Obituaries:Prince Souphanouvong

Prince Souphanouvong was the first President of the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, from its establishment in December 1975 until March 1991, when he left office. Souphanouvong had been a prominent figure in the Laotian revolutionary movemen t fromthe end of the Pacific war, when through an initial association with the Vietnamese Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, he sought to mobilise opposition to the return of French colonial rule.

Souphanouvong was a most unlikely revolutionary. He was born in Luang Prabang in 1909, the youngest of the 22 sons of Prince Boun Khong, the uparat or regent in the royal house. His best-known half-brother was the late Prince Souvanna Phouma, who enjoye d a parallel career until 1975 on the anti-Communist side of Laotian politics. The two half-brothers served as interlocutors for their respective constituencies, holding out the hope during the 1960s and into the early 1970s that their fraternal link migh t provide a basis for political compromise to end the Laotian civil war. Prince Souphanouvong never wavered, however, in his commitment to the Laotian revolutionary movement and to its special relationship with its mentor, the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Souphanouvong was educated first in Hanoi and then in Paris, where he studied civil engineering and was attracted to the politics of the Popular Front. On his return to Laos, he was assigned by the French colonial authorities to the Public Works Department in Nha Trang in Vietnam. He worked as a civil engineer building bridges up to the end of the war and married the daughter of a Vietnamese civil servant, who exercised a strong influence on him. It was during this period that Souphanouvong probably made the judgement that the independence of landlocked Laos could only be achieved through the closest of ties with Vietnam's Communists, who had established the Viet Minh, or League for the Independence of Vietnam, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

His initial attempt to mobilise Laotian opposition to a return to French rule in association with his royal counterparts ended in failure and he spent the years 1946-49 in exile in Thailand. When his more conservative freedom fighters came to terms with France in 1949, Souphanouvong joined the Viet Minh in the jungles of Vietnam and began a long-standing relationship with the effective leaders of the Laotian revolutionary movement, the late Kaysone Phomvihan and Nouhak Phoumsavan.

In August 1950, Souphanouvong convened the first congress of the Free Laos Front - more generally known as the Pathet Lao - which served as the vehicle for the Communist challenge to French rule. After the formal independence of Laos in 1954, his moveme n t was excluded from a share in power but retained territorial enclaves in two provinces adjoining China and Vietnam. Souphanouvong was involved in 1955 in establishing the Lao People's Party, later the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, which assumed tota l power in 1975.

He was charged with responsibility for negotiations with his half-brother Prince Souvanna Phouma, leading to the formation of a coalition government in 1957 in which he served as Minister of Planning. He was arrested in Vientiane with other Pathet Lao leaders in 1959 but escaped in the following year to the Pathet Lao redoubt in the eastern uplands through which ran the infiltration routes from North to South Vietnam known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

After a coup in 1960 mounted by neutralist forces, Souphanouvong became actively engaged in negotiations resulting in an international conference on Laos in 1961-62, and the formation of another coalition government headed by his half-brother in which healso served. That conference failed to end the civil war in Laos, whose fortunes were linked closely with the more important conflict in neighbouring Vietnam. Souphanouvong continued to be involved in negotiations with his half-brother's adm i nistration, which led eventually to a third coalition government in 1973; it failed to survive the success of revolutionary communism in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975.

Souphanouvong never rose higher than third place in the Communist hierarchy and was never regarded as a commanding figure within the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party because of his royal lineage. He ceased to exercise the office of President from 1986 when, on the grounds of his infirmity, an acting president was appointed. But he did not give up his formal politburo position and high office until 1991.

Michael Leifer

Souphanouvong, politician: born Luang Prabang 13 July 1909; President of Laos 1975-86; married Le Thi Ky-Nam; died Vientiane 9 January 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence