On August 9, 1960 the then-unknown Captain Kong Le led the Second Paratroop Battalion in a virtually bloodless coup d'état that overthrew the right wing government of Laos. In taking over Vientiane, the paratroopers had unwittingly chosen a moment when the entire cabinet was in Louang Phrabang conferring with King Sri Savang Vatthana. They informed their compatriots and the outside world by broadcasting their communiqués on the radio. In a rally at the city football stadium on August 11, Kong Le expanded on his goals: end the fighting in Laos, stem corruption, and establish a policy of peace and neutrality. Recalling the experience of the first coalition when the country was temporarily at peace, Kong Le asked for the nomination of Souvanna Phouma as prime minister.
On August 11, General Ouane Rattikone, as the cabinet's envoy, arrived in Vientiane from Louang Phrabang. After negotiations with Kong Le and Souvanna Phouma, Ouan returned to Louang Phrabang with a document in which the coup leaders requested the cabinet to return. Fearing violence in Vientiane, the premier, Prince Somsanith, resigned, and the king named Souvanna Phouma prime minister. The new government was invested by thirty-four deputies on August 16. The next day, Kong Le declared his coup d'état over and vacated the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
General Phoumi Nosavan then went to Thailand and with the help of its dicator, his mentor, Sarith Thanarath returned to Laos to establish a competing capital in Savannakhet. Phoumi proceeded to attack Vientiane, weakened by a Thai blockade, on September 18th but the neutralists with the help of the Pathet Lao and the Soviets, repulsed the atack. A coalition government was formed between neutralists, communists and rightists on November 18th, 1960. On December 8th, Souvanna Phouma relieved Kong Le from his command, but the next day Kong Le deposed Souvanna Phouma (who flew to Phnom Penh with Prince Boun Om and his other ministers) and the leftist minister Quinim Pholsena was appointed premiere. A few days later Phoumi took Vientiane and installed Boun Oum (Boun Om's brother) as premier. After more than a year of negotiations a coalition government was formed under the leadership of Souvanna Phouma.
On November 27th, 1962 Kong Le was appointed chief of the new army (nominally the merged armies of the neutralist, communist and rightist factions).
The neutralist group was soon divided between right-leaning neutralists (headed by Kong Le) and left-leaning neutralists (headed by Quinim Polsena and colonel Deuane Sunnalath). On February 12th, 1963 Kong Le's second in command, Colonel Ketsana, was assassinated. Shortly afterwards Quinim Polsena and his deputy were also assassinated. Fearing for their lives, the left wing ministers fled to Khang Khay, capital of the Pathet Lao zone. The Pathet Lao and neutralist-leftists attacked the Plain of Jars but Kong Le now allied with Phoumi, repulsed the attack. The neutralist government was deposed by the right-wing generals Kouprasith Abhay and Siho Lamphouthakoun April 19th, 1964, but following international pressure, Souvanna Phouma was reinstalled as premiere.
On January 31, 1965 Phoumi and Siho led a coup d'etat, but Kong Le troops defeated them by February 4th. Phoumi and Siho fled to Thailand.
The right wing parliament was dissolved by Souvanna Phouma on October 7, 1966. There was a strong reaction from the right wing faction of the army. The struggle lasted until November 15th when Kong Le was dismissed as army chief and left the country. The mainly neutralist sector of the army went to the Pathet Lao controlled zone.
Kong Le now lives in exile, primarily in the United States.
- Initial text adapted from Library of Congress Country Studies