International Commissions for Supervision and Control (ICSC)

Mandating Organization:  Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam

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

International Operation Dates:  1954/08/11 – 1974/06/15

Mandating Organization: The Geneva Agreements on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet-nam, Laos and Cambodia

Region Name:  Asia

Location:  Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam

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

Canadian Operation Dates: 1954/08/10 – 1974/06/15

Mission Mandate:

To implement the terms of the three Geneva Agreements

Mission Notes:

Prior to the Second World War, the area now defined by the nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam was part of a single French Indochina colony. During the war Vichy France was allowed to maintain symbolic control of the colony until its outright takeover by Japan on 9 March 1945.

During the war, various indigenous groups fought the Japanese, the most prominent being the communist Viet Minh of Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh. They had first fought minor guerrilla actions against the French and later major actions against the Japanese in their effort to gain independence for the Vietnamese people. Indeed, when the war ended, it was the Viet Minh who assumed control of Vietnam. But with the support of Britain and the United States, French colonial authority was reasserted over all of Indochina, leading the Viet Minh, Pathet Lao (Laos) and Khmer Rouge (Cambodia) to renew their struggle for independence. Over time, public support for these colonial wars dwindled in France, and following the defeat of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, the government of France was ready to negotiate its withdrawal from all of Indochina.

The Geneva Agreements on the Cessation of Hostilities in Viet-nam, Laos and Cambodia, signed on 20 and 21 July 1954, were co-sponsored by Great Britain, and the Soviet Union and included China, France and the United States as well. Signing the agreements for the combatants were Cambodia, France, Laos, and the Viet Minh. There was no representative for the southern Vietnamese.

The Geneva conference produced three separate agreements, one for each of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The agreements were similar in outline, but varied in detail, with different goals for each nation. Much to Canada’s surprise, this nation was invited, at the suggestion of China, to be one of three nations whose representatives would ensure the agreements were followed, along with India and Poland.

The headquarters for the three ISCS missions were situated in Hanoi, Vietnam; Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Vientiane, Laos respectively. From these headquarters, reports on progress or violations would be passed to the Geneva Agreements sponsors (Great Britain and the Soviet Union). Reports would also be passed to a Joint Commission of high-level French and North Vietnamese officials who were to decide on a course of action to correct any problems noted in the report, but due to differences between the objectives of the two nations the Joint Commission proved to be of little value.

On the ground in each country there would be fixed and mobile teams to conduct inspections and investigate complaints. Each team would have three or six persons, with equal representation from Canada, India and Poland. Although reports from each team were supposed to be unanimous, minority reports could be submitted. India would also provide the bulk of support forces for the ICSC, as well as the chairman for each of the three commissions. In fact, an Indian was also the chair of each team. Each of the three nations provided military personnel as well as civilian members, in Canada’s case from the Department of External Affairs.

Because of the short notice given and the intention to start the ICSC on 11 August 1954, Canadian military personnel were hastily pulled together from across the country.

For the Canadian forces, there were in fact three separate ICSC missions, each with the title Military Component, Canadian Delegation – Cambodia/Laos/ Vietnam. Each was normally commanded by a Brigadier-General. The personnel sent to Indochina were sent on one-year tours, except for the military security guards for whom it was six months. Although they were posted to one of the ICSCs, specialist personnel could be moved and were moved on occasion from one ICSC to another. The officers, members of the fixed teams, did not normally move between ICSCs, although they could move between one fixed team and another within an ICSC.

An advance team from Canada’s Canadian Military Mission, Far East, located in Tokyo, Japan, was hastily sent to Laos to arrange logistical aspects such as accommodations, arriving on 10 August. Canadian members for the other ICSCs arrived in early September via Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) North Star aircraft from 426 Squadron. The RCAF sent a North Star every six months to transfer personnel in and out, later using a Yukon aircraft from 437 Squadron.

The conditions of service throughout Indochina were primitive; and apart from the initial success of smoothing the transfer of power as the French withdrew, the work brought more frustration than satisfaction.

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