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Exiled prince calls for democracy in Laos

Source: Radio Australia, Melbourne, in English 1005 gmt 5 Oct 00

Excerpts from report by Radio Australia on 5th October

[Presenter Peter Mares] In Laos an unofficial curfew has been imposed on residents of the capital Vientiane. The ban on travel after midnight coincides with a National Assembly meeting. Foreign diplomats speculate that the government has imposed the security measure in response to increasing signs of political unrest. During the course of this year as many as 40 people have been injured in a series of mysterious bomb blasts, Hmong rebels have stepped up attacks, and tensions within the ruling party have become more pronounced. The deteriorating situation has presented an opportunity for the exiled royal family of Laos to seek to regain influence in the country. Last week Crown Prince Soulivong Savang met with French Foreign Ministry officials and unveiled a plan to bring democracy to Laos. This report from Tricia Fitzgerald.

[Fitzgerald] Laos is alive with rumours about recent violence. One theory is that ethnic Hmong rebels are to blame, another puts disgruntled members of the ruling People's Revolutionary Party under suspicion. A third view blames supporters of the exiled Lao royal family because when insurgents crossed from Thailand to attack a border post in southern Laos two months ago they raised the royal flag. Monarchists have been written off as a spent force in Laos since the communist Pathet Lao took power in 1975 but now it seems the royal family appears to be making something of a comeback. The revival is being led by Prince Soulivong Savang who fled Laos as a teenager and who is now building a reputation as a campaigner for democracy. In a rare interview from his home in Paris the prince said that most members of the current Lao leadership were nationalists as well as communists and he appealed to them to move to democratic government and a free market economy for the sake of the nation.

[Soulivong] There is concern for the situation in Laos of today. In this very serious situation I hope that communist leaders accept to solve Lao problems by changing the current political system towards democracy like they have done in many former communist countries. We have asked the government of friendly countries to initiate and supervise meeting between a Lao political force from inside and outside Laos...

[Fitzgerald] ... Today Prince Soulivong is regarded as a unifying figure by Hmong refugees from Laos whom the government has blamed for recent unrest. The prince says the people of Laos have always turned to the royal family to bring unity to the country.

[Soulivong] In the history of Laos the Lao people always turn to the Lao royal family for solving the problem. This time I still believe that the royal family is considered as symbol of unity. I would like to lead Laos to the peaceful restoration of democracy. After that it will be up to the Lao people to choose their political system. If they need me (?as a Lao king), I will be in their disposal...