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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06VIENTIANE312 2006-04-03 09:53:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vientiane
Cable title:  

LAOS' NEW PARTY SECRETARY-GENERAL CHOUMMALY

Tags:   PGOV PINR PREL LA 
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9774
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 6462
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2616
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 2066
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VIENTIANE 000312 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS, INR/B

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/03/2016
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL LA
SUBJECT: LAOS' NEW PARTY SECRETARY-GENERAL CHOUMMALY
SAYASONE

REF: A. VIENTIANE 275


B. VIENTIANE 306

Classified By: Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach, reason 1.4 (b) and (d).



1. (C) The 8th Party Congress of the Lao People's
Revolutionary Party (LPRP) elected Choummaly Sayasone as its
new Secretary-General on March 21. Choummaly has been a
fixture in the Central Committee for more than two decades,
but remains one of the least-known of the senior leaders. A
long-time protege of retiring Party Secretary Khamtai
Siphandone (and Khamtai's hand-picked successor to the
position), Choummaly can be expected to continue Khamtai's
conservative policies.



2. (U) According to his official biography, Choummaly, an
ethnic Lao, was born March 6, 1936 in Vat Neau village,
Saysettha district of Attapeu province, in Laos' far
south-east. In 1954 he "joined the revolution," becoming a
soldier with the Pathet Lao forces who at that time,
following the end of the French Indochina War, were
regrouping in the two "liberated" provinces of Houaphanh and
Phongsaly. He became a member of the Communist Party on
December 7, 1955. From 1955 until the establishment of the
Lao PDR in 1975 he served in a variety of military positions,
gradually rising through the ranks. Little is known of his
service during the war years, although he reportedly spent
much of his time at the Pathet Lao headquarters of Viengsai,
in Houaphanh province.



3. (U) At the end of the war in 1975, Choummaly became Deputy
Chief of the Army Chief of Staff, a position he held until


1982. In that year he was promoted to be Vice Minister of
Defense, and in 1988 was named First Deputy Defense Minister,
second only to Minister Khamtai. In this position he
reportedly ran the day-to-day affairs of the Ministry.
Throughout the early post-war period, Choummaly traveled
widely within the socialist bloc, representing the Lao
People's Army as he sought aid and assistance from abroad.



4. (U) In 1990 Choummaly was promoted to Lieutenant General,
and the following year was named Minister of Defense,
replacing General Khamtai, who became Prime Minister. He
advanced again in 1998, becoming a Deputy Prime Minister and
reporting directly to his mentor and patron, the by now
President Khamtai. In his capacity as Deputy PM, he
supervised the rural development program, and was a proponent
of resettlement of ethnic minorities to lowland areas, a
policy adopted by the Party at the 2001 Seventh Party
Congress. In 2002 the National Assembly elected Choummaly
Vice President, a position he retains.



5. (U) Choummaly was first elected a member of the Central
Committee at the 3rd Party Congress in 1982, in 43rd
position. At the 4th Congress in 1986, he jumped to number
13 on the CC, just short of the Politburo. He entered the
Politburo at the 1991 5th Congress, at number 7, and by the
1996 6th Party Congress had reached the number 3 slot, a
ranking he retained at the 2001 7th Party Congress.



6. (C) Choummaly is widely regarded as a protege of retiring
Party Secretary Khamtai, and his career has largely tracked
that of the former Party Secretary. Choummaly served close to
Khamtai during the war years, and was reportedly Khamtai's
hand-picked successor as Minister of Defense. His relatively
rapid rise through the Party ranks is due to the retired
Secretary-General's patronage. According to Party insiders,

SIPDIS
his promotion during the 8th Party Congress in March to Party
Secretary was Khamtai's handiwork as well -- Khamtai agreed

SIPDIS
to relinquish his position in return, in part, for
Choummaly's promotion over Politburo number 2 Samane Viyaket
to become the new Secretary-General.



7. (C) Since his 2002 election as Vice President, Choummaly
has become prominent in Laos' diplomatic circuit, often
standing in for President Khamtai to receive official state
visitors and credentials of new Ambassadors. In this capacity
he met on two occasions with the then U.S. Ambassador. He
rarely strayed far from talking points in these meetings, but
exhibited an engaged personality, with an interest in issues
outside Laos' borders. That said, those within the Party do
not regard him as an innovator; his success has been almost
entirely due to his close relationship with Khamtai and to
his unquestioning obedience to the Party. He has a

VIENTIANE 00000312 002 OF 002


reputation as something of a hard liner, in the same vein as
Khamtai, putting regime security before other concerns. He
also reportedly retains Khamtai's close ties to Vietnam, by
virtue of having served side-by-side with PAVN forces during
the war and of Vietnam's long tutelage of the Lao Defense
Ministry after 1975. As Party Secretary he can be expected to
continue Khamtai's conservative, pro-Vietnam policies.



8. (C) On a personal level, Choummaly has a reputation for
misusing his power. We have heard reports from a variety of
sources that Choummaly had on occasion used his authority to
arrogate for himself or his family land and property
belonging to others. He is known to own large tracts of
lands around Vientiane, as well as a number of houses. While
little is known of his personal life, he has a number of
children; his oldest, a boy, is about 40. Choummaly speaks
Vietnamese, and studied political theory in Hanoi. He also
reportedly studied for a time in the Soviet Union, and may
speak some Russian. Choummaly's health has reportedly been
frail in recent years. During 8th Party Congress events,
however, he appeared in good health.
HASLACH