Exclusive Interview with Touxoua LYFOUNG,
Lao Nation Party President, Given to Hmoob Vam Meej.
The Second Congress of the Lao Nation Party took place in Louvres (95- Val d'Oise), on June 23, 1996, and resulted in the election of Touxoua LYFOUNG as Party Chair for a three year term. Hmoob Vam Meej went to meet the new Lao Nation Party President at his residence, in Draveil (91- Essonne), to record his comments and to get to know him better. The Paj Tshiab Review is publishing here, as a Special Edition, that interview in its integrity.
HVM: Mr. Touxoua LYFOUNG, you were recently elected President of the Lao Nation Party. Could you share with us how this came to be?
TL: The process which led me to the chairmanship followed the rules of any elections held with due respect to the principles of freedom and democracy. Three months before the Congress met, we conducted a sort of survey of all the Party members to gain some insight as to what their interests would be. We asked each member three questions:
1) Are you considering being a candidate for the position of President of the Party ?
2) Who would you support for the Presidency of the Party ? and
3) Would you wish for a second term for the incumbent President ?
The results of the survey were relatively favorable to my candidacy, but I was not considering running at the time. The incumbent President, Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA, did not wish to pursue a second term. After a quick consultation of the party leaders, two names were suggested at the Congressional meeting: one of those was my name, the other one was my friend's name, Foy SOUVANLASY, also a founding member of the Party. I only received a few more votes than my friend and opponent, but the by-laws and the rules of the Party provide that the candidate with a majority of the votes should become the next Chairman. I therefore complied with the election rule.
HVM: How was the Lao Nation Party created? What are its goals? And what is your political platform or rather what will your priorities for action be in the next months and years to come?
TL: You are asking many questions. But I believe they are related to each other. I will therefore answer them, point by point, without dwelling too much on details, though.
The Lao Nation Party was created immediately after the Second Congress of the Movement for Democracy in Laos (MDL), in Acheres, in March of 1992, following the initiative of several congressional members, who included Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA, Lyxuxu LYFOUNG, Colonel Ngeunsamlit DON SASORITH, Foy SOUVANLASY, Mrs. Khamtanh SAYARATH, Colonel Souy INTHAVONG, Colonel Soumboun KHENNAVONG, and myself. Our goal was to strengthen the MDL in its organizational structure and its future patriotic activities. At the beginning, we were planning to be an energetic extension of the MDL core, next to Phagna Houmphanh SAIGNASITH's Neo Hom and to Phagna Inpeng SURYADHAY's National Front to Free the Lao People (Front National de Liberation du Peuple Lao or FNLPL). That latter was the President Elect of the new organization. We wanted to unite the MDL members who belonged neither to Neo Hom, nor to FNLPL (commonly referred to as NPPX), which meant the "non-insiders" or "center" in political jargon, to constitute a political force within the MDL. Let's not forget that the MDL initially started with a federation-like vision as opposed to a Party-like vision. At the start of the Lao Nation Party, our first political act was to sign an alliance agreement with the NPPX in support of the MDL. But very soon, rumors circulated between Taiwan, Paris, Perpignan, Washington, and California, insinuating that the Lao Nation Party was really working on behalf of the government in Vientiane. In the Neo Hom's Headquarters, plans were made to bring Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA down, and through him, the Lao Nation Party. Thirteen months after the MDL Congress, whereas the MDL by-laws did not allow it, the President of MDL-Europe, who had been elected for a one year term, decided from his own initiative to dismiss his General Secretary, who was a founding member of both the MDL and the Lao Nation Party. After that incident, it became unthinkable for the Lao Nation Party to collaborate with Neo Hom within the MDL. Meanwhile we learned that President Inpeng SURYADHAY disengaged himself from NPPX to form a political party, which eventually never came to be. I find all those events quite unfortunate. The Lao Nation Party was therefore left to define its own political agenda and its own strategy. Nevertheless, I have remained a MDL member out of loyalty to the unity and federation ideal promoted by the MDL, and out of respect for Phagna Inpeng SURYADHAY, whom I consider one of the great and true Laotian resistants, on the same foot as Phagna Louang Outhong SOUVANNAVONG, General VANG Pao, Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA, Phagna Houmphanh SAIGNASITH, General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE, and President Pakao HEU.
The Lao Nation Party's political agenda comprises three elements :
1) We will fight for Freedom, Democracy, Justice, and the Respect of Human Rights in our country, as provided by the Geneva Agreements of 1962 regarding the Neutrality of Laos and those of 1973 regarding the national Unity and Harmony.
2) We wish for Laos to become a Constitutional Monarchy, to prevent any division over territorial, ethnic, racial, or religious issues, which would be harmful to the national unity.
3) We demand that ethnic minorities be granted their rightful dues in terms of the sharing of authority within the territorial collectives and within the administrative and political branches of the States.
My own political actions turn around those three themes. At the present, they relate to a strategy, which I cannot disclose yet. Just know that our everlasting priority is to seek to unify all our forces, political as well as military, to put an end to our country's occupation by the communist dictatorship and bleakness. We will be able to achieve neither the democracy we are all wishing for, nor the Constitutional Monarchy we are seeking, nor the ethnic minority participation in the governing branches we are demanding, as long as the Single Party makes its own laws and rules as absolute conqueror.
HVM: We read in the newspaper that the government in Vientiane will change. Will your struggle still serve a purpose?
TL: It is true that the unnatural and anachronistic government in Vientiane will have to change sooner or later. But allow me to say one thing. The government will change because we are relentlessly fighting it and because we are constantly condemning it before the rest of the world. One can never gain anything without making any effort. It is a good thing that the government will change. Hence, the Laotians will be able to return to their homeland to stare in the face the executioners of their families and loved ones. But that is not our primary objective. We must make all efforts, as is the duty of any Free Laotian, to cause the downfall of that evil government, so that it will be banished and that we will never have to hear again about the Laotian communism or communism in the Laotian manner. One can quietly wait for that government to change. However, if the change occurs as a result of the deeds of the current government officials, then yesterday's criminals will be hailed as tomorrow's angels of mercy. Back in World War II, the Allies did not only wish for Hitler to change, to close his death camps, or to put an end to his gas chambers. They wished to stop the Nazi movement and the genocide ideology.
HVM: You mentioned Pakao HEU and General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE, do you know them personally?
TL: I have the privilege to personally know neither President Pakao HEU, nor Generals Young Joua HEU and MOUA Gnia-Long, aside from what is said of them in the newspapers, in the available videotapes, and from word of mouth news. However, I do know that they and their men are on the front lines to free our country from the North Vietnamese communist occupation. After all, I will remind you that forty years ago, the French resistants did not need to personally know General de GAULLE. As for General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE, I met him several times in PARIS. I do know one more thing. General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE is resisting on the front lines under the patronage of the Lao People's Solidarity Party, when others are discussing politics in the plush salons of Paris and California, thousands of miles away from Laos. General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE was the right-hand man of Prince Boun Oun NA CHAMPASSAC, former General Inspector of the Lao Kingdom, whose status ranked right under the King, and who, before his death, entrusted in a written statement signed by his own hand, the command in chief of the forces fighting for the freedom of Laos to General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE. As I felt much esteem for Prince Boun Oum NA CHAMPASSAC, I have confidence in General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE. Furthermore, the Lao Nation Party has signed an Alliance Pact with the Lao People's Solidarity Party. My relations with General Bounleuth fall within the framework of that Pact.
HVM: What is the relationship between the Lao Nation Party and other Laotian political organizations in France and in the rest of the world in general, such as the Royal Family, the OLREC, General VANG Pao's Neo Hom, with whom rumors have it that you signed a contract?
TL: First of all, I would like to clarify that the Royal Family is not a political organization, but rather an institution decreed by the will of God, and respected as such by the People. In the hierarchical order of the Four High Institutions of the States, the King came in third position, right after the Nation and Religion, and before the Constitution. In principle, the King can interfere neither with the exercise of the executive power, nor with the exercise of the legislative power, and nor with the exercise of the judicial power. In the old days, it was customary to make the distinction between the Reigning Royal Family and the Governing Royal Family. Nowadays, that distinction is no longer relevant and no longer significant, as the government holds its power from the People and for the People. That implies general elections, with the universal suffrage, to select the representatives of the People. That also implies the existence of a majority in the National Assembly (deputies or parliamentarians) to uphold the Executive Power chosen by the People's will. Finally, that implies the existence of a legislative document which sets term limits for deputies and parliamentarians, which would set a limit to the Executive Power to avoid a shift towards a dictatorship or personal power. The Lao Nation Party considers the Royal Family as an Institution with a referee purpose and which can symbolize national unity and the continuity of the State, but definitely not as a political organization. For this reason, the Lao Nation Party approves and supports without reservation the actions of the Head of the Royal Family, in deference to the National Reconciliation principle. I do regret that the organizations and the men who have always supported the Monarchy have not supported His Majesty Tiao Sauryavong SAVANG's proposal to form a Council of Overseas Laotians.
I have maintained friendly relations with the OLREC officials, but there has not been yet a move to bring closer the Lao Nation Party and the OLREC, which is a non-governmental organization with a half political and half humanitarian mission. If I may refer to the last heard declarations of the OLREC, which were widely aired in France and in the United States, the OLREC promotes democracy but without an overthrow of the existing dictatorship. The OLREC has offered to share its brainpower with the communist government in Vientiane, in the hope that Vientiane will extend its hand in return, to jointly find adequate solutions to the country's economic difficulties. I have myself gone to visit Laos in July of 1989. The brainpower was not lacking there. It is the system which had willed the country to remain impoverished and beggardly. My friends at the OLREC often quote me the Laotian saying which suggests that an appealing bait will attract the big fish. However, I fear that in this story, the big fish will swallow both the bait, the fishing rod, and the fisherman. I would add that the OLREC, with the choice of its new name, no longer represents the Laotian political refugees and no longer represents their interests. It rather constitutes a reserve of manpower resources, to be put to the service of the communist government in Vientiane. I worry when I read the solemn declarations of the OLREC. However, I do have an absolute trust in the wisdom and the clearsightedness of President Chansamone VORAVONG and of his General Secretary, Kham-Ouane RATANAVONG, whose struggle for Laos' independence and national sovereignty was not born yesterday. I have also learned that, along the same line as the OLREC which has a socialist bend, another Laotian non-governmental organization of the same type but with a Catholic bend and openly pro-Vientiane, has just formed. Finally, I am rather pleased that everyone is packing his suitcase. We have grown older overseas. We all want to go and take our final rest on our native land.
Since the creation of the Lao Nation Party, and upon our initiative, we have reunited several times the diverse Laotian organizations which had the common purpose of resisting and fighting for democracy in Laos, with the goal of forming a Committee of Coordination of all our patriotic activities in France, in the United States, in Australia, in Thailand, and on the front lines in Laos. General VANG Pao's Neo Hom, represented in France by some right-wing elements, has never responded to our invitations. That organization has always been a lone player, accusing all the others of collaborating with Vientiane. This said, I do consider General VANG Pao as the greatest General the Kingdom of Laos has ever seen. I believe that a number of other Laotian generals would agree with me. VANG Pao undeniably has the qualities of a great military leader. He would have been Minister of the National Defense, Chef d'Etat Major General or Commander in Chief of the Royal Armed Forces, had the fate of the Kingdom of Laos been different. In each of his visits in Paris, Prince SOUVANNAPHOUMA, himself, then Prime Minister, publicly praised General VANG Pao as a good soldier and a good public servant of the nation, before all the Laotian students in France. I did not hear the Prince make such complimentary comments regarding any other military leader. At the time, I was still a student in Bordeaux. I often went up to Paris to attend the press conferences given by the Prime Minister at the Lao Embassy, because I had much interest in my country's affairs. General VANG Pao's only fault, which can also be his strongest quality, is his distrust of others. His monumental error, if I may speak of it, has been to send his Californian flock barking in the streets of FRESNO and GREEN BAY, when the officials of the Lao Nation Party came to visit the United States in October of 1993. He acted upon the advice of some contemptible individuals who wished to hurt me, my family, and Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA. I hope that such events will never happen again. I would have preferred to see General VANG Pao's followers parade and yell "End Communism" before the Lao Embassy in Washington D.C. or before the United Nations in New York. Knowing General VANG Pao, who I respect as my own father, and in light of the affectional bonds which have tied us for more than thirty years, I still cannot understand what led him to choose that course of action. I prefer to soothe my sadness by believing that there must have been another hand in this sorry episode, and that General VANG Pao and I are fighting the same battle for the same reasons. The Lao Nation Party always looks to the future. Unity makes Strength is still our motto.
It is true that General VANG Pao and I have signed a contract re-affirming our commitment to the Hmong people. We have sworn upon our honor to never do anything which would divide the Hmong people or weaken their unity. I was then a member of the MDL Supreme Council and the Speaker of the Lao Nation Party. That moral contract conformed to the political agenda of the Lao Nation Party, which I defended and which went beyond Hmong unity only. I therefore had no doubt about signing that contract. Several months later, during the Lao Nation Party officials' visit to the United States, one of us betrayed the other by paying some Hmong people to protest against their own Hmong people in Fresno, and then in Green Bay. As for me, my conscience is clear.
Regarding the other political organizations, such as:
- the Union for Lao Democracy (Union Pour la Democracie Lao or UPDL) formed by my friends, Dr. Soumboun THORANINH and Prince Chaosith NA CHAMPASSAC;
- the Lao Phattana of former Deputy Soukane SISOULTHONE and my friend, Thanom SRI-ANOUSOK, which consists of neutralists, socialists, former communists and sympathizers of the new government;
- the Lao Seritham of my friend, Thao Seng CHITDALAY, Chief Editor of a popular newspaper by the same name;
- the National Front to Free the People of Laos (NPPX) of Phagna Sithat SITTHIBOUN, located in Australia and represented in France by Colonel Khamphay THEPSOUVAN and my friend Khampheo LATHAMANY; and
- the Lao People's Solidarity Party of General Bounleuth SAYCOCIE, located in Thailand and represented in France by my friend, Khammone SOUVANNARATH;
we have put in place a Committee of Coordination, which was operational for only three meetings. I do know why the experiment failed. I do not put any blame on anyone. The Lao Nation Party will go on its own way. Short of an overseas national unity, we will achieve unity in Laos with those who are fighting on the front lines.
HVM: Should we consider that your relationship with General VANG Pao is from now on limited to your family ties?
TL: Absolutely not. I am looking forward to meeting face to face with him as soon as the opportunity presents itself, to clarify certain points of misunderstanding or disagreement between us. The General is a man of experience and a patriot to the last of his breath. He will understand that we have common interests and most importantly, the same hopes for our country. He has made alliances with people, who in the past had sought to capture him. There is no reason why he would not get along with me. General VANG Pao knows that I feel the utmost respect, affection, and gratitude towards him. I was my father's driver and confident in the 1960's when my father was going back and forth between the salons of the Vientiane officials to defend the cause and the integrity of General VANG Pao.
HVM: On another topic, what are your thoughts regarding the pamphlets and anonymous letters urging the Laotian refugees to distrust the Thai monks, who are accused of being double agents in the service of the Thai government?
TL: Personally, I give no credence to the anonymous letters. Between 1993 and 1994, I, myself, received about fifteen of those, some of them originating from the Cher, from the Var, from the Bouches du Rhone, and from the Parisian area, totaling twenty pages. Those letters called me all kinds of names, even threatened my life if I did not stop my political activities. I did not know who the authors of those letters were, but I did know who their leaders were. One thing is sure: those anonymous letters helped me be become a more determined freedom fighter.
To come back to the issue of the Thai monks, since you asked about them, I would say that it appears to be an internal quarrel, or rather some sort of vendetta between the monks and the different organizations supporting Buddhism. Religion, as you know it, knows no national boundaries. I have as much respect for Cambodian monks, as for Thai monks, as for Vietnamese monks, as for Lao monks or monks from Sri Lanka. The authors of those anonymous letters are cowards who were paid to accomplish a low deed. They built an anti-Thai campaign to make us forget that our country is occupied by the Vietnamese communists, that the men who are actually controlling our country are Vietnamese. Three years ago, they produced a one hundred twenty page document retelling the two hundred year old efforts of Siam to annex Laos. They willfully forget to mention that , today, Laos has been annexed by Vietnam. The sad thing is that the overseas Laotian intelligentsia believes those anonymous letters and documents, which have no known origin and no known author. I would also point out that coincidentally some pagodas in France, where we worship, have little by little gone under the control of organizations whose officials do not hide their sympathy for Vientiane. At this stage of my explanations, I am sure that you can guess who is behind all these events. Certainly, in politics, an opponent can become a friend, and a friend can become an adversary. But an enemy will always be an enemy. We lost our country because we took the bait prepared by our enemy.
Regarding the question about religion, I have adopted the following stand which applies only to my own person. I think that there should not be a state-supported religion in the Laos of the future. Religious practices should be free of any restraint as long as they do not go against the interests of the family, of society, or of the State. I am expressing this view as a tolerant Buddhist. Several members of the LYFOUNG family have been monks. My father took vows in Buddhist pagodas. I, myself, attended elementary classes in a Xiengkhuang pagoda, where I prayed in the mornings and in the evenings. In my opinion, Buddhism is the wisest philosophy existing in this world. But I have too much respect for freedom to impose my religion on others. One day, when he was reciting his lesson, my ten-year-old son told me it took one hundred years to end a religious war in France. He talked to me about the St. Barthelemy and then about the Edict of Nantes. He thought that those people were crazy. I absolutely share his opinion. After the regicide, planned assassinations, and genocide committed by the communists in my country, I do not wish to see another conflict tear apart the Laotian people.
On the institutional level, we would like to have a monarch who would reign as in the Thai model, the English model, the Swedish model, the Finnish model, or the Japanese model, but who would not govern. Naturally, when the time comes, that question will be first submitted to the People in the form of a referendum. The Lao Nation Party will always follow the will of the People. We want and we will fight for a Constitution based on the Separation of Powers Principle, based on the respect of Human Rights, and based on the recognition of a multi-party system. We defend with no hesitation the Lao language as the unifying language, but we will tolerate and encourage the teaching of ethnic minority languages and dialects in public schools, as optional languages. In private high schools as well as in vocational schools, the teaching of the Lao language will be mandatory and will be taught to all.
HVM: In your opinion, who is currently the legitimate representative of Laos?
TL: Although King Sisavang VATTHANA abdicated in 1975 through a sad message solemnly read by the Heir, Prince VONGSAVANG, before the National Representation, I consider the Royal Family as the legitimate representative of Laos. My argument has a historical foundation. I am one of those who believe that Laos has been able to survive throughout the centuries, against all odds, only thanks to the courage and wisdom of its kind Kings and its brave Princes. My heart bleeds when I witness our Princes misunderstanding each other or sometimes even tearing each other apart. I would add that although the Royal Family (Vang Louang, Vang Na and all the Champassacs) is the official and legitimate representative of Laos, but it is not the representative of the Laotian People. After having read all the political agendas of all the organizations fighting for Freedom, Justice, and Democracy in Laos, and in light of their internal structures and their respective actual operations, I believe I can say with confidence that the Lao Nation Party is the most representative of the Laotian People. At the MDL meetings, I must have suggested more than ten times, without any result, that an Ethnic Minorities Commission be created. That body would have listened to and compiled all the aspirations of each ethnic group, to promote a better understanding among all the diverse Laotian ethnic communities, which are the real forces of the nation. The MDL did not listen to my voice. It was eventually Vientiane which created such a Commission at the National Assembly. In Neo Hom-France, the Hmong, the Khamou, and the Thaidams serve only as tokens and contributors. In the Government-in-exile of General VANG Pao and of Phagna Louang Outhong SOUVANNAVONG (now deceased and now replaced by Phagna Khamphay ABHAY), the Hmong, on the opposite, ridiculously occupy more than eighty percent of all the representative seats. Even deputies and government officials of the current Vientiane government are seated in that Government-in-exile.
Some say that the Buddhist religion represents the true values of the Laotian society. Personally, I do not think so, for the simple reason that Buddhism does not belong solely to Laos. If I must name an organization which is best representative of the Laotian traditional values, artistic as well as cultural, I would gladly name the Lao Women's Association in France. I only regret that Mrs. Sisombhon SOUVANNAVONG-SISOMBAT, for whom I have the highest esteem, has preferred to collaborate with Vientiane instead of continuing the noble battle we have waged side by side for fifteen years. On the other hand, I am pleased that our just cause is now still defended with the same determination, the same tenacity, and the same energy by Mrs. Sanong CHOUNRAMANY-SIHAPANYA, the current President of that prestigious organization.
HVM: You mentioned earlier that you went back to visit Laos in 1989. At the time, Laos was still a communist country. You were even harshly criticized by your political allies. How do you justify that trip?
TL: To be truthful, I felt rather good about that trip. It allowed me to evaluate on site what we had heard about overseas. Upon my return, I even started to work on a plan to build a school for the Hmong children living in the Km52 village. At the time, I still had no political allies. I was supporting the resistance, but I was still struggling in the shadows. However, it is true that I have been criticized for making that trip, even within my own family. In France, it was written that I was a tool of the dictator, Kaysone PHOMVIHAN (Champa Muong Lao Journal, under the name of a so-called Vixay KEONAKHONE, who took a gut-kicking, anti-monarchy stand). In the United States, I was called a sellout and a dirty communist. I am trying to justify my actions. My political struggle takes me above such parrot-like gibberish. I will simply state the following : first, Laos is my country; Laos belongs to all the Laotian people and not exclusively to the Laotian communists; second, all the Laotian children, wherever they are and under whichever political government they live, have a right to education, to their cultural heritage, and to proper medical care; third, nothing says and nothing proves that the Laotian children living under the Lao People's Democratic Republic are communist. From those three principles, each Laotian is free to choose his own course of action. I would only advise those who have a political responsibility to not venture into Laos. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the law still remains controlled by the force of the gun. If you go back there, that is your right, for a touristic visit or to see your relatives, but do not leave the larger cities and do not stray from the main roads, for the communist Lao government does not control the other parts of the country. Try also to avoid travels by water and in the mountains. The resistance no longer knows how to differentiate you from those who collaborate with the Vientiane government.
HVM: We often hear in the speeches made by our political leaders and our military leaders exiled in France and in the United States, that Prince SOUVANNAPHOUMA, Prime Minister until 1975, was responsible for the fall of the Lao Monarchy, for the death of the King, and for the deaths of the King's Ministers, your own father included. The Prince would have sold Laos to the Vietnamese communists. Would you comment on that?
TL: As for me, that story belongs to the past. But since you are asking me this question, I will respond with the information which is available to me.
I think that those who cast all the blame on Prince SOUVANNAPHOUMA are not familiar with the Laotian Constitution or do not know how to read it. I also think that those gentlemen who now comfortably live after having sought refuge overseas had not been following the international political web of the time. They fled from their responsibilities. Today they can say whatever they wish since the dead can longer speak and since those who are absent are always at fault. If I were one of those gentlemen who achieved successful careers and wealth under the Souvannaphouma's leadership, I would be more careful in my criticisms, or I would just be an opportunistic hypocrite.
Here are some attempts to answer your question. History will make its final judgment.
1. According to the Constitution of the Lao Kingdom (Article 39, I believe), the King appoints his Prime Minister. It was not a requirement that this latter be a leader of a political party with a majority at the National Assembly. In that situation, the King could dismiss the Prime Minister if he did not perform well. If the King chooses to keep the Prime Minister in his position, then he probably has his reasons. No one could be more loyal to the Monarchy than the King. Otherwise, one would have to accept the explanation that the King was wrong in retaining his Prime Minister, which I would forbid myself from saying, as it would imply that I claimed to be smarter or more insightful than the King. Those who nowadays cast all the blame on Souvannaphouma must reflect on that fact. One cannot claim to be loyal to the King, and yet say that the politics of his Prime Minister were bad or that this latter was a traitor, especially if one used to be a government official. I will ask you, who, among all our Ministers and Generals back then, complained to the King about his choice of Souvannaphouma as Prime Minister ? Which one of them demonstrated more ability, which would have made him a natural replacement for Souvannaphouma? The Americans, weakened by the Watergate scandal, had abandoned us. Richard NIXON was on his way to Peking. Henry KISSINGER wanted his Peace Nobel Prize. The American stars danced in Hanoi. The coalition among the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Cubans, the Eastern Europeans, and the Soviets was stronger and more stable than ever. The Berlin Wall was untouchable and unpenetrable. Soviet communism was ruling the world. What could Souvannaphouma do, except negotiate peace with the enemy, to minimize the losses? He did not wish to see the North Vietnamese tanks pounce upon Vientiane as they did upon Phnom-Penh and Saigon. That is why he encouraged those who disagreed with the negotiated peace to leave the country. Those who followed his advice saved their lives. Those who remained, like my own father, paid with their lives. Those former Ministers, those former Generals, and those former Ambassadors, all chosen by Souvannaphouma, would they have preferred to stay in Laos until the second of December of 1975? I will let them answer that question. If one accepts that the King was forced to renounce his throne, why not accept also that Souvannaphouma was compelled to negotiate with the communists who controlled practically the whole country . Under the Laotian Constitutional Monarchy, the Prime Minister presided over the Cabinet Council. The King presided over the Ministers' Council (Article 17 of the Constitution). As a result, the King was kept updated on all the decisions made by the Government. I bow deeply before the courage of the King and of all of those who chose to die upon the Laotian land, so that later their children and their grandchildren may claim loud and clear that this land belongs to them by right.
My father went to Samnua as a government official to attend the opening session of the Mixed Political Council. He had no knowledge that the Monarchy was about to fall down. The King himself was not expecting it. The Americans did not want a blood bath in Laos. As of December 2, 1975, Souvannaphouma was no longer in power. The King was no longer in power. Both of them lost their battle against the street riots and the resignations of all the political and military officials. In politics, the winner takes the power, the loser has to vanish. In a liberal and democratic government, the opponent is respected. In a totalitarian and leninist-marxist government, the opponent is physically removed. This is why I will fight to the death against any kind of dictatorship, and more specifically, against that communism supposedly in the Laotian manner. When Prince Souvannaphouma told me, in 1982, in Paris, that my father was still alive, I sincerely believed it. He did not have access to the criminal records of the political Bureau of the Lao Communist Party. Much later I had the opportunity to meet a former member of the Communist Party who explained to me how under that kind of government lies become truths and truths become lies. As long as the memoirs of Souvannaphouma are not published, I will refuse to believe that he willed the death of my father.
My own conclusion is that Souvannaphouma in his role of politician lost his last battle against the communist left. Sure, he holds some political responsibility in the fall of the Monarchy, but under no circumstances can it be said that he sold Laos to the Vietnamese. The real guilty parties are communism and its followers. Their names have long been written on the lists of those awaiting judgment before the International Court of Justice in La Haye. Even after their deaths, they will be judged and condemned for their war crimes and their crimes against Humanity.
2. Everyone knew that the internal politics and the external politics in the Kingdom of Laos were controlled by the Great Powers, especially by the Americans through their dollars, within the framework of the Agreements of 1954, 1962, and 1973. The coups d'Etat repeated between 1960 and 1965 failed each time thanks to the re-appointment and the confirmation of Souvannaphouma as Prime Minister, under pressure from the Americans. When the rightwing military leaders arrested Souvannaphouma in 1964 with the intent to eliminate him, the Great Powers and more specifically the Americans opposed that move and vigorously protested, threatening to cut all economic, financial, and military aid to the Kingdom. When Souvannaphouma came a breath away from death in 1974 after suffering a stroke, once again and always, those Great Powers, with the Americans in the lead, each sent their medical specialists to the Prince's bedside. It was Souvannaphouma and no other Laotian political figure who signed the White Book denouncing the North Vietnamese aggression of the Kingdom of Laos. This is the Statesman whose memory the exiled Laotian political class wants to sully. This is the mighty oak that others now seek to cut down.
3. One can therefore see that Souvannaphouma was kept in power, both by the King himself, - the Chief of State and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces-, by the Americans, - the deep-pockets and the arms suppliers battling any form of communist aggression-, and by all the Great Powers, which warranted the neutrality of the Kingdom of Laos. Is it fair to place on Souvannaphouma's back only all the blame for the misfortunes suffered by the Laotian People? Can we claim ourselves smarter or more patriotic than our King? Can we claim ourselves more cunning than the Americans? And can we claim ourselves more cunning than the Chiefs of State of the Great Powers of this world? Like each one of us, Souvannaphouma had his part of shared responsibility in the fall of the Monarchy. But that Monarchy, the King and the Americans could have saved it. They chose not to. The King himself could leave at any time. He did not do so because he loved his country and his people. The King was responsible for the lives of four millions subjects and not only the lives of four hundred thousand refugees. In the speeches made by our exiled politicians and our exiled generals, I believe that they often forget, sometimes willingly, to point the finger to the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and its leaders as the real perpetrators. I will still say and swear that the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and its leaders are guilty of crimes against the Laotian People and against the Laotian Nation.
How many times also have I heard it said in the Laotian political circles located overseas that His Excellency Leuam INSIXIENMAY, Deputy-Prime Minister in the last Government of the Kingdom of Laos, betrayed the Right so that he may remain in our country under the new regime without fear of persecution. I find that notion ridiculous, not to say insulting, in light of the loss of his children who died fighting for their homeland. His Excellency Leuam INSIXIENMAY had two sons, one was an officer trained in the Special Military School of Coetquidan ( Saint-Cyr, France ) and the other one was a T28 pilot. Both of them fell on the battle field, fighting against the communists. Not many Laotian families have known such hardships.
For your information, I will quote here an excerpt of the interview given by Prince SOUVANNAPHOUMA to the Southeast Asia Review, in 1982, which does not need any other commentary.
"Every night before going to sleep, I used to write down in my journals what had been told to me during the day, etc. Do I have those journals? I could reproduce them, but as long as I live I do not wish be a writer: I do not wish to be accused of writing my memoirs for financial gain. I will leave my journals to the government. They will contribute to the writing of the History of Laos."
As to the question regarding why, after the fall of the Laotian Monarchy, he did not leave his country, as did in their time both Bao Dai and Sihanouk, to benefit from a golden exile overseas as his fortune and connections would have enabled him to, Prince Souvannaphouma has simply responded: " I am a patriot before anything else. I have dedicated my life to my country."
HVM: Is the Lao Nation Party that you are heading ready to negotiate with Vientiane?
TL: I do not see what place the word "negotiation" would have in our political struggle. However, I can assure you that the Lao Nation Party is ready for anything, anytime, and anywhere, under international supervision, to debate with Vientiane on possible political solutions to the problems experienced by our country, to pave the way for a just and long-lasting peace. The sooner we can all seat down around a table, the less Laotian blood will be shed. It is time that the Laotian communist officials start thinking about the People, its aspirations to live in a Laos which will know Peace, Freedom, and Democracy. Let's not wait for the people to revolt. The images of Romania in its last hours of communism are very painful, extremely painful to bear.
HVM: You are a Laotian of Hmong origin, do your political allies accept you with the same welcome as if you were a Laotian of Lao origin?
TL: That is a question to ask them. As for me, we are all Laotians. Within the Lao Nation Party, that distinction is prohibited. I would like to take this opportunity to give homage to my friends of the Lao Nation and at the same time, invite all my countrymen, regardless of their ethnic origin, to unite under the ideals of Justice, Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood, Solidarity, Democracy, and National Independence to form a united front against the Vietnamese occupation and against the totalitarian State in our country.
HVM: Have there been failures of the Lao Nation Party since its creation?
TL: If you are calling "failures" the resignations, then yes. We have seen two of them: the first one because the individual's family in Laos was threatened by the authorities in Vientiane; the second one because the individual was often seen lunching with the Ministers and the representatives of the new government during their visits in Paris and he did agree that it was incompatible with his membership with the Lao Nation Party. I do have regrets. But what else could be done? We are a democratic Party. I am not aware of other "failures."
HVM: It has been said that you are not very gentle with the intellectuals. What grievances do you have against them?
TL: I do not have any grievance against them. I simply find that they have little interest in the political struggle and in the future of the country, probably because they possess knowledge and because, individually, they are always able to more or less thrive regardless of the government in power. But I believe it is a universal phenomenon. One is always willing to share the cake, when it is set on the table. One does not always acknowledge the sweat shed by the baker. But then again, I may be wrong.
HVM: In your opinion, is there a Laotian press overseas which is supportive of the resistance?
TL: I will tell you right away: no. One can sometimes read interesting articles in the Laotian newspapers published in the United States, but at the same time, one can find some almost- partisan reports about the accomplishments and the diplomatic life of the new government. It is as well that things should be this way. I am a believer in the freedom of the press. In France, I very much regret the end of my friend, Saysana THANADABOUTH's Paxathipatay Review. Except for his very unfair and very deplorable recriminations against my friend and early resistant, Bouaphet SYGNAVONG and for some ignominious anonymous letters, the in-depth articles and the reports published by the Paxathipatay Review were excellent. The other reviews or magazines, much less interesting in my opinion, are nothing less than copycats of either family-run and narcissistic newspapers or informational newsletters limited to the specific interests of each organization. But the fact remains that those means of communicating information do exist, and do symbolize democracy and freedom, and therefore are weapons against the dictatorship. Therefore, allow me to salute in passing my friends, Seng CHITDALAY of Lao-Seridham, Sithuy SOUVANLASY of Champa Muong Lao (now exiled in Canada), Marithone SYGNAVONG-CLOTTE of the Friends of Laos, Kesone BILAVARN of the Lane Xang News, Soumboun THORANINH of the Lao Democracy Union, Pa Houa Tshoua YANG of Paj Tshiab, etc., without forgetting the Lao Louam Phao, the Khouam Vang, the Phene Din Lao, and the Hmong newspapers in Fresno and St. Paul.
HVM: Do you feel supported or encouraged in your actions by the other political leaders?
TL: There are no Laotian political leaders who have been recognized as such by a majority of the Laotian refugee population living overseas. We are all freedom fighters. To answer your question, I would say, no. A Laotian does not compliment and applaud another Laotian. That fact is well-known. When the Laotians plan a celebration, they always place it under the sponsorship of an outsider. But I do have the heart-warming congratulations and encouragements of those who are fighting on the front lines. That comforts me. I rather dislike the fancy, salon-set political discussions. I prefer that the Lao Nation Party be talked about in Vientiane, in Phou Bia, in Muong Kasy, and on the banks of the Mekong River. I would gladly dedicate myself there.
HVM: Could you tell us how the Lao Nation Party is structured?
TL: That is no secret. We have a decision-making body by the name of Executive Political Council, which consists of the President of the Party, or myself at the moment; a General Secretary, currently Prince Vathana NOKHAM; a Vice-President, the well-known poet and great musician, Mr Khampha INTHISANE; a General Delegate in charge of social actions and women's issues, Princess Ouana SOUVANNAPHOUMA; a General Treasurer, Mr Foy SOUVANLASY; and two other General Delegates in charge of ethnic minorities' issues, my friends, Mr Boupha VOUTHIPANYA and Mr Lypheng XIATOU. Each member of the Executive Council can independently select his own co-workers and technical advisors, who may or may not be Party members. At the same level, we have an advisory body by the name of Advisory Council, which consists of the long-lasting and highly respected Party officials who are presently: Prince Mangkra SOUVANNAPHOUMA, Mr Lyxuxu LYFOUNG, Colonel Ngeunsamlit DON SASORITH, Mrs. Khamtanh SOUIDARAY-SAYARATH and Mr Ly So CHAI VANG LY. That advisory committee may be expanded and is open to notables who are non- members of the Party. As you can see, we are a very open political Party. We play the democratic game. At the regional and departmental levels, we have regional and departmental delegates. In the United States and in Asia, we have some Plenatorial General Delegations, with their own administration and treasury.
HVM: How do you recruit your members?
TL: We recruit our members among the Laotians, who like ourselves, are neither separatist, nor discriminatory, nor racist, and nor xenophobic. No other condition is required, aside from loyalty and some minimal patriotic feeling. The monthly membership dues amount to no more than the cost of four cups of tea. Every day a resistant dies on the front line because he did not receive his bowl of rice or because he missed his last bullet. Therefore, money is indispensable to any political struggle. But it is the heart and not the wallet of our countrymen that we attempt to reach. Consequently, anyone or almost anyone can become a member of the Lao Nation Party.
For further information, please contact:
Office: (33) 01 60 78 84 51 / 01 60 86 27 44
President's Office: (33) 01 69 03 33 76
HVM: When one is involved in politics, one must have some ambition. Could you tell us which is yours?
TL: Absolutely! I even have many. The one ambition that I will share with you today is my desire to be useful to my country.
HVM: Is there a wish you would like to share?
TL: I wish for all the Laotians to learn again how to live together under a new Sky.
Interview recorded by HMOOB VAM MEEJ.
Published in the Paj Tshiab Review.