453. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State0

1453. In present fluid state of affairs difficult make any firm judgments as to what exactly is Communist game in their recent stepping up of pressures and aggressive acts against neutralists PDJ and other isolated areas northern Laos. Second question is whether there is reason believe Communists are not following what we have up till now believed to be their strategy on Laos, namely to pay lip service to Geneva Accords and avoid actions entailing serious risk of upsetting those Accords, at same time holding on to all their assets and banking on development of the situation which would in due course permit them take over Laos without a fight.

Since last fall it has become increasingly clear Communist objective has been to weaken, divide and eventually disintegrate Kong Le neutralist forces at same time building up “progressive” neutralists who at strategic moment would be proclaimed as only true neutralists. Unclear what has been Russian role although until issues were sharpened over recent weeks, very much doubt that Russians did anything to oppose these efforts and probably gave them some support.

In February and March we saw beginnings of intensified efforts, using “progressive” neutralists as front to weaken Kong Le and present his with superior military posture on PL side, backed by terror (e.g. Ketsana murder), bribery and psychological threat posed by increasingly evident presence Viet Minh in background. Believe Communists were increasingly taking advantage, among other things, of extended absence Souvanna Phouma from local scene, and of his unwillingness take firm stand when in Vientiane.

Quinim assassination undoubtedly has disarranged Communist time-table. On one hand major political instrument lost and direction and cohesion of “progressive” neutralists threatened. Too early now to say what will emerge from current confusing picture among Santiphab and other dissident currents. On other hand believe assassination, which militarily put conservative neutralists at least temporarily on defensive, gave Communists propaganda advantage and perhaps also some emotional push which led them to step up their time-table against Kong Le.

For last ten days what we have seen is renewal Communist military activity throughout northern Laos. In PDJ area PL have kept “progressive” neutralists out front as far as possible and it is here that such few [Page 967] actual fire fights as have occurred have taken place. PL meanwhile elsewhere appear be filling up vacuum previously left open from time of cease-fire in 1961 and have also tended move forces from other areas to give neutralists impression that they were being threatened and sometimes surrounded in areas such as Vang Vieng-Kassy, Ban Ban, Tha Thom, as well as PDJ and near vicinity. While encadred Viet Minh may be present with PL in some forward areas, Viet Minh role to date has been to be present in background, knowing that Kong Le and his forces, while confident of their prowess against PL, make no such boasts when it comes to Viet Minh.

There has been little real fighting in ten day period. At Khang Khay it appears dissident neutralists backed by PL posed threat which, without very much shooting, was sufficient effect removal Kong Le group which then retired to surrounding hills. In Ban Ban, Kong Le feels surrounded and threatened but no encounters had taken place at last reading. In Xieng Khouang it appears that after earlier “reconciliation” of Thiep and his forces with other KL in town, Thiep again defected and moved to other side of town to join PL. There was some shooting and perhaps some minor fighting in Xieng Khouang and then Kong Le forces which were cut off from supplies pulled out. Present situation unclear but Xieng Khouang still appears firmly in PL/dissident hands. Undoubtedly what Communists have banked on is that by relying on at same time psychological threat of Viet Minh presence, isolation of some units, cutting off supplies from KL forces, generally lowering morale and encouraging further dissidence, that KL neutralist forces would in due course desert, defect and otherwise disintegrate. Meanwhile Deuane would have been set up as true neutralist leader and take over PDJ area.

It is this Communist strategy which has made it so important that we do everything possible assure Kong Le has adequate supplies and funds, evidence of international appreciation and understanding his situation through presence ICC, engagement of co-chairmen, and other devices and, most recently, reassurances his rear and flanks in friendly hands of Meo ADCs.

These things on way to accomplishment and, with addition of firmer line from Souvanna Phouma, lead us believe that nation on way to being stabilized as there is growing awareness by Communists of risks they are running of upsetting Geneva Accords. This is not to say that Communist strategy has changed but step-up of activity which followed Quinim’s assassination may be expected to return to slower, steadier, but nonetheless, constant previous level.

As opportunity offers, will follow with further observations if Dept finds these useful.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Bangkok, London, CINCPAC for POLAD, Paris, Moscow, Saigon, Phnom Penh, New Delhi, and Ottawa.