The Lao Issara Government

The Lao Issara Government

On October 7, Souphanouvong and a Vietnamese escort arrived in Savannakhét to find that Oun and his partisans, who included Phoumi Nosavan, had crossed the river from Thailand, taken control of the town, and, in a loose alliance with the large Vietnamese population, armed themselves from looted armories of the local militia and arms discarded by the withdrawing Japanese. As a result of negotiations, their forces merged. Souphanouvong became commander in chief and Oun second in command. Souphanouvong and his escort proceeded upriver, first to Thakhek and then to Vientiane, where a provisional revolutionary government had been proclaimed two weeks earlier, taking the name Lao Issara (Free Laos). Moreover, the Committee of Independence, strongly influenced by the Lao Pen Lao, controlled Vientiane. Upon his arrival, Souphanouvong was made minister of foreign affairs and commander in chief. At his urging, a military cooperation convention was signed with Ho Chi Minh's government.

Meanwhile, bolstered by renewed assurances of support from the French, Sisavang Vong had sent messages on October 10 to Vientiane accusing Phetsarath of exceeding his authority and stripping him of his position as prime minister and his title of viceroy. Phetsarath protested but accepted these decisions and, after thanking the Laotian civil servants for their support, immediately announced his withdrawal from public life. His decision was no doubt influenced by the fact that he was married to a sister of Sisavang.

The royal dismissal of Phetsarath turned Lao Issara leaders against the monarchy, which they saw as hopelessly compromised by the French. In an effort to give their government some semblance of legitimacy, Lao Issara leaders hastily named the People's Committee, consisting of thirty-four members, many of them Lao Pen Lao activists, but also including the governors of several provinces who were not even in Vientiane. Members of the Chamber of People's Representatives were elected--and simply notified after the fact--by the members of the People's Committee in accordance with a provisional constitution adopted on the morning of October 12.

At the news of the king's deposition and the report that the Lao Issara government had dispatched an armed contingent to Louangphrabang under Sing Ratanassamay's command, the agitation in the royal capital grew rapidly. With Imfeld and his men disarmed and held under house arrest by Chinese troops, the governor, Boungnavath, was free to act, and he had Royal Lao Government (RLG) supporters arrested. On November 10, hours before the arrival of Sing's force, a mob surrounded the royal palace, fired shots in the air, climbed over the walls, and forced entry. Sing and his men had an audience with the king that afternoon. The king declared himself to be a simple citizen, prepared to hand over the phrabang and to vacate the royal palace when the government thought it appropriate. Later that month, the government issued a formal decree that no member of the government would henceforth have any contact with the French.

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