Laos "Seminar Camps" and the Death of King Savang Vatthana
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
"Seminar camps," also called reeducation centers, were the centerpiece of the new regime's policy toward the enemies it had defeated. The LPRP's Marxist-Leninist dogma allowed no respite in the class struggle, and those identified as its former enemies were the presumed saboteurs and subversives of the socialist phase of the revolution that was just getting under way. After its victory, the regime made people judged unfit to participate in the new society in their present frame of mind construct a series of camps, known only by their numbers. They included Camp 01 at Sop Hao; Camp 03 near Na Kai, newly given the Pali name Viangxai, meaning "Victorious Town"; Camp 05 near Muang Xamteu; and Camps 04 and 06 near Muang Et, all in Houaphan. A camp was also built at Muang Khoua on the Nam Ou, and others were built in the center and south. There are no official figures on the numbers of people sent for reeducation, because the camp network was kept a secret from the outside world. The only information was brought out by former inmates and their families. Various published estimates have put the number of inmates at 30,000, at 37,600, and at 50,000.
Even before the communist takeover, the first groups of highlevel officials, including provincial governors and district chiefs, had been transported to the camps, arriving in full dress uniform. They had received letters signed by Souvanna Phouma ordering them to attend an important meeting in Vientiane. After an overnight stay in Vientiane, the group was flown to the Plain of Jars, where a festive atmosphere prevailed. The officials, about seventy in all, were feted with food and a movie, and North Vietnamese advisers were present. They were then flown to Houaphan, separated into small groups, and organized into work parties.
In August and September 1977, a group of twenty-six "reactionary" high-ranking officials and military officers in Camp 05 were accused of plotting a coup and arrested. These persons were taken away to Camp 01. They included Pheng Phongsavan, the minister who had signed the Vientiane Agreement; Touby Lyfoung, the Hmong leader; Soukhan Vilaysan, another of Souvanna Phouma's ministers who had been with him in the Lao Issara and had risen to become secretary general of the Neutralists; and Generals Bounphone Maekthepharak and Ouan Ratikoun. All died in Camp 01. Thus, those who played roles in the modern history of Laos were relegated by the regime to the status of nonpersons and their fate placed in the hands of their prison guards. Others, like Tiao Sisoumang Sisaleumsak, a minister in Souvanna Phouma's 1960 government, General Sengsouvanh Souvannarath, commander of the Neutralist forces, Khamchan Pradith, an intellectual and diplomat, and even Sing Chanthakoummane, a lieutenant in the Second Paratroop Battalion in 1960, were held in seminar camps for fifteen years or more before being released. Souvanna Phouma was allowed to live quietly in Vientiane until his death in January 1984.
The new regime feared that ex-King Savang Vatthana, who until March 1977 had lived quietly in the royal palace as a private citizen with the meaningless title of adviser to President Souphanouvong, would become a symbol of popular resistance. As a result, he was suddenly spirited away by helicopter to Houaphan along with Queen Khamboui and Crown Prince Say Vongsavang. Imprisoned in Camp 01, the crown prince died on May 2, 1978, and the king eleven days later of starvation. The queen died on December 12, 1981. According to an eyewitness, all were buried in unmarked graves outside the camp's perimeter. No official announcement was made. More than a decade later, during a visit to France in December 1989, Kaysone confirmed reports of the king's death in an innocuous aside that attributed it to old age.
The party did not dare abolish the Buddhist community of monks and novices, the clergy (sangha), of which the king had been the supreme patron. It did, however, attempt to reshape the sangha into an instrument of control. In March 1979, the Venerable Thammayano, the eighty-seven-year-old Sangha-raja of Laos, the country's highest-ranking abbott, fled by floating across the Mekong on a raft of inflated car tubes. His secretary, who engineered the escape, reported that the Sangha-raja had been confined to his monastery in Louangphrabang and was forbidden to preach. Ordinary monks were not forbidden to preach, but their sermons were commonly tape recorded and monitored for signs of dissidence. As a result of these pressures, the number of monks in Laos decreased sharply after 1975 (see Buddhism , ch. 2).
Data as of July 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Laos on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Laos "Seminar Camps" and the Death of King Savang Vatthana information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Laos "Seminar Camps" and the Death of King Savang Vatthana should be addressed to the Library of Congress.