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A Fragile Unity

Souvanna Phouma returned as prime minister in August 1957 following a cabinet crisis and was charged by the king with forming a new government. He reopened negotiations, and on October 22, a final agreement was reached. This agreement called for reestablishing RLG administration over the two provinces, forming a coalition government, and holding supplementary elections to the National Assembly. The government set elections for May 1958. On November 18, Souphanouvong symbolically returned to RLG authority, represented by Crown Prince Savang, the two provinces, together with all the troops, civil servants, and war matériel belonging to the Pathet Lao. A RLG governor was appointed in Houaphan and a Pathet Lao governor in Phôngsali, each with a deputy of the opposite camp. Mayoral and other provincial official positions were equally divided between the two parties. It was agreed that two Pathet Lao battalions, totaling 1,500 troops, would be integrated into the Royal Lao Army and the remainder would be demobilized and sent home. The National Assembly unanimously approved the coalition government. Souphanouvong became minister of planning, reconstruction, and urbanism, and Phoumi Vongvichit became minister of culture and fine arts.

Souvanna Phouma visited Washington in January 1958 hoping to persuade United States policy makers, who worried about his having accepted Pathet Lao participation in the government in advance of elections, that his strategy for dealing with the Pathet Lao was the best course. However, he left Washington without gaining unqualified support for his strategy.

United States aid failed to blunt the effects of Pathet Lao propaganda and indoctrination in the villages. The Pathet Lao were masters of political persuasion, exploiting popular themes of nationalism, anticorruption, and "anti-big family." There were exceptions, however, to the general negative perception of United States aid. Tom Dooley, a physician from the United States, brought health care to the people who needed it most, those in remote villages. Another American--an Indiana farmer named Edgar "Pop" Buell--devoted the last years of his life to helping the Hmong, including training the first Hmong nurses and opening Hmong schools.

Data as of July 1994