Pact Ending Laos Conflict Is Reportedly Nearly Ready

The major political and military questions raised by almost a decade of warfare in Laos between the left-wing Pathet Lao and the U.S.-backed Royal Lao government have been settled and the two sides are close to signing a formal agreement, a French news agency reported Sunday.

Both the government and the Pathet Lao denied yesterday that agreement was imminent, but both sides agreed that the major differences had been worked out during the months of negotiation since a cease-fire was reached last February.

Partition

The Agence France-Presse had reported Sunday that the two sides are in agreement on a sharing of political and military control and what will be in effect a partition of the country.

Under the agreement, the Pathet Lao will control about 80 per cent of the country, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The French report, which was based on unnamed sources close to the Royal Lao government, said that the two parties will form a new government of national union composed of ministers from both sides.

If the premier of the new government is Souvanna Phouma, who is premier of the present Lao government, then the first deputy premier would--by the terms of the agreement-- be a member of the Pathet Lao.

Share Key Posts

The two sides will also share the key posts in the new government. The government will retain the interior, finance and defense ministries, while the Pathet Lao assume the foreign ministry.

The two Laotian capitals--Luang Prabang and Vientiane-- will be neutralized, and the country will be divided into zones based on the military strength of the respective sides.

Although the division will not officially be called a partition, it will be one in effect. The two sides will retain their own armies and presumably administer the populations within their respective zones.

In an important concession to the Pathet Lao, contingents of their troops will be stationed in the capitals--which are within the government zone--and 1500 Pathet Lao will be added to the police forces in the two cities.

The Pathet Lao reportedly want this military show of force in the two capitals to protect their members of the new government.

The agreement will officially end the decade of continual guerrilla war and American bombing which have forced between one-third and one-half of the Laotian people to become refugees.