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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits