329. Letter From the Ambassador in Laos (Smith) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons)1
Dear Jeff: In transmitting Embtel 20302 to Alex as authorized by Deptel 1475,3 I noted in my covering letter of January 272 that I would be very much interested in any comments he might have on the matter and went on, “I might add that such information as we have tends toward corroboration of the rumors concerning Thai assistance to Phoumi who now is alleged, on relatively good authority, to have seven Thai advisers including three operating from his personal quarters, two from his office, and two more in intelligence.
“Last night both Deputy Prime Minister and another Minister who has been a lifelong friend of Phoumi’s expressed concern over Phoumi’s sudden affluence and over the manner in which he seems to be distributing funds in amounts beyond those provided in the military budget or for purposes outside the military budget.4
“It is not yet clear whether an attempt will be made to run any officers as candidates for the Assembly, but the Deputy Prime Minister told me last night that he had just come from a meeting with Phoumi in which the latter had assured him that no officers would be permitted to become candidates. There is still a question as to the timing of elections as Nhouy would like to set them in late November or early December and Phoumi and certain of his LHL colleagues, as well as CDNI colleagues, would like to see elections proceeded with as [Page 739] quickly as possible. Some would like to see the new Assembly opened on the constitutional date of May 11, which would require April elections. Others would like them held as early as possible with a good chance of winning, in order to restore democratic parliamentary government as soon as possible. Considerable public dissatisfaction is reported concerning the behavior of the Army and even of the King during the recent effort to end the Assembly’s mandate by threat of force and Royal support. A new Royal ordinance establishing electoral procedures for the forthcoming election is being actively discussed with possible reversion to provisions of laws governing the earliest elections held in Laos. Under the 1947 law as modified in 1955, balloting for all the remote villages was done by electors (délégués) with no more than three elected from each village. It is being maintained that although in the cities everybody would go to the polls under these laws, the system of electors for the villages would enable the government to control the elections much more effectively and have a good enough chance to prevent a Neo Lao Hak Xat landslide to make Spring elections possible. The decision however will probably rest largely in the hands of the King and may be taken within the next few days.
“I will keep you informed as best I can concerning developments here that are likely to be of background use to you in assessing their potential area-wide effect and in anticipating any reactions thereto that might be contemplated by the officials with whom you deal.”
I have now received a copy of the letter Alex sent you on February 25 reporting his action and commenting on the matter. I wish to express my appreciation for the highly appropriate and well timed action taken. I am in complete accord with all of the comments Alex made. I do not believe that he should try to turn the screws at all tight on Sarit in the Phoumi matter, unless unexpectedly later developments make it of clearly overriding importance and priority. It appears probable that Phoumi as well as Sarit will remain “philosophically fully convinced that he has found the answer to the problems of similarly situated countries and that the lessons are especially applicable to Laos.” No amount of argument seems likely to change their views in this regard but Phoumi was last January and again this January stopped from an allout effort to force his dictatorship on Laos. Last year he was stopped by the realization of our almost certain reaction and other indications that he could not yet hope to succeed. The second time it was the reaction of the King to Phoumi’s too ambitious and rapid assumption of power with trappings that indicated he probably aimed at more than the brief interlude as planned by the King.[Page 740]
I agree that for the time being it is unnecessary to go further with Sarit. Alex indicates that so long as Sarit is aware that any move he may make along this line will likely be “found out” by us and the UN, any assistance he gives to Phoumi is likely to be limited. I believe that every effort should be made to find a solution here in Laos and that only if these fail and as a last resort should any further attempt be made to approach Sarit on this subject.
I will, of course, be particularly careful in the meantime to keep Alex currently informed on the matter. Phoumi’s actions during the forthcoming election will probably give us our best indications of his current intent and may even clarify his probable long-run intent.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–1160. Top Secret; Official–Informal.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 327.↩
- Dated Janaury 25. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–2660)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 327.↩
- Reported in telegram 2101 from Vientiane, January 28. (ibid., 751J.5/1–2860; included in the microfiche supplement)↩
- Document 327.↩