Courtesy Reuters

Laos: Continuing Crisis

The April coup in Vientiane and the subsequent defeat of the neutralists at the Plain of Jars underscored the fact that the 1962 settlement was only a fig leaf, not a solution, for the country's perennial civil war in Laos. The events of the past two years have left the situation there as complex and explosive as before.

Under the hopeful provisions of the 1962 settlement, embodied in the Geneva Accords and the Plain of Jars Agreement, Laos was declared neutral and foreign military intervention was forbidden. The neutralist, right-wing and Communist-controlled Pathet Lao factions were united in a coalition cabinet under the neutralist leader, Prince Souvanna Phouma. His new government was to rule all of Laos and preside over the reintegration of the three factions' respective armies.

The agreements proved ineffective, however. Within less than a year the Pathet Lao withdrew from the coalition, making it meaningless. Civil war broke out again, with Viet Minh soldiers supporting the Pathet Lao and United States military aid backing the anti-Communist coalition formed in Vientiane by the two remaining factions. Laos remained divided: the Pathet Lao administered approximately two-thirds of the country as a hostile, expansionist state, while right-wing generals controlled almost all the rest. Souvanna Phouma presided over the rump government by virtue of foreign support. After the coup, fear of further violence kept Vientiane tense, and still another coup was averted in August. In the same period, when the United States was busy shoring up South Viet Nam, the Laotian situation had come unstuck.

The renewed instability in Laos works to the advantage of the Pathet Lao, since of the three factions they have the best organization and, with their Viet Minh reinforcements, the strongest army. In the past two years they have achieved exclusive control of something less than 8,000 additional square kilometers of territory. Military experts calculate that if it were not for the threat of Western intervention, the Pathet Lao-Viet Minh forces could capture Vientiane in two weeks. Hence the situation

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