The Furtive War by Wilfred Burchett

Stranger than Fiction

Escape From Prison

An hour after midnight on May 23, 1960, the gates of a Vientiane prison swung open and a posse of 26 armed Laotian military police marched out. Powerful floodlights set up at each corner of the prison illuminated the courtyard and road as if by daylight. Opposite the prison gate were the quarters of about 90 more MP's and their American advisers.

The crews of four tanks on permanent watch outside the prison saluted as the leader of the posse marched his men within a few feet of the tanks and headed for a nearby Buddhist pagoda. The streets were silent except for the clop-clop of their heavy military boots. The heady perfume of frangipani blossoms hung in the night air, freshened by a heavy, tropical downpour an hour earlier. At the pagoda, the troop halted. A knock on the door—and three young bonzes inside paled with fear. They had been warned, but could not seriously believe they were to be arrested, taken out of town, and shot. Now it seemed their time had come. But why such a formidable force?

A few words in low tones were exchanged, a bundle handed over and the bonzes emerged, not in their usual saffron robes, but in civilian robes with their heads covered. Silently the group continued to march, this time heading for a small wood about six miles from the center of Vientiane. Had an outsider been watching, he would have noticed that some of the MP's marched unsteadily, often stumbling, sometimes falling on the ploughed ground as if the boots were too heavy for them.

In the little wood, the outsider would have observed something quite extraordinary. After helmets had been removed, there were fervent embraces between 16 of the MP's. They hugged and kissed each other, spoke in broken tones. Tears rolled down grey, unshaven cheeks. Another MP was hugging almost as fervently one of the bonzes. Although they had marched only six miles from the prison, dawn was about to break through purple thunder clouds by the time they reached the wood. After the embraces and almost inarticulate greetings, most of the group dropped off into a deep slumber.

A few hours later one of those on guard switched on a tiny transistor radio and chuckled at the report of a tremendous sensation in Vientiane. Prince Souphanouvong, head of the Pathet Lao and 15 other Pathet Lao leaders had escaped from Vientiane prison, where they had been waiting trial and an expected death sentence for ten months. With them had disappeared the entire prison guard. As the hours went by, the reports became more and more contradictory. The group had fled across the river to Thailand. A fisherman had seen a boat full of people in uniform set out at dead of night for the opposite bank. Other reports described a truck that had pulled up outside the prison shortly after midnight and had then started off at high speed. Later came other confirmatory reports of a truck in the small hours travelling at high speed on the road that led south—then east towards Vietnam. Police and troops everywhere had been mobilized to scour the countryside and follow up every report, to check every car and truck on the road, every boat on the river.

Meanwhile Souphanouvong was having his first free sleep in ten months. And so were 15 of his companions in the little wood, six miles from Vientiane.

Telling me of this, just two years later, Souphanouvong said: "The Vientiane Plain is very bare. There was only this one little wood. It was the only obvious place for anyone to look. But General Nosavan's officers were quite convinced we had left by road. And we had taken care that circumstantial reports of our flight by truck would reach them.

"Fortunately, there was a torrential downpour just about the time we reached the wood and this washed out any traces of our flight. It was a terribly difficult march, because we were all so weak. In prison, we had had no exercise at all. We were all in heavy MP boots which seemed to weigh tons. They were new, which made it worse. I fainted several times through weakness. My feet were bleeding. Almost all my toenails had gone and the blood was squelching in my boots."

Souphanouvong, a sturdy well-knit figure, his energetic, intelligent face stained a deep brown today after 17 years of jungle warfare, was the 20th and last son of Prince Boun Khong, head of one of Laos' three royal families. The late Prince Phetsarat, former viceroy of Laos, was the eldest son; in between was Prince Souvanna Phouma, the present Prime Minister of Laos. From his boyhood years, Souphanouvong disliked the emptiness of court life. Phetsarat had forward-looking ideas and he encouraged both half-brothers to study; he himself set an example by becoming an engineer, a specialist in printing machinery. Souvanna Phouma and Souphanouvong also studied engineering in Paris and the three half brothers became the only engineers in Laos, Souvanna Phouma taking a triple degree in marine, electrical, and construction engineering, Souphanouvong heading his class with a brilliant civil engineering First at France's famous Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees.

During his work later, building roads and bridges in Vietnam, Souphanouvong was moved by the misery of workers on the railways, mines, and rubber plantations. He had already some political convictions through contact with progressives in France. He was in Vietnam when the Japanese invaded Indo-China and associated himself with the resistance movement led by the Vietminh. Once he met Ho Chi Minh and asked his advice as to what should be done in Laos.

"Seize power from the colonialists," was the reply. This he set about doing. And this was how he later became head of the Pathet Lao movement which fought side by side with the Vietminh against the French comeback in Indo-China.

Escape of Pathet Lao Battalions

One primary aim of the Americans was to win over key Pathet Lao officers. Attempts at the abortive ceasefire conference at Rangoon in 1955 to buy over Prince Souphanouvong himself had been rudely rebuffed. But a prime target now was Colonel Singkapo, [1] head of the Pathet Lao armed forces. Singkapo was regarded as a brilliant officer, widely respected throughout the country not only as a soldier, but as an intellectual. He had been a schoolteacher—a much-respected profession in a country where education is had with such difficulty. Who could they send to work on Singkapo? The CIA combed through its files, sought the advice of General Phoumi Nosavan, the "strong man" then being groomed for his role as chief power in the land. They needed someone who knew Singkapo well, but someone who was absolutely reliable. In the end they hit on a young officer who not only came from the same village in Pakse province, but had studied under Singkapo as a child. He was in an all-American formed unit. His political reliability was unquestionable; he had received his officer's training under the Americans in the Philippines.

"I was very pleased to see this young man again," Singkapo, a stocky man with a strong good-humored face, told me later when I met him at his headquarters in the Plain of Jars. "And he said, he was pleased too, to reestablish contact. Of course he was only a lad when our ways parted. He continued at school and I went to set up a resistance base against the French colonialists.

"At first the talks were about old times. Then he started getting down to the main subject. I should come over to the Royal Army—he had been assured I would have the rank of Colonel. He was only a junior officer and would be glad to serve under me.

"I replied that we have both chosen military careers. This is an honorable career. But what are our aims? For me it was clear. The good of the country, the good of the people. 'You also became a military officer for good patriotic reasons,' I told him, 'to serve your country as an honest soldier. But in fact you are forced to serve against it. What have been the results? Your unit has consistently been defeated; its strength had constantly decreased. Because the people are against you, because you are fighting brother Loatians.' He told me once that he also felt this very strongly; it was a matter which constantly worried him and many of his brother officers.

"Once he came and said: 'What you say is right. It is what I have felt for a long time. Now, for the truth. I was sent here by the Americans to win you over, to get you to accept the rank the Americans are willing to give you. You would have an easy life—plenty of money and a good living.'

"I replied: 'I took part in the resistance for the easy life, the happiness and prosperity of all Laotians, including you. I could no longer do that if I served the Americans.' He was very pleased with this reply and said: 'It's what I expected from you and I honor you for it. When the right time comes, you may find support from unexpected quarters. Many of us are sick of this business of killing our brother Laotians.' Our discussions went on over three months and then the Americans apparently concluded he had failed and he was sent away."

In the meantime, the two Pathet Lao battalions had been encircled. General Phoun Sipaseut, one of the two deputy-chairman of Souvanna Phouma's High Military Council when I met him in the Plain of Jars, filled in briefly what happened.

In February 1959 the two battalions were separated. Battalion 1 was sent to Xien Ngeun near Luang Prabang, Battalion 2 to the Plain of Jars. Both positions were in low-lying ground. Rations which had formerly been distributed by the month were now handed out on a day-to-day basis. The rice ration for the 1st Battalion was cut from 800 to 400 grams per man. Gambling houses and brothels were set up near its barracks. As for 2nd Battalion, all pay was reduced, rice and firewood supplies were cut, when it was seen that officers could not be bought up. On one occasion the water supply was poisoned. Fortunately it was tested every morning, and no one suffered. "We held on despite the pressures," said the General. "At one point we were ordered to lay down our arms because they were going to be replaced with new ones. We replied that when we got the new ones, we would lay down the old ones." May 11 was the 12th anniversary of the Laotian Constitution and on May 9 the two battalions were ordered to move to certain positions to be "integrated" on May 11—without their arms, only in shorts and shoes, to receive "new uniforms and new arms." In the meantime each of the battalions had been surrounded by three battalions of heavily-armed Royal troops, including tanks. The designated positions were barbed wire compounds. "My 2nd Battalion assembled, fully armed on the appointed day in front of its own barracks and did not move," continued General Sipaseut. "First Battalion held a meeting the previous night and opinion was divided as to what the government was up to. Officers from 2nd Battalion were visited by the Commander of the Royal army, General Ouan Rattikone, accompanied by an American adviser. The latter advised us to lay down our arms, and 'make no more trouble.' We, like 1st Battalion officers, requested time to contact our leaders in Vientiane. Then the troops were marched back into the barracks. The three-battalion encirclement had tightened now. Artillery pieces were aimed at the barracks. Forward units of the Royal army were within 15 yards of 2nd Battalion sentries."

By this time Prince Souphanouvong and other Pathet Lao leaders had been put under house arrest in Vientiane.

Another battalion and artillery reinforcements were added to the iron ring around 2nd Battalion. On May 18 an ultimatum was issued to both battalions. "Surrender within 24 hours or you'll be wiped out!" On that night, despite the tight encirclement about one third of 1st Battalion managed to escape. Early next morning, General Rattikone came in person to receive the surrender of 2nd Battalion—but found an empty barracks. "We broke out without firing a shot," said General Sipaseut.

Back in Vientiane, Singkapo was also under house arrest. "My young officer friend tried to see me," he told me later. "But he was blocked. He managed to get me a message. Four battalions were being sent to pursue the Pathet Lao 2nd Battalion. The crack 1st Paratroops Battalion had been dropped in the path of the rapidly moving troops—and soundly thrashed. Now another battalion was being sent, under the command of my young friend. There was no way for him to refuse. What could I advise? There was nothing for him to do but go, and I told him this. But I advised: 'Don't expose yourself or the battalion too much.'

"The battalion went but before any big action, my young friend was slightly wounded. He was hospitalized for seven days but pretended the wound was more serious than it really was. Without its commander, the battalion fled at the first contact. As a sort of punishment, the Battalion was sent back to garrison duty outside Vientiane."

The 2nd Battalion escaped intact, about half the effectives of the 1st (in a more difficult situation geographically) managed eventually to filter away. After desperate and unsuccessful attempts to overtake and wipe out the Battalions, revenge was taken by throwing Souphanouvong and 15 other Neo Lao Haksat leaders into prison.

The Long March

"The day of my arrest was a very sad one for my family." Souphanouvong said when I talked about all these events with him later. "My wife had just left the hospital an hour earlier after five days there for the birth of my son. I did not see either her or my new-born son for well over a year, when we were reunited in Sam Neua.

"After they arrested us, the Nosavan clique left us for three months to reflect on our situation. We were isolated from each other, in 16 different cells. We were told that the Pathet Lao movement had now been completely liquidated. The two battalions were destroyed. We would soon be tried and hung. The whole movement was liquidated down to village cadres.

"We used every means possible to influence those with whom we were in contact, even the interrogation teams and the judges who presided over the preliminary hearings. And in fact," Souphanouvong recalled with a broad smile of satisfaction, "we won over one of the judges. He later joined our movement and was a member of our delegation at the 1961 Geneva Conference.

"But it was extraordinarily difficult. Our prison was a former stable. Each of us had a cell 6 by 12 feet, full of mice and bats and with a terrible smell of horse dung. There was one iron-barred window 12 by 9 inches. Some of the comrades are still ill because of the conditions inside the prison. First there was a barbed wire fence around us, then one of corrugated iron. The reflected heat from the corrugated iron was terrible. We could only see the sky and the earth. Sometimes no food at all was brought. For days on end, in the hottest time of the year, there was no water for washing.

"We were forbidden to speak to each other, even in the brief moments we were allowed in the prison yard. We were forbidden to read. The only paper was for toilet purposes. We were continually searched. We had no news of any sort, except when the loudspeakers were turned up to report some gross insults and threats against ourselves. Even when my elder brother, Prince Phetsarat died and I requested permission to attend his funeral, this was refused. When Souvanna Phouma wanted to see me at this time, he was also refused at first. In the end, because he had ambassadorial rank, he got permission—but the guards ostentatiously put a tape recorder in front of us. He said what he wanted to say, but they still banned me from attending the funeral.

"For guards we had the most reactionary, military police unit—trained, equipped and paid directly by the Americans. They had been hand-picked and specially indoctrinated. They were the only ones permitted to have any contact with us. They brought our food, took away the remnants, closely guarded us. They were forbidden to exchange a single word with us or to accept anything from us. If we offered a cigarette, it was thrown on the floor. If we uttered a word, they put their hands to their ears. But still we carried out our policy of trying to win them over.

"We could not coordinate our activities. An occasional glance exchanged, a few words on a ball of toilet paper dropped on the ground—that was all. But still we managed after a while to indicate to each other which of the guards were the most promising targets for our explanations policy. I talked to them about the immorality of their bosses, their cruelty towards the people, of the anti-patriotic attitude of those who sold themselves for dollars. We were for the people; for that we had made sacrifices. Because of that we were in jail. Our interests were selfless, we were not out for personal gain. We were out to help the whole Laotian people, including the guards. For this we had voluntarily lived a hard, dangerous life in the jungle for many years. We fought for the real independence of our country. But who were they serving? Foreigners who wanted to enslave the country and corrupt elements who had sold themselves for dollars. "At first it was literally like talking to a brick wall, to the empty cell wall. But gradually, one or two started to listen at the window. The first sign of having touched the heart of one of them was when he came one day to say he had visited our families, assured them we were well. Then one day a guard came to bring my food. His fingers touched mine under the tray. He had bought some newspapers for me with his own money. Then, very gradually, others started to help. "First they brought us news—as MP's they were very well informed. Soon we had an overall picture of local and world news. Then they started acting as messengers for us. We got in contact with our organizations again, and began directing the whole movement in town and countryside from our prison headquarters. We gradually rebuilt our whole movement. As soon as we had our organization well on its feet again, we took all necessary steps to prepare for our own flight.

"To guard against the consequences of betrayal no single friendly guard knew of any other friendly towards us. Each probably thought he was the sole 'convert'. But by the occasional stolen glance at first—and later by written messages exchanged through the guards—we all knew how many were with us and which could be depended on.

"We got to the point where we organized mass meetings in our favor in Vientiane. The guards brought us detailed reports of how public and authorities reacted. We learned the authorities were hesitant to put us on trial in view of the mass demonstrations. A date was several times announced, but always postponed.

"In early May 1960 we were tipped off that there would be no trial. The authorities knew we would use the courtroom as a forum to denounce their rotten policies. We were to be 'shot while attempting to escape' while being transferred to another prison. We challenged the prison authorities with this and told them to shoot us on the spot—they could spare themselves the farce of an escape attempt.

"This stopped them for a while, but soon after we learned a date had definitely been set for the trial, the result of which would be we would all die—legally.' We decided the time had come to flee.

"It was not easy to arrange. Of the hundred MP's assigned to guard us, eight were always on duty. But although we had won over a good many of them, it was virtually impossible to have eight friendly ones on duty on the same night. And time was pressing. I chose a night when five of the eight were friendly. And these managed, by one pretext or another, to get the other three changed for those that I indicated. The previous night, we had arranged for one of our 'friendlies' to smuggle a comrade into the prison. He was to be our guide.

"Only on the actual night of the escape did I reveal the plan—to my own comrades first, then to the guards. In principle it had been agreed with each of them separately that we would flee and they had long decided to come with us. Their patriotism and political consciousness had been aroused to that point in long, political courses which I had given them individually. There was a last minute hitch. There was a ninth MP in the prison in charge of the arsenal, and we had not had a chance to work on him. The other guards explained the situation and he agreed to come with us. But first he must take leave of his family. Of course this would have given everything away. We explained this and after three hours discussion, he saw the point.

"There was another matter we could not overlook. One of the guards had a brother who was a bonze and he learned that his brother and two other young bonzes were to be arrested and killed because of suspected left-wing sympathies. So we decided the three must be saved. Civilian clothes should be procured for them and if they wanted, they could come along with us.

"The guards provided MP uniforms for each of us, helmets, brassards—and terrible new boots. They also brought in nylon raincoats, water-bottles, and some essential foodstuffs. Only at 8 p.m., when all this was ready, did I reveal the plan. We were taken to the arsenal—we could help ourselves. There was a fine array of arms, including some splendid automatic weapons. It was a big temptation, but we had a long, hard road ahead and we decided on one arm per man, a light carbine and plenty of cartridges.

"At a few minutes before midnight, one of the guards went out to check on the situation. Everything was all right. We waited a while and then one of our own comrades, in his MP uniform, went out. He also returned and reported: 'All in order.' The moment had come. We marched out under the bright glare of the searchlights—out past the double rows of six-feet-high barbed wire fences; out past the noses of our worst enemies who had sworn to destroy us; past the special armored unit which mounted guard for 24 hours a day; out on to the main road.

"Each step was agony for us in our weakened condition and in the unaccustomed boots which were rigid as cast iron. After we had picked up the bonzes, we set out for the wood selected for our first bivouac.

"We considered we had an 80 percent chance of success and this justified the risk. We had to take the possibility of betrayal into account, but we relied on the patriotism and newly aroused political consciousness of our guards, and we were right. And this fortified them also in the ordeals that lay ahead.

"For the next five months, we tramped through the jungle covering over 300 miles back to our old bases, handed back from one guerilla unit to another, Nosavan's troops scouring the countryside after us. It was a terrible journey. The 16 of us were very weak from our prison experiences, the guards had never been used to marching at all. The fact that there were no privileged in our party fortified them in the most difficult times. It was strictly share and share alike. Some wanted to help carry my pack, but even when I was very ill, I insisted on carrying my share. It was the same with the other leaders. This was a type of leadership the former MP's had never known. It strengthened their convictions that they were on the right track, in the right company."

The story of that five-month trek is obviously an epic in itself and there is place for only a few fragments here. The rainy season set in shortly after the escape. Tracks became quagmires, the jungle was infested with blood-sucking leeches and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Food was always short, ordinary shelter non-existent.

"We ate all sorts of strange foods," Souphanouvong continued. "We caught iguanas and boiled them. We had no salt, but used bamboo ash instead. We found cicada eggs were edible—taste like butter. We gathered them in clusters from certain trees. For weeks on end, we followed elephant tracks but elephant dung, diluted by the torrential rains, was impossible to avoid. It is very bad for the feet; some sort of insect works its way up through the soles.

"We were always drenched to the skin. Leeches were a constant, horrible menace. They dropped off branches into our ears, nose, and eyes and from the ground worked into our boots and in between the toes.

"One day, when the pursuit was fairly close, a Meo tribesman planted himself squarely in my path. 'I know you. You are Prince Souphanouvong,' he said. 'Come to our village.' It was our policy to avoid all villages—partly for fear of betrayal, but also to avoid reprisals being taken against the villages later for having given us shelter. We slept exclusively in the forest, in hammocks slung between trees. Villagers, usually the women, brought us food in the woods. We always exercized the greatest vigilance.

'Our village will never betray you,' he said. 'Not now or in the future. Come!' I felt safe then. When a Meo gives his word, it is for all time. So we went to the village. A buffalo was slaughtered in our honor and that night we slept in Meo huts. A rare treat!

"Up and down the mountains, through tracks that were mere tunnels in the undergrowth, always soaked, more often than not hungry, we tramped on, month after month. We became alpinists, clambering over rocky mountain passes, sometimes felling trees to bridge ravines, slithering down rocky slopes, wading across mountain torrents. We were heading back towards our old bases in Sam Neua, and had already decided we must have a province to ourselves again. When we got into the frontier country of our old zone, we could breathe more freely. People began to produce portraits of myself from carefully preserved caches in the jungle— they had kept them since the resistance days.

Kong Le's Coup

"At 8 o'clock one morning three months after our escape," continued Souphanouvong, "we switched on the little transistor set as usual to get the news, and we were electrified. It was August 9. There had been a coup in Vientiane. A young commander of a paratroop battalion had seized power and proclaimed a policy of neutrality and an end to foreign intervention. His name was Captain Kong Le. Hardly anyone had ever heard of him."

"Of course we were delighted with the news," said Singkapo, who now took up the narrative. "There was tremendous excitement when those first words were heard over the radio. What does the coup mean? Who is Kong Le? What will be his line? We strained to catch every word as if our lives depended on it. Then it came—peace, neutrality, independence, an end to foreign intervention in our country.

Three of us could relax and smile. Souphanouvong, Nouhak[2] and myself. Only we three knew that Kong Le was the young officer the Americans had sent to win me over.

"It was decided I should go back and reestablish contact. I was to travel light, and fast. What had taken us three months to cover I did in seven days and nights of travel, stopping only for snatches of sleep. I got back to a point close enough to Vientiane to establish contact with Kong Le and he sent a helicopter to pick me up. Later we fought side by side in the defense of Vientiane and again in the capture of the Plain of Jars."

Another fascinating point that Singkapo revealed during our long talk, was that Phoumi Nosavan—the pro-American general who had been doing his best to destroy Singkapo and the other Pathet Lao leaders for months past—had been befriended as a child by Singkapo: "He was an abandoned orphan." Singkapo said: "We took him in and looked after him till he was ten years old. He's chosen an odd way to show his gratitude."

I met Captain Kong Le at his headquarters in a former French Foreign Legion post at Khang Khay in the Plain of Jars—a small, slightly built smiling man. It happened to be his 28th birthday. Kong Le, like Singkapo has now been given general's rank, but still prefers to be called captain. The two were later appointed to head the Mixed High Command which runs military operations of the Souvanna Phouma government.

My main interest when I met him were his motives for the coup. After all, he had been considered one of "America's own" crack officers with all sorts of privileges far above those normally accorded anyone of captain's rank.

"From the time I joined the army in January 1952 until the coup," he said, "I was sent all over the country fighting against brother Laotians. The people did not want all this fighting and suffering. I got to the point where I could not tolerate it any longer. I carried out the coup to end the war and end foreign interference in Laos. That is the short answer."

As I pressed for a "longer answer," he filled in some more details, speaking French and English with ease, occasionally searching a precise word from an officer-interpreter.

"In reality, Laotian independence had always been a false independence. First we had the French on our backs, then the Americans. My 2nd Paratroop Battalion, for instance, which carried out the coup, was created by the Americans. It was set up, financed, armed, and trained by them. I knew the Americans wanted to influence me, to have me completely in their pocket. I let them think this was so, I had to hide my own feelings. But I didn't need their influence, I despised it.

"The Americans sent me to Thailand, where I was specially trained as commander of a parachute battalion. The Americans and Phoumi Nosavan had complete confidence in me. Later the Americans showered money on me. I took it and distributed it among the troops. They offered me a very nice civilian car. I said that as I was a military man my staff car was sufficient. By every possible means they try and buy up those they think will be faithful servants. In fact they despise our people and our army. The Americans have a 'master race' complex and regard Laotians as inferior people. They wouldn't even drink Laotian water; their drinking water had to be flown in from the Philippines. Ours was good enough for washing in only, they told me."

It was typical of American activities in Southeast Asia that although they had spent over $300,000,000 in Laos over the previous six years—at least $100 per head of the population— they had not bothered to put in a water-filtering plant at the capital. Neither was there any piped water supply in the city, but a vast sum of money had been spent on erecting a monstrous "victory arch" in Vientiane to celebrate General Nosavan's capture of the city in December 1960.

"Our battalion had been set up on New Year's Day, 1958," continued Captain Kong Le. "It was entirely dependent on the Americans. When we went on operations, we didn't even have food of our own. We had to ask the Americans for everything. It was U.S. planes that parachuted food and supplies to us.

“Although I am only a young officer with not much seniority I had fought in almost every populated part of our country. But everywhere, I used my assignments to sound out the opinions of the people, in the towns and in the villages. I was soon convinced that over 90 percent of the people wanted only one thing – peace and an end to foreign interference. They wanted a policy of neutrality. It was what I wanted too, and though contacts with the Pathet Lao I knew this was what they were fighting for. I determined to prepare a coup.

“Everyone in my battalion supported me. All the officers from my own graduation class were with me and many others besides. I was certain of victory. All that was left was to fix the date. As we were quartered only about 12 miles outside Vientien we were favourably placed for action.”

On August 8, the Americans ordered the battalion out on a “moping-up” operation against suspected pro-Pathet Lao villages north of Vientiane. Operation orders called for the battalion to pass though the City at 8 P.M. Deciding the moment had come, Kong Le pretended to agree with the plan, but suggested that if 50 truckloads of troops went though the city at that hour, the secrecy of the operation would be given away. He proposed 3 A.M. and this was agreed. U.S. advisers provided money for the operation and allotted the arms, Kong Le said. In their presence, he met all section, platoon, and company chiefs and gave them their orders. “The Americans were convinced I was giving orders for the ‘moping-up’ operation,” he explained. “In fact I was listing the various posts to be seized in Vientiane – General Headquarters, power and radio stations, the arsenal, Police headquarters, etc. I said everything must be in our hands by 3 A.M. No bloodshed if possible – but immediate, energetic action in the case of opposition. The American advisers stood by apparently very satisfied by the eager, serious way in which the various section leaders received their assignments. These advisers had probably never attended a briefing received with such enthusiasm.

“In every way it was a favorable moment. Nosavan, Somsanith (then prime minister), and other ministers were attending celebrations in Luang Prabang, although I would like to have captured Nosavan. The American advisers were sleeping off their usual Saturday night’s wining and dining.

“We had an arrangement with the main military camp at Khinaimo, about 20 miles from Vientiane, for armored support if we needed if for our operations, so we dispatched the First section there to ask for a few tanks and four machine gun carriers for support on the ‘moping-up’ operation.

“Second section was to arrest the Commander-in-Chief, General Sounthone Pathammavong in his residence. When they arrived, a sentry cried: ‘Halt’ and then fired, wounding one of our men. They killed him and charged straight at the house. The rest of the guards fled. General Sounthone, in his pyjamas, took one look out of the window and telephoned to the Training Center: ‘What are all these parachutists doing in the city?’ he asked. One of our men who had just taken over the Center, answered the phone: ‘We’ve just taken over the capital,’ he said: ‘You’d better surrender.’

“A company occupied the arsenal; everyone there was in pyjamas too. By a few minutes after 3 A.M. everything was in our hands. Total casualties were one of our men wounded, one of theirs killed and two wounded.

“People were very surprised when they started to move about shortly after dawn. But we had leaflets already printed explaining why we had carried out the coup, and setting forth our policy of peace, neutrality, and an end to foreign intervention and corruption. Then there was very quickly tremendous enthusiasm. By afternoon, the streets were filled with demonstrators carrying placards: ‘Yanks Go Home,’ ‘Chase Out the Americans’, ‘Peace and Unity’, ‘Relations With the Socialist World’. Messages of support started pouring in from all over the country, including one from underground Central Committee of the Neo Lao Haksat party.”

1. Singkapo Chunamali Sikhot, member Central Committee of Neo Lao Haksat.

2. Nouhak Phoumsavan, member of the Central Committee of Neo Lao Haksat.