HC Deb 10 June 1959 vol 606 cc95-8W

Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have the honour to refer to the Note addressed by the Soviet Government on May 30 to Her Majesty's Embassy at Moscow, on the subject of Laos.

Her Majesty's Government consider that the confidential talks which have taken place since 1954 between the co-Chairmen about various questions concerning the maintenance of peace in Indo-China have been of great value. They recall that the latest round of talks, concerning the question of Laos itself, ended in full agreement when the co-Chairmen despatched letters to the Indian Government and to the Chairman of the Commission on January 31.

Since then, however, Notes were delivered by the Soviet Government to Her Majesty's Government on February 26 and March 31, in which serious charges were made against the Laotian Government and which called for the reconvening of the International Commission for Laos. The contents of these Notes were made known to the Press. Nevertheless Her Majesty's Government sent a reasoned reply on April 7 enclosing the draft of a suggested reply from the co-Chairmen to the Chinese Government's letter of February 19. In this reply of April 7 it was explained in detail that in the view of Her Majesty's Government the Laotian Government had not committed the violations of the Geneva settlement with which the Soviet and Chinese Governments had charged them, and it was made clear that Her Majesty's Government could not support the return of the International Commission against the wishes of the Laotian Government. The contents of these communications were not published, since Her Majesty's Government were expecting to receive the reactions of the Soviet Government and did not wish to prejudice the possibility of holding private discussion between the co-Chairmen. However despite the fact that the Soviet Embassy in London were asked on May 5 to obtain the views of the Soviet Government on the Note addressed to them on April 7 none has been received and the Soviet Government's latest communications, of April 29 and May 30, have merely reiterated the call for the reconvening of the International Commission against the wishes of the Laotian Government and made new charges against that Government, without in any way referring to the fact that the charges made against them previously by the Soviet Union had been shown in the United Kingdom Note of April 7 to be unfounded.

Her Majesty's Government have examined very carefully the new charges made by the Soviet and Chinese Governments against the Laotian Government but are unable to see any possible grounds for maintaining that the Laotian Government's actions in regard to the integration of the two ex-Pathet Lao battalions have in any way constituted a violation of the Geneva Agreement (or the agreements between the Laotian Government and the Pathet Lao of November, 1957). Their information is that the facts are as follows.

The Geneva Agreement provided that the Pathet Lao forces were to regroup in the two northern provinces pending a political settlement. Subsequent to the Geneva Agreement the Laotian Government entered into political and military agreements with the Pathet Lao in November, 1957. The broad terms of these were that a government of national union was to be formed, that the Pathet Lao, now termed Neo Lao Hak Sat, was to be recognised as a political party, and that the Pathet Lao troops and their equipment were to be taken over by the Laotian Government, which would integrate 1,500 of them into the regular Laotian army. It was further provided in the military agreement that the International Commission should be present at and witness the execution of certain stages in this process. Pursuant to all this, the N.L.H S. registered its new statutes and two of its members became ministers in the government of national union on November 19, 1957. Supplementary elections were held on May 4, 1958, and the Commission recorded its view that the holding of these elections completed the political settlement envisaged in Article 14 of the Geneva Agreement. In March, 1958, the Commission, acting unanimously, informed the co-Chairmen that the terms of the 1957 military agreement had been fully implemented with the complete integration of former Pathet Lao military personnel into the Laotian national army. This is set out in unequivocal terms in paragraphs 8–15 of the fourth interim report of the Commission. After the integration had thus been completed certain practical difficulties arose. According to the military agreement the Pathet Lao were entitled to have a proportion of officers and N.C.O.'s in accordance with the establishment of the Laotian army. This would have given them about 40 to 45 officers. The Neo Lao Hak Sat were not satisfied with this. Although there was no obligation on the government to take into account the views of the Neo Lao Hak Sat they wished to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement and lengthy negotiations took place.

Eventually in March and April this year the government laid down very generous conditions on which the battalions were to be integrated. These included provision for more than 100 Pathet Lao officers. The senior colonel of the battalion (Colonel Singkapo) had already been offered integration and had refused and was not therefore included. On instructions from Prince Souphannouvong, however, the battalions refused to comply with the government's orders on the grounds that Colonel Singkapo was not included and that the provisions for back pay were not good enough. The Government then gave them the choice between complying and being disarmed or demobilised. Prince Souphannouvong is then reported to have given the Laotian army a letter recommending acceptance and one battalion complied and was integrated on May 18. The other battalion broke out of its camp and moved towards North Viet Nam. The Government have nevertheless continued to attempt to persuade them to accept integration without resorting to the use of force. According to the latest information available to Her Majesty's Government, there is no longer any contact between this battalion and government troops.

The above facts do not in any way indicate that the Laotian Government are in breach of the Geneva Agreement but rather show that they have been genuinely attempting to give practical effect to the Agreements with the Pathet Lao of November, 1957; and that because their authority was challenged by one of the ex-Pathet Lao battalions they took measures to enforce order in their own country. They have acted with studious moderation in the face of grave provocation.

As regards the International Commission, the attention of the Soviet Government is drawn to paragraph 2 of the United Kingdom Note of April 7. As is pointed out in that Note, Her Majesty's Government consider that any attempt to re-establish the International Commission for Laos without the concurrence of the Royal Laotian Government would be inconsistent with the duty resting on all members of the Geneva Conference to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Laos and to refrain from any interference in Laos's internal affairs. Her Majesty's Government must therefore once again disagree with the Soviet Government's suggestion that the co-Chairmen should call for the reconvening of the International Commission. Nor can they agree with the terms of the draft communication from the co-Chairmen to the Government of Laos, enclosed with the Soviet Government's Note.

Nothing in the actions of the Laotian Government has created a threat to the peace and security of Indo-China. In view of the facts set out in paragraph 4 above it is moreover illogical and untrue to say that the actions of the Laotian Government tend to undermine the unity of Laos. Her Majesty's Government are convinced that provided all concerned act in all respects strictly in accordance with the Geneva settlement and refrain from interference in the internal affairs of Laos, as laid down in paragraph 12 of the Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference, the present difficulties will be solved peacefully. In particular they believe that a reduction of tension will be facilitated if the Soviet Government will use their influence with the North Viet Nam authorities to induce them to exercise restraint in all their statements and actions related to this situation which is essentially within the jurisdiction of the Laotian Government.

Her Majesty's Government are willing to pursue discussion of this matter either between the co-Chairmen or between their representatives should the Soviet Government agree, after having obtained further and fuller information from their own sources as to the actual situation in Laos, that such discussion would be useful.

Back to