June 6, 2007

Hmong leader charged with trying to overthrow Government of Laos

General Vang Pao, who once commanded a CIA-backed “secret army” of hilltribe fighters and mercenaries during the Vietnam war, has been arrested at his home in Southern California and charged with plotting the violent overthrow of the Government of Laos.  When the Washington-backed Lao royal government fell in 1975, General Pao was airlifted to Thailand and, along with other Hmong, resettled in the United States.   From exile, the fervent anti-communist remained a leader of the Hmong community and a defender of the minority, many of whose members, according to human rights groups, are still persecuted and killed in isolated Laos.   On Monday, at age 77, Pao was arrested along with eight others, charged with plotting to overthrow the Lao government using explosives, AK-47 assault rifles and Stinger surface-to-air missiles.  The nine suspects, according to the criminal complaint, wanted to bomb Lao government buildings and make them “look like the results of the attack upon the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.” 

An undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives secretly recorded a Feb. 7 luncheon meeting with Vang Pao, former California National Guard Lt. Col. Harrison Jack and others at a Thai restaurant a few blocks from the state Capitol in Sacramento, according to the agent’s affidavit.  They then walked to a recreational vehicle parked nearby to examine machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, anti-personnel mines and other weapons, the agent wrote.

California’s large Hmong community are said to be stunned by the arrest.  “People don’t know right now whether the charges are justified or a witch hunt. We just want people to remember that for 20 years the Hmong community has worked to make sure that this is our home,” said Peter Vang, refugee community liaison for Fresno County, home to about 30,000 ethnic Hmong.   US Attorney McGregor Scott, announcing the arrests, said: “The United States cannot provide a safe harbour to those plotting to overthrow a government with whom we are at peace.”

Filed under Laos, Legal and Criminal Issues by

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