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LAOS

Lai Chau and Theng

In Laï Pavie and Pennequin found themselves face to face with the Quan Phong, former servant of Luu Vinh Phuoc, who had rallied to the French. He had guided the French columns as he had previously done for the Black Flags and had rendered particular service to Commandant Pelletier in his march between the Black and Red Rivers. He was an ambitious man, full of hate for the family of Deo Van Seng, and especially for Deo Van Tri since he had refused him the hand of his sister in marriage. "His desire to poison relations is not hidden. We are suffering from this disposition of his mind and regret having him with us. We have recognised that a day does not go by without him becoming drunk on opium or alcohol and we fear that in a moment of overexcitement he will commit some act which will interfere with our negotiations and destroy our projects." Furthermore his men committed abuses. "For some time these bold pillagers have taken money and food from the villages, even from women and children." The man lied to them because Deo Van Tri had not committed any act of war against the French since the Pernot column. Pavie understood that he could not continue to rely on this dangerous ally. Nothing could be concluded whilst Quan Phong still had authority.

As Pavie was too ill he sent the Cambodian, Ngin, to negotiate with Kam Heun who had retired to Muong Tse with the patriarch, Deo Van Seng. All their hate for the Quan Phong was expressed, "Just Frenchmen, look where is the right. I have 300 men, the Quan Phong has 1000. In front of Lai, on the right bank of the Black River there is the large sandy beach of Nam Lai. Give me permission to come before you and fight him and his 1000 men. If I am not the strongest in battle, you will cut off my head and throw it away." Ngin had become the apostle of Pavie’s methods. "The French who come amongst the peoples follow the customs of their country, better than our own. What they need they buy; they pay the men they employ. They do not seize the women and they do not have slaves." However, the people of Laï feared rallying to the French. "We believe the French to be more upright than the Siamese" said Kam Heun, "they have become the great masters of the Annamite country of which we are a dependency. How could we, so small, resist them. When we think of asking them for the return of our lands, the idea that the Siamese will treat those of our people that they hold hostage badly to punish us comes naturally. And who can assure us that, having been welcomed warmly by the French chiefs, we will not be molested by those to whom they will have entrusted the management of the country/"

The negotiation was finally a success. A satisfied Pavie was able to leave Laï with power being entrusted to the sons of Deo Van Seng. All the leaders of the country were re-established in their positions and placed under the authority of the sons, and the Quan Phong’s men were sent away.

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"Here is a country where the inhabitants will have a certain attachment for France. The miseries of the past will be told under the palm roofs, they will be compared with the present over long lives. Its men are proud, courageous and robust. They lived in the woods for a year with their families in ceaseless combat rather than bowing before the enemy of their leader. Later on they will be of precious help to us. Deo Van Tri, whose past existence shows a great spirit will want to know us; I don't doubt that he will like us and serve us with all the energy of his strong nature when the time comes." (Pavie)

Whilst Pavie pacified Laï Chau the Siamese troops occupied Theng on 25 September 1888. Pavie went there accompanied by an escort of Tonkinese infantrymen and Colonel Pennequin. "The inhabitants were still absent having sought refuge with the Meos of the mountains or in the Laotian villages on the banks of the Nam Hou. The view of the deserted dwellings, in ruins on the slopes along the plain gave an impression of sadness […]. For more than 20 months, 70 soldiers commanded by Captain Poy, a very tough Siamese, a sort of provost leader for the general have been in a garrison in the citadel of Xieng Le […]. At the same time the son of the second king of Luang Prabang […] of whom my colleagues at the mission have spoken of in their reports as tending to take a hostile attitude towards us, was sent to Dien Bien Phu to establish as district leader the famous Chinese, Pra-Sa-Houa and by his treason towards the leaders of Lai Chau caused all the misfortunes of the country ... The prince and this agent were not afraid to tell the inhabitants that Siam would not withdraw from the country at any price and if the French were to enter it they would be welcomed by gunfire." Pavie arrived in Theng on 12 December 1888 followed by Colonel Pennequin. Their presence impressed the Siamese. The two men agreed upon the conduct to be followed. France should state the territory of the Sip Song Chau Tai, the main villages of which were Lai and Theng, belonged to France and the Siamese should not interfere.

The meeting between Pavie and the Siamese general was cordial. Against all expectation he agreed to give back the two sons of Deo Van Seng, still hostages, and withdraw. Pavie did not want to humiliate the Siamese in any way. On 22nd December the two men signed an agreement that their respective governments were to conclude. Before the native leaders, the Siamese declared they were returning their authority over the Thai districts to the French and withdrew several kilometres from Theng. "Look at the marvel brought about by this sort of irresistible trans-substantiation of the heart of the great human in that of beings that we thought were resistant" wrote Jean-Laurent Gheerbrandt. "In this Vai Voronat, this adversary of the past who showed himself so vain about his supposed victories on his entrance to Luang Prabang, so underhand and specious in all his behaviour towards us, so false and sometimes so hard to the populations, suddenly discovers in himself a strong affectionate nature, a humanity in speech perhaps, but disinterested it must be acknowledged." The last son of Dea Van Seng, Kam Sam, was freed. Pavie’s mission was accomplished. The districts were pacified. The occupation of Theng enabled France to seize the Sip Song Chau Thais.

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"It is not possible to be unaware that the happy outcome of this peaceful campaign must be attributed especially to Mr Pavie who has consecrated to the triumph of French interests in Indochina, a long, deep experience of Laos and its inhabitants, patient tenacity that the many obstacles have not discouraged, and finally an indefatigable energy which the climate and the illnesses have not succeeded in shaking. So I think it would be fair to reward his devotion and his efforts, not solely because of the success he has achieved but also for the services he will render in the future when he is called to demarcate the common borders with the kingdom of Siam on the one hand and Annam and Tonkin on the other." (General Bégin).