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  Iron Man of Laos


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
The politics of ritual & remembrance
ເຈົ້າສຸວັນນະພູມມາ: ຄວາມເປັນກາງຢູ່ໃສ?
ເຈົ້າສຸວັນນະພູມມາ ຕອນທີ໒
Lao history ແລະເພງຊາດລາວ
ເຈົ້າສຸພານຸວົງ: ເຈົ້າຊາຍແດງ
Khun Borom Stories



by John E. Murdoch


Most that has been written about the post-World War II political struggles of Laos has been produced by outsiders in Western languages: the voices of the Lao participants themselves have been almost silent in the literature and commentary available to us.  Thus this book, a biographical or autobiographical account of the life of the man who must be considered the father of Lac, nationalism. Prince Phetsarath, fills a significant gap in our understanding of the affairs of Laos from the turn of the century to the late fifties.

For nearly half a century, Prince Phetsarath held a unique place in the history of Laos.  His lifetime (1890-1959) spanned the period of French presence and French colonialism in Laos.  Prior to World War II, he was head of the Lao Civil Service under the French.  During the wartime years he was prime sinister and viceroy of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang, which was first loosely under Vichy French control and then briefly "independent" under the Japanese.  In 1946, Phetsarath became leader of the Lao resistance movement against the French return to Laos, a position which placed him in direct conflict with the king, who sought a return to the French Protectorate.  Consequently, Phetsarath left the country and spent eleven years in exile in Thailand, a period during which Lao politics was dominated by his younger brothers, Souvannaphouma and Souphanouvong.  Phetsarath finally returned to Laos in 13S6 to act as mediator in the conflict between Souvannaphouma and Souphanouvong and died in his birthplace, Luang Prabang, in 1959.


This biography, or perhaps autobiography, of Prince Phetsarath is a very curious work.  It was pseudonymously written in Thai and pub­lished in Bangkok in October 19S6, less than three months after Phetsarath had ended his exile and returned to Laos.  The author of the work is identified only as "3349."'  Whether or not Phetsarath himself wrote the entire book is a matter of some conjecture, but he clearly was very deeply involved in its preparation.  Sections of the book purport to be verbatim extracts taken from Phetsarath75 own journals.  Other sections^ generally narrative accounts of Phetsarath's life, are written in the first person.  In addition, there are portions of the book, generally either eulogizing Phetsarath as a hero of Laos or bitterly criticizing the king and his policies, that are presented in the third person. Finally, there are chapters on other Lao leaders, Prince Souphanouvong, Boun Kong Manivong, and Bong Souvannavong, that are written in the third person though they are clearly subjective, evaluative accounts reflecting Phetsarath's point of view.  It is quite likely that Phetsa­rath himself is the author of the entire book." Clearly the eulogization of Phetsarath and criticism of the king are sensitive subjects that Fhetsarath might well have been reluctant to claim as his own work.  Though it is still possible that someone other than Phetsarath wrote at least part of the took, it nonetheless reflects his ideas and judgments.


In addition to its authorship, the book raises many other ques­tions.  Why was it written in Thai?  Why was it published in Bangkok?

Who was its intended audience?  Phetsarath was clearly capable of writ­ing in French, Lao, or Thai, and probably could have had any of his works published m France, Laos, or Thailand.  Given the consent of this book, Phetsaraths role in the unification of Laos and its 1ibera­tion from French control, and the underlying theme of Phetsarath's disagreements with and criticism of the king and crown prince of Laos as well .is of the 1949-1954 Vientiane governments, the book was sure to be controversial and to touch some sensitive nerves at the time of its publication.  This well may have mitigated against its publication in Lao5 as well as against its being published in Phetsarath1s own name.  Phetsarath had been in Thailand for eleven years, had close con­nections there, and was fluent in Thai,  Furthermore, the Lao and Thai languages are very closely related, and virtually any educated Lao, which at the time the book was published meant the Lao elite, could also read Thai*  Thus publishing the book in Thai in Bangkok under a pseudonym would make it available to both a Thai and a Lao audience and at the same time protect Phetsarath on his return to Laos from being directly associated with its more controversial qualities.


Phetsarath's book is somewhat rambling and often disconnected, and it is highly selective concerning which issues are discussed and which are omitted.  It was clearly written with two purposes in mind.  The first was to explain and justify the positions Phetsarath had taken in his political life as head of the Lao civil service under the French, as viceroy and prime minister under the king and then in conflict with the king, and as leader of the Lao Resistance against the French.  As such, the book is an apology or defense of Phetsarath's personal posi­tions and is biased towards an emphasis--and at times an exaggeration--of his role in Lao national affairs.


Second, at the time this book was written Phetsarath felt that the "Lao problem" of unity, independence of France, and reconciliation among national leaders, the foremost among whom were his brothers, had been solved, and that he had been the key figure in bringing about this happy success of the Lao national movement.  Given Phetsarath is clearly, chough somewhat reluctantly, appealing to his Thai audience, whom he has taken to be the "Thai politicians." He repeatedly refers to the brotherhood and unity of the Lao-Thai race and of the history of Lao-Thai corporation from the days of the sixteenth century pledge of friendship between kings of LanXang (Laos) and Ayudhya (Thailand). He conceives of the Lao and Thai as members of one family which has become separated. At the same time, however, he asks his Lao readers not to be distrustful: the Thai people support independence, and there is no plan to incorporate Laos into Thailand. Curiously, Phetsarath never mentions the fact that from 1778 to 1893 virtually all of Laos was under Thai control and that for all practical purposes Laos was a part of Thailand. Furthermore, there is no mention of the sacking of Vientiane by the Thai in 1828, or the ending of the Vientiane royal line, events which are deeply imbedded in the Lao consciousness and are the basis of considerable resentment toward Thailand from the Lao point of view. Phetsarath seems to reflect in his attitude toward Lao-Thai relations a reaction against the French colonial effort to sever all Lao political, cultural, and economic relations with Thailand and to link Laos with Vietnam and Cambodia. Certainly, early postwar governments in Thailand were congenial to Lao nationalism, as they were to many other anticolonial nationalist groups that based themselves in Thailand with Thai government support, and this may well have influenced Phetsarath’s attitude toward Lao-Thai relations, looking toward future Lao-Thai harmony.


Who was Phetsarath, and what was the significance of his career? Though expressing himself largely in the idiom of the anti-French revo­lutionary, Phetsarath' s role can perhaps best be understood in tradi­tional terms.  Phetsarath was the heir of the princeship of the vicer-

Regal family of Luangprabang, the “cadet” branch of the royal family. Though largely unrecognized in present-day Laos, this branch of the royal family, in power for four generations, was a nineteenth-century creation of the Thai, who as Luangprabang’s suzerain confirmed the positions of Lao leaders. Thus Phetsarath’s forebears, his great-grandfather Oun Keo, his grandfather Souvannaphromma, and his father Boun Kong played the leading political and military roles in the kingdom of lUangprabang under the Thai. In effect, they owed their positions to the Thai, and they undoubtedly had divided loyalties to the Thai who kept them in their positions and to the Lao whom they served and with whom they identified ethnically.


Phetsarath’s role under the French was virtually identical to his forebears' role under the Thai. The King retained his religious and ceremonial, functions under the French but suffered a loss of real power when the trench removed his privy purse and brought him directly under their financial control.


Phetsarath, however, after his return from France in 1913, held a variety of positions in the Indochina Civil Service, a point that he virtually ignores in his own memoirs.  He emphasizes his role as a freedom fighter while serving as viceroy and prime minister (1341-45}, and also recounts his earlier nationalist motives from the beginning of his official career; but nowhere does he give any details of that career,


Phetsarath's position within the ruling elite of Laos was tradi­tional but problematic .  Like his better -known brothers , Princes Souvannaphouma and Souphanouvong , he was a son of Boun Kong, the viceroy or ''Second King" o£ Laos ; and before Boun Kong, his father Souvanphromma and grandfather Qun Keo had held the position of viceroy. In the traditional ruling hierarchy of Laos, the position of viceroy was virtually that of crown prince or successor to the king.  In the traditional ruling structure, the top five positions were those of the king , uparath [viceroy] , ratsavong , ratajbut , and ratsasamphanthavong. These positions were hierarchical in status , importance , and order of succession one to another.  Traditionally, when Laos was independent and the Succession order was determined by a council, of Lao nobles, the usual  order of  succession to  the   throne was   first  through a  king's younger brothers   and  then  through his  sons.     However,   during  the  period of Thai  control  over   Laos,   the Thai   kings,   rather  than   the   Lao  nobles, determined  the  Lao  succession.     Thus  the  Thai   kings   appointed  each mem­ber of what  became  the  "viceregal   line"  in Luang  Prabang   in  the   late nineteenth century,   and  all   three  such  appointments--those  of Oun  Keo, Souvannaphromma,   and  Boun  Kong--were outside the normal  order of suc­cession.     The  family of Oun  Keo and  his descendants,   however,  were dynamic  leaders,   skilled administrators,   and distinguished military leaders who had proven their  loyalty  and   their value  to  Bangkok.     The Thai,  who   in no other case  violated  the   traditional   succession order in  Luang Prabang,   appear  to have   intended  that   the viceroys   succeed the  kings.     However,   through  accidents  of circumstance.  Viceroy Oun Keo and  King  Seukseum both died   in 1851;  Viceroy  Souvannaphromma was  killed in  1887 during Oun  Kham's  reign;   and while Boun  Kong  was viceroy under King  Zakarine   (Kham Souk),   control  of  the  succession passed  from Thai into  French hands.     The  French,   however,  did  not  recognize  the  tradi­tional   order of succession   in  the  Luang  Prabang  hierarchy,   and  saw  the king's  first  son as  "crown prince"  and   successor,   instead of  the viceroy.


The  result of  the Thai  appointments of Oun Keo  and his  successors to  the viceregal  position  was   to  establish a  virtually hereditary "viceregal   line"  and   to  create a good deal  of  tension between  this line and   the "royal   line"  of  succession.     Because of  the Thai appoint­ments of Oun  Keo and  his   successors  outside  the "normal"  line  of suc­cession and against  the  kings'   wishes,   the  Luang  Prabang  kings were unsure of  the   line of  succession  throughout  much of  the  nineteenth cen­tury.     The  French  finally decreed  that  with the death of  Boun  Kong, Phetsarath's   father,   the position of viceroy would be  abolished.     Until his death   in   1920,   however,   Boun  Kong   fulfilled  the viceregal  position of  the  king's  chief administrator under  the  French.

While  Phetsarath  did  not  receive  the title  of viceroy  until   it  was revived   in  1941,   he  grew up  very much  in  his   father's  footsteps   in  the viceregal  tradition.     He was born  in  1890,   and as  a  child  accompanied his   father on a  trip to  the  north  to  point out   the boundaries of the kingdom  to  the  French  Resident,   and on a  trip with  King  Zakarine to  pay respects   to the  French Governor-General   Paul   Doumer;   both of  these trips  are described  in detail.


Phetsarath's  education  from  1896 to   1904 was   irregular,   broken  by his  absences   to  accompany his  father on  trips  and by  the  availability of French  teachers  in  Luang  Prabang.     In  1904   he went   to  Saigon  and studied at  the  Lycee Chasseloup  Laubat  where  there were  several   Lao students.     Following a  year   in  Saigon,   Phetsarath was   sent   to  study  in Paris,  where,   apart  from one  trip  back  home to  Laos,   he  spent  nearly eight years  at  the   Ecole  Coloniale,  Lycee Montaigne,   and  Lycee  Saint Louis.


Phetsarath's   account  of his childhood  and  his  education  in Luang  Prabang,  Saigon,   and  France  is  quite detailed.     Curiously,   however,   his account  leaves  virtually a  complete  gap of more  than thirty years be­tween his  return  from  France   in 1913 and  the Japanese occupation of Laos  in 1945.     The only  information  Phetsarath offers  on this   important period of his  life  is  a.  reminiscence near  the  end of  the  book where  he points out  that during  the period  from  1913  to  1945 he had  sought  to

unify Laos through creating in Lao civil service which provided for the transfer of officials among ail parts of the country in order to coun­teract French "divide and rule" tactics of administration.


From other   sources,   however,   the  essential   shape  of  Phetsarath's career  under  the  French  can be  ascertained.1     In  1914,  he  entered   the civil   service as  a clerk-writer  at  the  Royal 'Treasury   in  Luang  Prabang. After  Phetsarath had worked  there  for  a year,  M.   Gamier,   Chief  Resi­dent   (resident  superieur)   of  Laos,  askedl  Phetsarath's  father,   Bounkong,   for  permission to  take  Phetsarath   into  his  employ.     With Boun Kong's  permission,   Phetsarath became  a  clerk  in Garnier's  office   in Vientiane.     In 1917   he  became   the Chief  Resident's deputy assistant secretary.     Following  this,  Phetsarath made  annual   inspection tours  of the provinces with the  resident;   these  tours  probably were  the  basis of  Phetsarath's   recognition and popularity   throughout   the country.     In 1918,   at   the Resident's  request.   King  Sisavangvong  conferred on Phetsa­rath  the  title of chao ratsaphakhinaii   ("royal  nephew"],   the   same  title his  father Boun Kong  had  been given by   King Chulalongkorn of Thailand in  1384.     The Chief  Resident  requested   this   title   for  Phetsarath as  a reward   £or  his  efforts   at  collecting money   from  the  Lao people  to  aid France   in World War   I.


In 1919,   Phetsarath was appointed  Director  of  the  Lao  Civil   Ser­vice   (Directeur du bureau des  affairs   indigenes}.     In this  position,  he set up the  system of ranks  and   titles   for  civil   servants  as  well  as   a promotion and pension  plan,   and  established   a  school  of  law and  admin­istration.      In the  same year,   Phetsarath was  also  appointed  to  the Government Council  of   Indochina"  by  the   French Governor-General,   a position  he held  from  1919  until   193Q;   his   father  had  held   the  same position  from  1911  until  his  death  in  1920.



In 1923, Phetsarath was promoted to Inspector of Lao Political and Administrative Affairs (Inspector indigene des affairs politique at administratives du Laos) by the Governor-General of Indochina.  In this capacity, Phetsarath organized a Laotian consultative assembly [Assemblee consultatives indigene du Laos], a body made up of all Lao district chiefs (chao muang) and province heads [chao khoueng) .


Clearly, Phetsarath was by this tine the most powerful Lao in the country.  As head of the Lao Civil Service and adviser to the French [if not the actual designer! on the administrative system, as well as on the examination system for entrance into the civil service, Phetsa­rath had gained a powerful position of patronage in determining appoint­ments, promotions and transfers.  While he may not have had a great deal of power vis-a-vis The French, he was certainly an influential figure, and vis-a-vis the Lao he was the most powerful Lao figure in the kingdom.  His effective power throughout French Laos far overshad­owed that of the king, who ruled only the four provinces of Luang Pra­bang, Samneua, Phongsaly, and Sayaboury with a very limited budget and within the confines of policy set down by the French Chief Resident.


In 1927, Phetsarath's administrative powers again increased, and he began to take a greater hand in the direct administration of the king's territory, the four provinces of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang. While this king was sick in Vientiane, Phetsarath was appointed his representative, and in this capacity he received Governor-General Alesandre Varennes on a visit to Laos.  In the same month, Phetsarath reorganized the king's advisory council along functional lines, creat­ing three positions to take charge of Interior; Justice, Cults, and Education; and Finance, Public Works, Commerce, and Agriculture.  He further appointed a Royal Palace Secretariat, a thirty-man Palace Guard, and a council of the Royal Family.


In 193J, the Governor-General of Indochina appointed Phetsarath as a member of [he Council of Economic and Financial Interests of Indo­china (Grand counseil des interest economiques et financiers de l’Indochine), on which he served until 1937.  He also was appointed head of the Buddhist Council of Laos, and in this position he reorganized the administrative system of the Buddhist clergy, set up a system of Pali schools for the education of monks, and a library to collect both palm leaf manuscripts and foreign books.  In this capacity as head of the Buddhist Council, Phetsarath made a trip to Phnom Penh in 1935 to visit the Buddhist Council of Cambodia and to send Lao monks who had finished their Pali studies in Laos to continue in the higher Pali school in Phnom Penh.


In 1940-41, the situation in Indochina changed dramatically. France had fallen to Germany, and the Vichy French government was col­laborating with the Japanese in Indochina to the extent that they did nothing to hamper Japanese military movements in the area, Thailand, in alliance with the Japanese, was well aware of the weakness of the French position and sough- to gain the return of parts of Laos and Cam­bodia that Thailand felt had been unfairly wrested from her at the turn of the century.  Most disturbing for Laos was that, with Japanese mediation, France was forced to cede Sayaboury and Champassak provinces to Thailand.  The loss of Sayaboury province was deeply resented By King Sisavangvong in Luang Prabang, for Sayaboury contained the royal teak forests and the graves of many of the royal ancestors.  The French "protectorate" now was seen to be illusory:  the French appeared un­willing to fulfill their obligations to Luang Prabang, and the king threatened to abdicate and enter a monastery.'


In an effort to consolidate theirs declining position as best they could, the French decided to placate the king of Luang Prabang and try to maintain his loyalty by compensating him for the territory lost to Thailand.  Thus by a treaty of August 29, 1941, the French enlarged the Kingdom of Luang Prabang by adding to it Houei Sai (Houa Khong), Xieng Khouang, and Vientiane provinces.  In addition, the Royal Advis­ory Council was transformed into a council of ministers, and the posi­tion of viceroy, abolished with Boun Kong's death in 1920, was recre­ated for Phetsarath. The council of ministers for the expanded kingdom was made up of a prime minister without portfolio, Phetsarath, and four ministers taking charge of Interior and Defense; Public Works, Economy, and Commerce; Registry and Education; and Justice and Cults.  In this reorganization, the Palace Secretariat, headed by Crown Prince Savang-vatthana, was abolished, and the crown prince thus lost his position as its leader.'


Phetsarath was now at the height of his power.  With the French position declining, and with his new position as viceroy and prime minister of the enlarged Kingdom of Luang Prabang, as head of the gov­ernment and head of the Buddhist Council, Phetsarath was in virtual control of .the Lao elite.  By his own account, Phetsarath also appoint­ed Lao administrative governors, paired with French Commissioners, in the four southern provinces.  He further asked the French on two occa­sions to consolidate the entire country as one kingdom, but they re­fused.'


Such was the situation in Laos up until March 1945, when the Japa­nese seized Laos and assumed direct control, as they did elsewhere in Indochina.  Phetsarath's account of the events of the Japanese seizure of Laos is by far the most complete and comprehensive that exists.  The significance of the six-month Japanese occupation for Lao national life is that it decisively increased the possibility of Lao independence while at the same time bringing into the open serious tensions within the Lao ruling elite.  The difficult relations between Phetsarath and King Sisavangvong, between Phetsarath and the French, and particularly between Phetsarath and the crown prince, came to the fore at this time.


Phetsarath's rise to power, like that of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, had depended not only on his own competence but also on the intervention of a foreign patron.  Oun Keo, Souvannaphromma, and Boun Kong had received their positions as viceroys by appointment of the Thai kings, a situation at times resented by the Lao kings, whose positions the viceroys threatened and whose sons' successions were called into question.  Phetsarath owed his position to the French, and there were clearly tensions, as in earlier generations, between Phetsarath and the members of the royal family.  One of the themes of Phetsarath's account of his early life is how he fared better than the king.  Phetsarath claims to have beaten him in a fist fight after the then-crown prince had bullied him.  He also claims that the woman lyter to become queen had wanted to marry him.  That such memories should be included in an account of Phetsarath's life shows something of the ten­sion between these two branches of the royal family.


In his account of the proclamation of Lao independence under the Japanese, Phetsarath clearly discloses a struggle between himself and the crown prince ever their respective roles and statuses.  Phetsarath felt that as head of the government, he should deal with the Japanese, and that the king and the crown prince, as the king's representative, should remain above politics and fulfill what amounted to a largely ceremonial role.  The crown prince, however, by Phetsarath's account, sought to deal directly with the Japanese, and wanted to make the proclamation of independence himself.* There was also a struggle over which of them should go to Saigon with the Japanese envoy, a disagree­ment that Phetsarath finally won.  Clearly the crown prince felt threatened by Phetsaraih' s assumption of political power, and both Phetsarath and the crown prince were seeking Favor with the Japanese in order to enhance their position vis-a-vis each other.


As he describes eloquently and in great detail, when the Japanese surrendered in August 194S, Phetsarath sought to prevent the return of the French.  He sought instead to carry out his ambition of uniting Laos as a single independent kingdom.  When the king refused to con­sider this proposal and announced that the Kingdom of Luang Prabang uould return to the status of a French colony, Phetsarath proclaimed the unification of Laos as a single kingdom on his own authority as viceroy and prime minister, whereupon the king dismissed him from both positions; both men claimed that their actions were based on "public opinion."


Following Phetsarath's dismissal on October 10. 1945, a Free Lao (Lao Issara) Government was formed in Vientiane "to integrate Laos and fight the French [or the preservation of independence as proclaimed by King Sisavangvong on April 8, 1945."1e From the formation of the Free Lao Government in October 194S to its move into exile in Thailand in April 1946, Phetsarath's account is extremely sketchy.  He indicates that the Free Lao Government gave an ultimatum to the king, and when the king made no reply they sent a military force to Luang Prabang. Beyond this he describes neither the events nor the outcome of the situation.  This period, however, like that of Phetsarath's role under the French, can be filled in from other sources.


Two days after Phetsarath's deposition by the king, the "Committee of the People of Vientiane," led by Khommao, the governor of Vientiane province, announced the provisional constitution of a unified Laos, a provisional house of representatives, and a provisional government. The following dav the new government "respectfully" asked for the "immediate abdication" of the king until an elected house of represen­tatives ruled on the question of royalty and pronounced a definitive political regime for the Lao state."  On October 17, four days later,

the crown prince telegraphed the head of the Lao Issara government, saying that the majority of the people were against the movement, that Laotian unity would be achieved and sanctioned by diplomatic accords, that it was first necessary to maintain peace, and that the people could determine their form of government afterwards. On October 20, Khammao announced that the king had been deposed, and the same day a military force led by Sing Rattanasamy, Minister of Defense of the Lao Issara, left for Luang Prabang.


In Luang Prabang, however, an uprising against the king and crown prince began on November 4. before the military unit from Vientiane had reached the city.  Luang Prabang was more or less occupied by Chi­nese troops who were there by prior agreement with the Allies to disarm the Japanese.  The Chinese, like the Americans at this point, were hos­tile to the return of any French colonial presence, and they were quite willing to cooperate with the Lao Issara-sponsored uprising.  The Frenchmen in Luang Prabang were surrounded by the Chinese, ostensibly for their protection, and the uprising, led by Prince Bounyavat, was carried out with little opposition. A force of around one hundred men marched on the palace, disarmed the guards, and took over the court.  Both the king and crown prince were threatened and the king was informed that he had been deposed.  Bounyavat triumphantly tele­graphed to Khammao and Phetsarath in Vientiane that "the Court and Royal Government of Luang Prabang have submitted to our government."


The Lao Issara Government, in its nominal control over Luang Pra­bang, at first had the full support of Nationalist China, and it attempted rapidly to mobilize there the sort of political support that was the foundation of their strength in the Vientiane region.  They succeeded in forcing from the royal capital the French representatives whom the now-deposed king had been importuning with requests for aid. Within five months, however, the nationalists found they again needed the king.  As French military reoccupation forces began to move into the southern provinces of Laos, the Lao Issara Government in March 1946 attempted through negotiations to gain a peaceful compromise that would leave Laos a degree of independence, but keep it within the French Union.  By mid-April, these negotiations having stalled, the government invited Phetsarath to act as regent in a hesitant move towards restoring the monarchy.  Phetsarath declined, perhaps judging that this action would permanently alienate a large conservative seg­ment of the population.  A week later, King Sisavangvong acceded to the government's request that he reassume his throne as a constitutional monarch, now king over all of Laos--the first since the division of the Kingdom of Lan Xang on the death of King Soulignavongsa around 1700.  But on the following day, French troops reoccupied Vientiane, forcing Phetsarath and the Lao Issara into exile.  By the middle of May, Luang Prabang had fallen as well, and the king had declared his loyalty to the French."



On the return of the French, the Free Lao government fled to Thai­land, where both leaders and troops found a hospitable welcome and sympathetic support from strongly anticolonial Thai governments led (March to August, 19-16) by Pridi Phanomyong and Thamrong Nawasawat [to November, 1947).  Prince Phetsarath played a major role in organiz­ing the Free Lao government- in-exile and assumed its leadership in De­cember, 1946.  His younger half-brother Prince Sauphanouvong assisted him as commander of the exiles' military forces, in close liaison with the Vietnamese and Cambodian resistance movement* that also were con­tinuing to fight the French.


The beginning of the end for the Free Lao cane in November 1947, as a. result of two separate developments.  First, a constitution which had been promulgated under French auspices the previous May and which allowed the formation of a new Lao government under Souvannarath [an­other of Phetssrath's half-brothers) went into effect.  This govern­ment, though still French-dominated, enjoyed some degree of political and administrative autonomy within the French Union, and to some it posed at least a viable alternative to either the French or exile. Second, the Thai government of Thamrong Nawasawat was toppled by a military coup led by Field Marshall Phibun, and the new government's policies were sharply redirected toward^ a pro-We stern, anticommunist stance.  Phibun's government ordered all the Free Lao soldiers out of Thailand.  They returned across the Mekong to Laos, while the Free Lao cabinet remained in Bangkok.


The break between Prince Souphanouvong and the rest of the Free Lao leadership came at the same time.  As military leader of the Free Lao, he was unwilling to see the soldiers under his command return to the areas of Laos under the control of the French-dominated Lao govern­ment.  Instead, he infiltrated his troops through western Laos to the Lao-Vietnamese border region, where they joined up with the Viet Minh (the Vietnamese resistance movement against the French), which had set up a Resistance Committee of Eastern Laos beginning in August 1946.'"' In 1947 and 194S, Souphanouvong had visited Vietnam at least once and probably many times.  By the end of 194S and the beginning of 1949, "military zones" of Northeast and Southeast Laos were established in Samneua and Tchepone.16  In January 1949, Souphanouvong effectively broke with the rest of the Fres Lao by organizing the Progressive People's Organization, made up of Free Lao forces directly responsible to him; and in a letter to Phetsarath on March 26, 1949, Souphanouvong officially ended his participation in the Free Lao."


The final disbanding of the Free Lao came seven months later, in October 1949, when Khammao, Katay Don Sasorith, and Phetsarath's brother Princs\e Souvannaphouma returned to Vientiane.  The arrangements for their return were made by Souvannaphouma's French wife, who had contacted the French government. The French agreed to restore the status of all leaders who wished to return and to provide them with funds and transportation for their return trip.


Thus the die that led to the internal struggles which were to wrack Laos for another generation was cast.  Souvannaphouma led his faction in the return to Vientiane and cooperation with the French; Souphanouvong led his faction to eastern Laos and cooperation with the Vietnamese; and Phetsarath, unwilling to side with either of his brothers and still stripped of his rank and titles, remained in Bang­kok.  His return from exile in 1956 was to feature one last attempt to work together with his two brothers for a unified Laos, an attempt that was to collapse upon his death in 1559.


As far as is known, Phetsarath was the father of five children, three by Princess Kharawen and two by mom Nangsi.  Princess Khamphiu, married to Prince Somsanith, died in Vientiane in 1943.  Princess Khamchan studied in Hanoi and married a Frenchman.  Prince Souriyarath was educated in Saigon, served in the French army and with the Lao Issara forces, and was a member of the Lao Parliament.  Princess Arouna became a medical doctor in Thailand, and Prince Manorom studied civil engineering there.


Of course, it is an oversimplification to imply that the recent history o£ Laos can be reduced to the rivalries between three brothers; yet in their interrelationships there is much that is characteristic of the plight of modern Laos.  In his memoirs, Phetsarath is critical of Souvannaphouma for being too willing to go along with the French and too willing to settle (or half-measures on the road to full indepen­dence.  Phetsarath offers great praise to Souphanouvong as a fighter for freedom and national liberation but criticizes him for becoming drawn too close to the Vietnamese.  Similarly, he criticizes Souvanna­phouma for having a French wife and Souphanouvong for marrying a Viet­namese woman.  At the same time, the reader will note Phetsarath'a strong affinities for Thailand, as well as his marriage to a Thai. Thus the three brothers, both in their politics and in their choices of wives, represent the three chief divisive tendencies in Lao politics of the period: orientations towards France, Vietnam, and Thailand.


Long largely forgotten, Prince Phetsarath deserves new attention. To many Lao, for a whole generation he represented both continuity with the precolonial past and the hope for a new, postcolonial future:  he was both a traditionalist, by culture and by his affinity with the Lao people among whom he was so popular, and a modernist, determined to forge a new Lao unity where a congeries of kingdoms and principalities had existed before.  He was both an aristocrat, scion of a powerful viceregal family, and a democrat.  His account does more than shed light on neglected or puzzling episodes in the Lao past:  like no other available source, it offers us a unique revealing glimpse into the life and thought of one person whose ideas and actions are indelibly im­printed into the modern history of Laos.


John E. Murdoch





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