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The 1893 Treaty and its application

Between the arrival of Le Myre de Vilers on 24 August and the signature of the treaty in October there was a period full of prevarications which exasperated the French diplomat. In a letter to Prince Devawongse he wrote on 17 September, "Your Royal Highness will permit me to make the observation that we are Ministers Plenipotentiary responsible for settling points of fact of great importance for our respective governments and not professors who can linger to discuss questions of doctrine indefinitely." Le Myre was convinced that the Kingdom of Siam would disappear before long.

The Siamese were divided. The king and his brother wanted to resist France and hoped Britain would intervene. Prince Devawongse and the members of the council of the king preferred peace to avoid an even greater disaster.

Prince Devawongse signed the treaty and the convention without the backing of the king. The Siamese government renounced any pretention to all the territories on the left bank of the Mekong and to the islands in the river, and agreed not to build any military posts in the Battambang and Siemreap provinces as well as within a twenty-five kilometre radius on the right bank of the Mekong. In the latter areas the policy was to be exercised by the local authorities. The Siamese posts on the left bank would have to be evacuated within one month starting from 5 September. Siam would also have to pay high compensation. The French government had renounced its demand for Battambang, Angkor and the parts of the principalities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane located on the right bank of the Mekong.

The deception of Pavie and the colonialist party was immense. In Le Progres de Saïgon Henri Bryois wrote on 12 June 1894, "The navy alone has played an effective role in the affairs of Siam. I must again quote Mr Pavie who was involved in all this affair … The role played by the French Envoy Extraordinary [Le Myre de Vilers] was most pitiful. Never has a diplomat taken a more humiliating attitude before a little Siamese prince, a half-savage crossed with British civilisation. The Royal Highness for whom our representative exhausted all the forms of the most extreme diplomatic courtesy very quickly scorned his very excellent antagonist. He made it very obvious… A silent Mr Pavie became impatient, felt undermined… choked back his tears…. The sailors who died at Paknam had not been avenged. The reptilian press in Bangkok was able to celebrate the spirit of conciliations shown by Mr L Myre de Vilers with a blaze of publicity."

The treaty, full of ambiguities, left the door open to any possible challenge. This was to inflame relations between France and Siam until 1907. Incidents between the Siamese and the Laotians increased.

Prince Devawongse played ignorant, promised to make inquiries, accused Pavie of aggravating the situation and the commercial agents of acting as political agents. The prince could no longer hide his aversion for Pavie. He demanded that important questions were negotiated directly in Paris. It would be necessary to wait for the departure of Pavie and long negotiations with new men to find a solution acceptable to the two forces present.

The resistance of Siam and the shadowy presence of England limited the action of France. The 1893 Treaty was a setback for Pavie because it marked the renunciation of France in Siam. However, Laos had come under the French protectorate and the King of Luang Prabang was recognised as the representative of France.

Pavie was now Commissioner General in Laos. He had to participate in the organisation of new territories. Laos was divided into three sectors temporarily attached to other Indochinese possessions, which was to make it possible to install government commissioners there quickly. On the right bank of the Mekong commercial agencies were established responsible for monitoring the application of the treaty by asserting themselves everywhere, firmly with the Siamese and gently with the inhabitants.

The Siamese officers tried in various ways to hamper the implementation of the treaty endeavouring to keep the Laotian populations that had been displaced for Siam, stating that instructions had not been received and persuading villagers to refuse French agents food and lodging. Lieutenant Simon of the Upper Mekong hydrographic mission exclaimed in May 1895, "I would like it to be known how many obstacles to the French cause are placed here by the Siamese and with what audacity and impertinence they violate the treaty agreed last year. I fear they are allowing themselves to be duped in Paris by the "official" protestations of friendship by any princeling whatsoever sent by the King of Siam and that they do not know exactly what is happening in reality.

Pavie, who deplored the resolutions of the treaty, tried to have it applied with intransigence. "We must, therefore, take all the necessary measures so that none of the guarantees we are given by the treaty are stolen from us" he wrote to the President of the Council, Casimir Périer, on 5 July 1894, The territories of the right bank of the Mekong are Laotian countries, simply dependencies of Siam. The treaty gave the administration to the local authorities for which it reserved the exercise of the policy in a 25km area. Our approach must be as calm and firm as the resistance of Siam is violent. We have the populations. They are fearful and worried in their assistance in the battle against us by an audacious adversary without force. They await their freedom. The reserved area must not go unheeded; we must make the guarantee it involves effective. It will only be so if we ourselves take control of administering and monitoring it, if we keep it at a distance from the Siamese as it was in the past." The Laotians were still uncertain. Of course the King of Luang Prabang demanded to be distanced completely from Siamese dependence, but many of the leaders still feared a reversal of the situation. Their fear was that they would have to pay for their accommodating attitude to the French.

Despite all the reports Pavie wrote on the attitude of Siam, the French government refused to take an aggressive stand. Pavie was authorised to adopt a firm tone but not in any circumstances to undertake to break off relations. "I believe I must insist" wrote Gabriel Hanotaux on 15 June 1895 "on the importance the government attaches to the question of Siam not being reopened if there are incidents of a secondary nature relating to the execution of the treaty. We are resolved to continue strict, complete application of the treaty but we think this result can be obtained by a policy of patience and perseverance without recourse to a threatening attitude and coercive measures, which could lead to serious complications. You will not hesitate to be inspired with these views in the relations which you will maintain with the Siamese government until your departure from Bangkok. The note you will deliver on the subject of the treaty violations you have observed must contain simply a summary of the facts and you will be careful not to take an attitude which could lead to conflict. I earnestly request that you comply with these recommendations." Thus Pavie’s efforts were disavowed. The real negotiations were then conducted in Paris between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minster Plenipotentiary of Siam.