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PHẠM CÔNG TẮC (1890 –1959)

Religious leader of the Cao Dai religious movement and adversary of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the Indochina War. Born in Tan An province in southern Vietnam, he began his career in 1910 working in the colonial customs service where he rose to the rank of third class secretary by the mid-1920s. In 1927, the French transferred him to Phnom Penh in order to remove him from his emerging religious activities in Saigon and Tay Ninh province. However, he resigned from his post in the civil service that same year, left Phnom Penh on 6 January 1928, and returned to Tay Ninh to rejoin the rapidly growing Cao Dai religious movement led by Le Van Trung. Following the death of the latter in 1935, Pham Cong Tac extended his influence and control over the movement’s disciples and organization. In 1938, he took control of the movement when he became the supreme spiritual leader of the Cao Dai. His suspected links to the Japanese and perceived attempts to create an autonomous religious state and militia outside of colonial control led the French to arrest and deport him to Madagascar in 1941. There, he served time with the future heads of the DRV’s secret services, Le Gian and Tran Hieu. The French brought him back to southern Vietnam on 22 August 1946 on the condition that he collaborate with them against the Viet Minh. On 8 January 1947, he signed an accord with the French General Staff to align Cao Dai armed forces with the French and their Vietnamese allies. On 17 April 1947, he stated his support for the return of Bao Dai to Vietnam. From this point, his break with the forces of the DRV was for intents and purposes inevitable. In 1947, a large part of the Cao Dai forces left the Viet Minh front and armed forces, and began crossing over to the French side and the Associated State of Vietnam state they were constructing with Bao Dai. With the creation of the Associated State in 1949, Pham Cong Tac met with the ex-emperor to discuss the integration of Cao Dai forces into the new State of Vietnam army. Following a very rocky meeting with General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, who insisted that Pham Cong Tac integrate his forces into the national army, Tac put an end to his collaboration with the French and in March 1952 declared himself supreme commander of the Cao Dai Army. On 19 May 1954, following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Pham Cong Tac signed a protocol accepting the integration of the Cao Dai forces into the Armed Forces of the Associated State of Vietnam. See also BINH XUYEN; COLLABORATION; CROSSOVER; DESERTION; HOA HAO; HUYNH PHU SO; LE VAN VIEN.