The strains imposed on the Neutralists by their alliance of convenience with the Pathet Lao were now manifested. In addition, the presence of the North Vietnamese army that this alliance implied did nothing to support neutralism. As if to confirm their doubts, the Neutralists were subjected to communist propaganda. Deuane Sunnalath, Kong Le's subordinate, allowed himself to be subverted by this political influence and started publishing his own newspaper, Khao Pathan Van (Daily News), full of antiUnited States propaganda. Most of Kong Le's followers remained fiercely loyal, however, and the dissidents, who called themselves Patriotic Neutralists, remained a minority.
On April 1, 1963, less than a year after the Geneva agreement, foreign minister Quinim was assassinated in Vientiane. Protesting the lack of security, Pathet Lao members of the coalition immediately left town. Following a series of incidents in which one of Kong Le's closest aides was assassinated and a United States plane on a supply flight to Kong Le authorized by Souvanna Phouma was shot down by Deuane's troops, fighting broke out in the Neutralist camp. Kong Le pulled his men back from Khang Khay and set up a new command post at Muang Souy on the western edge of the Plain of Jars. Kong Le was running short of supplies, however, because the Soviet airlift had ended, and the North Vietnamese were in a position to block supplies by road.
An estimated 10,000 North Vietnamese were still present in Laos, despite the stipulation their government had signed at Geneva that withdrawal of all foreign troops be completed by October 7. In preparation for a massive escalation of the conflict in South Vietnam, North Vietnam had expanded the Ho Chi Minh Trail through eastern Laos and garrisoned it with support troops. North Vietnamese troops also were present in northern Laos, where they were engaged almost continuously in pressuring the Hmong guerrillas. All United States military advisers had been withdrawn by the deadline, but clandestine operations continued, and supply and reconnaissance flights still were conducted over such heavily contested areas as the Plain of Jars. Antiaircraft fire took its toll on such flights, and as a result, the planes began attacking targets on the ground in Laos beginning in 1964.
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