7, the day on which he received the following telegralii from the Minister of the In­terior in Luang Prabang:

 

Government Telegram

 

,      Luang Prabang, September 7, 1945. Minister of Interior to

Prince-Viceroy. Vientiane Ministry of Interior, Telegram Number 223.

Please be informed that the King has called for the Kingdom of Luang Prabang to remain a French colony.

 

Receiving this telegram, the Prince thought that the French had forced the King to make this submission.  If he followed the royal order, the people would have been dissatisfied and would have rebelled, since they would lose their only opportunity for integration.  The Prince thus kept the telegram secret so that he could seek a later resolution.  He feared that if the people knew, they might be angry with the King for his easy yielding of independence without regard to public opinion, and the King might be in danger.

 

At that time, the civil servants and people of the four provinces, in addition So Vientiane, were meeting together to accomplish the Prince's unification of Laos. No matter how much blood might have to be shed, the Prince believed that independence could only be bought with blood.  A French return could be blocked since the Lao still had many weapons and the Lao people's blood was the hot blood of fighters. The Prince urged the civil servants and the people to wait until the fifteenth for orders from the King.  If there were no answer by then, the Prince himself, in his status as Viceroy and Prime Minister, would declare the unification of the four provinces with the Kingdom of Luang Prabang.  This action could not be considered rebellious, since the Prince believed that to take the country the French had governed, inte­grate it, and present it in independence to the King would be a desir­able act.  Time would judge whether he was right or wrong.

 

On September 15, having heard nothing from the King, the Prince's intense patriotism made him willing to risk his life for the people. Prince Phetsarath thus proclaimed the unification of Laos as one indi­visible Kingdom, on the basis of strong public opinion, though without a royal proclamation.

 

 

 

Announcement

 

To our brothers, the people of the provinces of Khammuane, Savan­nakhet, Champassak, and Saravane:

For many years we Lao of the north and Lao of the south have de­sired to be united as one country, but there have been many circum­stances that have prevented our desire from being successfully realized. Now the right opportunity has arisen.

 

Beginning today, the phrases "Lao of the North" and "Lao of the South" need no  longer exist.    We can join together to be one nation, to be one Lao nation as in the times of King Fa Ngum,  King Settha-thirath,  and King Sourinyavongsa.

The government of the Kingdom hopes that all our brothers will welcome our cooperation on the basis of the following principles:

1.    Lao integration will benefit the Lao people.

2.    The Lao people's fulfillment will come about through a con­ference of the nation's representatives acting unanimously together.

3.    A National Assembly will be established to deliberate poli­tics, economics, culture, and national restoration.

4.    In Asia, the new Kingdom of Laos will work with its friends in the region for prosperity, progress, and equality.

5.    The Kingdom of Laos will protect and defend the lives and possessions of all foreigners.    All regions have the duty to respect and to be under the administration of the national  law.

6.    The Kingdom of Laos can exist only with the support of the officials.    The government will consist of people with qualifications and ability who have had experience as civil servants.

7.    The government now is being modified as a coalition govern­ment and will be established in Vientiane.

 

May the Kingdom of Laos Prosper.

Vientiane, the 15th of September,  1945

Signed:    the Prince Viceroy-Prime Minister Phetsarath

 

On October  10,   the Minister of the  Interior  in Luang Prabang  sent an official  telegram announcing that  the King had dismissed Prince Phetsarath from his  positions of Viceroy and  Prime Minister  for follow­ing a political policy not  in keeping with the wishes of the  Lao people and  for failing  to consult with  the King  in advance.

 

Copies of Telegrams Dismissing the Prince-Viceroy

 

Luang Prabang, October 10, 1945. Minister of the Interior to His Excellency Uthong [Souvannavong], Minister of the Treasury in Vientiane. Ministry of Interior telegram number 285.

A royal command has been issued changing the Prime Ministership to bring it into political and administrative conformity with the will of the people.    Without prior consultation with Prince Phetsa­rath, the King has dismissed Phetsarath from his position as Viceroy. You are therefore recalled to Luang Prabang to maintain your usual duties and position.

 

Luang Prabang, October 10, 1945.

Minister of Interior to His Excellency Phoui [Sananikone], Minis­ter of Religion in Vientiane.  Ministry of Interior, telegram 285.

A royal command has been issued changing the Prime Ministership to bring it into political and administrative conformity with the will of the people.    Without prior consultation with Prince Phetsa­rath, the King has dismissed him from his position as Viceroy.    You are therefore recalled to Luang Prabang to maintain your usual duties and position.

Please announce this royal command to the people, and please con­sult with H.E. Uthong to set up means of defending the people's lives and possessions.    Please explain all of this to chao phmya Khammao so that work will continue in accordance with this directive.

Everyone who has   the blood  of  independence,   please  consider who was  wrong!   What Lao  people  desired  to  return  to  the  status   of French •slaves?     As   for  the  allegation  that   the  Prince  did not  consult  with  the King,   there   is   still   a  copy  of  his   telegram  as   evidence.    When the King did  not  answer  consider whether   the  Prince's   action had  broken  the royal  proclamation.     The desire  to  place  the  Kingdom of Luang  Prabang under   the  control  of  the  French was   the  desire  of  the  King  alone.     How could   the  King  allege  that   it  was  public opinion  since  it was   clear that  the people begged  for   the  proclamation  of  independence?

 

The situation  that   followed   is   explained   in  the writings   of  Prince Phetsarath:

 

"When I received the King's proclamation,   I answered that I  would obey his  orders.     Then  I   took  the  telegram putting  the  Kingdom of Luang Prabang  under  French control,   together  with  the  telegram dismissing me from my duties,  and presented  them to  the civil  servants  and  the Lao people,   and explained  that  from  that  time on,   I  would have no part  in the affairs of  the  country."

 

The civil servants and people of Vientiane showed great  excitement and  regret.     They   then joined  together  to  form a  Free  Lao  Government   to integrate Laos  and  to  fight  the French for  the preservation of  indepen­dence  as  proclaimed by  King  Sisavangvong  on April   8,   1945.     When  this government  had  been  established,  under   the  Prime Ministership  of phanya Khammao,   a  telegram was sent    to  the  King,   requesting   that he  accept   it as  his government.     The  King was  asked  to reply within twenty-four hours,   and was  told that  if there were no answer within the  allotted time,   the Free Lao Government would deal with him  in the best  interest of  the  country.

 

When no answer was received from the King, the Free Lao Government ordered that a military force be sent by boat to  seize the royal palace. However, before the soldiers reached Luang Prabang,   the people of the city closed the palace.

 

Later a popular revolt arose to  seize the palace,  but  the Prince saw that  the Free Lao Government  could not attack because  the  French were strong in Luang Prabang and the  King was  helping  them destroy his countrymen.     At that time,   the Free Lao were weak and would have crum­bled.   If they blundered, the King would be in danger, and the Prince would be blamed.    There would be another opportunity to take revenge on the French, but in any event, the King had to be induced to agree with the  Prince's policy.    The Prince ordered the Free Lao Government to go into temporary exile in Thailand, and he followed later.

 

 

 

 

 

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