International Commission for Supervision and Control - Laos (I) (ICSC - Laos)

International Operation Name:  International Commission for Supervision and Control - Laos

International Operation Dates:  1954/08/11 – 1958/05/31 and 1962/05 –1974/06/15

Mandating Organization: Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Laos

Region Name:  Asia

Location:  Laos

Canadian Operation Name: International Commissions for Supervision and Control - Laos (ICSC - Laos)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1954/08/10 – 1958/07/19 and 1962/05 –1974/06/15

Mission Mandate:

To implement the terms of the Geneva Agreement

Mission Notes:

Laos was a political hotbed of intrigue after the Second World War. At the end of the war, the Lao Issara (Free Lao) movement established itself as the rulers of Laos. In October 1945, they drew up a new constitution proclaiming their independence from France. In April 1946, Sisavang Vong joined the Lao Issara and was installed as King of Laos. Two days later, French forces and Laotian guerrillas, calling themselves the “Free French”, captured the capital Vientiane and defeated the Lao Issara forces as well as some North Vietnamese forces in Laos. The French now found themselves ruling a Laos that was in dire economic and financial straits, and for which the government in France could provide no aid. By late 1946, the French asked the Lao Issara to enter into formal talks for a transition of power. Unfortunately, by this time the Lao Issara had split into three factions.

Prince Souphanouvong, one of the leaders of a faction, wanted the assistance of the Viet Minh to create an independent Laotian state. In 1948 he turned to Ho Chi Minh, who not only supported him but also Kaysone Phomvihane, who was busy recruiting tribes for the communist cause along the Laos-Vietnam border. They formed the Free Lao Front, better known as the Pathet Lao, with Viet Minh support in 1950, but were completely dominated by the North Vietnamese. Twice between 1951 and 1954, the Viet Minh invaded the country to put pressure on the French forces, and thereby assist in the defeat of the French in Vietnam.

The French granted Laos independence in October 1953; however, they did maintain forces in the country. Following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in 1954, Lao resistance increased in the countryside. The United States rushed increasing amounts of aid to support the government. By the Geneva Agreement, the Pathet Lao were to be integrated into the Laotian military and society. Laos could import arms for its own defence, but could not join any military alliances. France could retain two bases and train the Laotian military, with French personnel being integrated into the latter organization. Elections were also slated for 1955. Pathet Lao forces were also required to congregate in the two northern provinces, which would be a source of problems later.

The ICSC was composed of a headquarters in Vientiane and five fixed teams. The headquarters and teams operated under rules similar to those of the ICSC-Vietnam. As with the other ICSCs, the ICSC-Laos was hindered in its operations by its own internal problems and by the signatories to the agreement. The Pathet Lao imposed restrictions on the travel of the ICSC teams “to ensure their safety”, thus effectively keeping their own illegal activities hidden. They also used a systematic campaign of harassment, obstruction and violence against the ICSC teams. At one point they even completely surrounded an ICSC team and prevented it from moving.

The Polish members attempted to limit the import of arms by the Royal Laotian Government (RLG) and the French, although arms importation was allowed by the Agreement. The Indians’ indecisiveness aided the Polish attempts at aiding the Pathet Lao and Viet Minh by not condemning obvious cease-fire violations.

A further problem was the fact that the ICSC simply did not have enough personnel to complete their mission. To ensure that there was no infiltration of foreign troops into Laos would have required several thousand observers, not the less than 100 who were there.

On 18 November 1957, all parties in Laos signed the Vientiane Agreement, which formed the basis for elections and integration of the Pathet Lao into the political mainstream. The ICSC had played a major part in keeping the negotiations going between the two sides. The elections of 4 May 1958 ended the requirement for the ICSC in Laos. The Royal Laotian Government therefore asked the ICSC to depart, which it did by late May 1958. ICSC Laos was only adjourned, however, as a compromise between the Canadian, Indian and Polish head of delegations.

The election of May 1958 and the rapprochement of the Pathet Lao and the Royal Laotian Government were to be only temporary. The elections demonstrated that the Pathet Lao had widespread popular support in the two northeast provinces, winning 13 of 21 seats. As a result the United States cut off all aid to Laos, aid that had been a major part of Laos’ economy. At the same time there were problems integrating Pathet Lao fighters into the Royal Lao Army, mainly over the question of rank. A right-wing reaction led to the arrest of Pathet Lao ministers and deputies in the government, with the result that the Pathet Lao began establishing themselves in the countryside again. With North Vietnamese assistance they began gaining control over tribes in the north and northeast. Fighting broke out on the Plain of Jars during the summer of 1959, continuing into 1961. A coup d’état in August 1960 brought a neutralist faction, led by Kong Le into power.

Laos degenerated into chaos as the left wing Pathet Lao, a neutralist faction and the right wing all jockeyed for control. The Pathet Lao and the right wing were supported by the USSR and the US respectively. In May 1961, a 14-nation conference began in Geneva. In July 1962 a new set of agreements was signed, creating an independent, neutral Laos. The ICSC was recalled to observe the agreement.


Under this new agreement, the ICSC fared little better than the first time. Efforts to make the ICSC more effective, such as the Canadian suggestion to allow mobile inspection teams to conduct surprise visits, were impeded by the Indian and Polish representatives. All three factions in Laos also did their best to hinder the operations of the ICSC. When the ICSC did note North Vietnamese violations, the Pathet Lao further tightened their travel and inspection restrictions.

The second Geneva Agreement was doomed to failure. North Vietnam apparently had no intention to live up to the agreement. In violation of the accord, it maintained over 7,000 troops in Laos after the agreement was signed. The three factions also sealed the fate of the agreement by posturing for power. In the northeast, the neutralists and Pathet Lao fought skirmishes over control, before the political alignment became one of neutralist and right wing versus Pathet Lao. The Pathet Lao thereupon made no further effort to reconcile, and further called upon North Vietnamese assistance.

In Laos, the CIA trained Hmong tribesmen in mountain warfare, under the command of the Royal Lao Army and with Thai assistance. The Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army built up their forces and by 1971 even had Chinese air defence forces and civilians building roads in support of their efforts. A cease-fire agreement was reached in 1973, which the ICSC was once again called upon to supervise. Canada decided that this agreement was not part of the original ICSC framework and declined to participate. After the agreement the Pathet Lao gained strength and were able to launch an offensive in April 1975. Non-communist members of the government resigned and from May to August 1975 the Pathet Lao were able to take control of the country peacefully.

As with the other two ICSCs, Canada contributed both Canadian military personnel and members from the Department of External Affairs. At its peak in January 1956, the first ICSC-Laos had 23 Canadian military officers and 9 non-commissioned members. The first personnel arrived on 10 August 1954 and the last departed on 19 July 1958.

Canadian participation in the second ICSC-Laos started on 8 May 1961, even before the agreement was signed. This involved the future Canadian contingent commander’s involvement in the negotiations. Personnel began deploying for the second period in May 1962. At its peak, the second ICSC-Laos had 19 military personnel. Canada withdrew most of its personnel from ICSC-Laos in December 1969. By 1971 there were only one officer and 1 non-commissioned member remaining with the ICSC-Laos, and these at the request of the Royal Laotian Government. At the time that Canada withdrew, 15 June 1974, there was only one officer and member from External Affairs.


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