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Independence Leader Resigns as President of Laos

October 31, 1986

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Souphanouvong, the ″Red Prince″ President of Laos who enlisted help from the Vietnamese to expel French colonialists then won a civil war against the government of his U.S.-backed half-brother, has resigned, Laos’ official radio reported.

The report was broadcast Thursday, and a copy of the transcript of the report was obtained Friday by The Associated Press from a Western embassy that monitors Laotian radio.

It said Phoumi Vongvichit, member of the Pathet Lao Communist Party political bureau and a vice chairman of the council of ministers, was appointed acting president.

The presidency is for the most part a ceremonial position.

The report did not say if Souphanouvong would keep his position as a member of the powerful party politburo.

Despite his posts, Souphanouvong is thought to have never exercised power close to that of Kaysone Phomvihane, the party secretary general and prime minister.

The radio said the decision was based on resolutions made during the founding of Communist Laos in December 1975, ″requirements″ of the revolution, and on the 74-year-old Souphanouvong’s own proposals regarding his health.

The report provided no details on the leader’s health.

Laos is an impoverished, landlocked nation of about 3.6 million people and is closely allied with Vietnam and the Soviet bloc.

Prince Souphanouvong renounced his royal title to become the first head of state when the Pathet Lao took control, forced the king to abdicate and declared Laos a republic 11 years ago.

Thursday’s broadcast said a decree on the change was issued Wednesday after the decision was made in a joint session of Laos’ national assembly and the council of ministers, the highest government organ. The decree was signed by Souphanouvong.

The broadcast did not say when a permanent new president would be chosen.

Souphanouvong was born in the royal capital of Luang Prabang in 1912, the 20th and youngest son of Prince Boun Khong, the ruling viceroy of Laos. Unlike his half-brother, Souvanna Phouma, who favored a gradual approach to independence, Souphanouvong opted for revolution.

When the French returned to Laos after World War II and granted the country limited autonomy, Souphanouvong was a member of the Lao Issara, or Free Laos, movement that generally was prepared to work with the French. But Souphanouvong’s ties with Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh alarmed more moderate nationalists, who expelled him from the movement in May 1949.

Souphanouvong returned to the hills, where he had organized guerrilla raids against French garrisons. In 1950 he helped found the Pathet Lao, which means Lao Nation, party, which joined forces with the Vietnamese to oppose the French.

The Pathet Lao grew increasingly strong in northeastern Laos from 1950 to 1954, when the Geneva conference brought the first Indochina war to an end.

After the 1958 elections showed significant support for the Pathet Lao, right-wing forces overthrew prime minister Souvanna Phouma and jailed Souphanouvong for 15 months before he escaped.

The country was engulfed in civil war.

In 1962 Souvanna Phouma formed a new government including the Pathet Lao, neutralist and right-wing forces, but the fragile coalition was shattered by the widening war in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communists, seeking to protect the Ho Chi Minh supply trail running through eastern Laos, supported the Pathet Lao and the Americans aided the Vientiane goverment.

Souvanna Phouma authorized U.S. airstrikes on Pathet Lao positions in 1964, sending bombs to the doorstep of Souphanouvong’s cave hideouts.

Another coalition government was formed in 1974, but the Pathet Lao, boosted by Communist victories in neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam, ousted the rightists and seized full control in December 1975.

Souvanna Phouma died in Vientiane in 1984.

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