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  • Hmong and the CIA

    Thailand may send Hmong back to Laos

    Thailand may send Hmong back to Laos -

    By John Pomfret
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 25, 2009

    An estimated 4,200 ethnic Hmong, many of whom fought for or are related to soldiers who worked with the CIA during the Vietnam War, are set to be expelled from Thailand back to Laos, where they could face political persecution.

    The State Department said Thursday that it was deeply concerned about the fate of the Hmong, an ethnic minority that battled the communist government of Laos for years with U.S. support.

    The Thai military had dispatched more than 30 trucks Thursday evening to a refugee camp containing some 4,000 Hmong in central Thailand, and shut off satellite and cellphone service from the camp, according to human rights officials. The Thai military was also believed to be preparing to expel an additional 158 Hmong in a camp near the Thailand-Laos border, even though members of that group have already been granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The forced resettlement, which the Thai government had announced would take place before the end of this year, would mark the second such repatriation of refugees in Southeast Asia in a week. On Saturday, Cambodia sent 20 Uighur refugees back to China for certain punishment because of their links to violent protests over the summer in northwestern China.

    The Obama administration sent Eric Schwartz, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration to Thailand this week to present senior Thai officials, including military officers, with a letter committing the United States and other Western countries, such as the Netherlands and Australia, to resettle any Hmong who are deemed to be refugees. As a legacy of the Vietnam War, the United States has already accepted 150,000 Hmong.

    Despite Schwartz's entreaties, all indications were that Thailand had decided to go ahead with its operation.

    "The tragedy of this issue is that this is a solvable problem," Schwartz said in an interview. "We've got the resources; we've got the commitment to get into those camps and work with the Thai to achieve the results the Thai want to achieve."

    Thai officials say that if more Hmong are granted refugee status, then more will flood into Thailand. At the same time, Thailand is seeking warmer ties with Laos as it deals with a tense regional standoff with another neighbor, Cambodia.

    Schwartz said the imminent expulsion of the Hmong, along with this week's repatriation of the Uighurs, highlighted concerns about Southeast Asia's commitment to protecting refugees.

    "We're concerned about the entire regime of protection breaking down," Schwartz said.
    “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all” -- Joan Robinson

  • #2

    I don't know enough about the politics to know the details, but I would bet the house on some sort of connection with the stories below. The second gives a better overview. If Warner is to be believed the sudden interest shown by State is way too little way too late.

    Vang Pao says he's returning to Laos


    By Stephen Magagnini

    Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

    FRESNO – In a passionate 30-minute speech Tuesday night, Gen. Vang Pao said that he plans to return to Laos after 35 years in virtual exile.

    The general, who celebrates his 80th birthday this week, made the announcement at a dinner for about 1,000 people, about a third of them from Sacramento, at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds.

    Vang Pao said now is the time for reconciliation with Laos to liberate thousands of Hmong trapped in the jungles and stuck in a Thai refugee camp.

    "We have to make a change right now," Vang Pao said. "The government of Laos has tried to open the door. We should put something on the table and sit down in peace."

    On Jan. 10, Vang will take part in a reconciliation event at the Freedom Bridge between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos, said one of his 18 sons, 44-year-old Chai Vang.

    The news Tuesday night at the dinner to honor Vang Pao stunned many Hmong. The U.S. government in September dropped charges against him for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of communist Laos. A dozen other defendants have pleaded not guilty but still are facing charges of trying to overthrow the Laotian government.

    "Many Hmong people think he's crazy," said Atari Xiong, a Sacramento Hmong producer for Crossing TV. "All the charges and legal issues here, and now he goes back to Laos?"

    Vang Pao is the former leader of a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army of Hmong and Iu Mien soldiers that fought Southeast Asian communists for 14 years.

    An American citizen, he is free to go to Laos and return to the United States.

    Xiong said the Hmong had been hearing that the general is going to Laos in January "on an official trip because of the refugees in Thailand, and people fighting from the jungle."

    Chai Vang said Tuesday that his father and his representatives are working through the Thai and Lao governments to resolve these issues.

    During his speech Tuesday night, Vang Pao urged his people "to forget about the past so we can bring those back to live a normal life. Right now the government of Laos thinks it's time to live together peacefully with equal rights and equal opportunities."

    Vang Pao did not offer a timetable for the liberation of those in the jungle, but he promised "that shall be coming soon, and I will be the one to be there. … I was the one in the beginning, and I will be the one to finish it in the end. I'm not going to give up. I will carry my people on my back no matter how heavy they are.

    "For those Hmong trapped in the jungle and the refugee camp, I will be the one responsible for solving the problem."

    It's unclear what Vang's return to Laos could mean for 4,600 Hmong refugees at Hoi Nam Kao in north-central Thailand and an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 Hmong reportedly still trapped in the jungles of Laos, where they've been running from the communists since the Vietnam War.

    Many in the jungles have reportedly been waiting for Vang Pao's return for decades. If he were to ask them to lay down their muskets and come out of the jungles, said Sacramento Hmong activist T.T. Vang, they might do so.

    But how they would be treated by Lao authorities is an open question. The Lao government has accused the jungle Hmong of terrorist acts but denies human rights violations against them. Amnesty International and other human rights groups say the jungle Hmong have been tortured and killed.

    "A lot in the Hmong community are very concerned and very frustrated with his plan," T.T. Vang said. "There's a lot of mistrust of communist Laos."

    Thai and Lao officials want the Hmong refugees in Thailand returned to Laos, he said.

    "The point is, all Hmong are waiting for (Vang Pao) to return, and the enemies know that (he) is the only one who will make the Hmong to stop the fight," T.T. Vang said.

    "The Hmong crisis will keep going unless V.P. says 'I've returned, I've come back home.' "

    Thousands of Hmong turned out for emotional rallies in Sacramento and St. Paul, Minn., after the federal case against Vang Pao and his co-defendants was filed, chanting "Free Vang Pao!" and calling for the United States to recognize the Hmong for 14 years of service in the guerrilla forces Vang Pao once led. From the early '60s to 1975, Vang's jungle army of Hmong and Iu Mien warriors helped the United States wage war on Lao and Vietnamese communists.

    "There's no doubt they took this case personally," his eldest son, Chao Vang, told The Bee. "It woke up the Hmong people – a lot of people we never knew came out to support us."
    Vang Pao says he's returning to Laos - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

    Roger Warner

    Historian and documentary filmmaker

    Posted: December 23, 2009

    No Thanks to the State Department, the Last Remnant of the Vietnam War May Be About to End

    There's been a breakthrough in ending a war that should have ended long, long ago. No, not Afghanistan or Iraq. It's a tiny, little-known conflict that grew out of the Vietnam War. Yeah, that one - the war that was supposed to have ended all the way back in 1975.

    The country involved is Vietnam's next-door neighbor, landlocked, mountainous Laos, now officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The people involved are from the Hmong ethnic minority, which under C.I.A. direction fought the communists during the Vietnam war years. Many Hmong kept fighting once the Americans went home and the communists took over Laos' government. It's a fossilized insurgency, lost in a time warp. Even today, when the rice paddies of nearby countries are morphing into shopping centers, the mountains of Laos hold a few ragged resistance bands, whose leaders got their original training from the C.I.A. forty years ago. The "jungle" Hmong, as they are called, get much of their support and direction from Hmong who live in America.

    The man at the center of the surprise breakthrough is General Vang Pao, the Hmong commander in the C.I.A. years and now in American exile. Until a few months ago, Vang Pao was the marquee defendant in a U.S. federal terrorism case - accused of conspiring to overthrow the same Laotian regime with which he's now trying to reconcile. Now, with the help of representatives of the king of Thailand - another one of Laos's next-door neighbors - and an unnamed member of the Lao Poliburo, this 80-year old tribesman has put together a tentative deal. The plan may or may not come to fruition, but it has a certain Nixon-goes-to-China audacity. And it has exposed an embarrassing reluctance to act by the U.S. State Department - even though the State Department helped create the Hmong problem in the first place.

    The deal, announced December 22nd, will have Vang Pao and his retinue traveling to Thailand in January, where they will be the guests of a Thai royal foundation with connections to the Thai national security establishment. On January 10th, if their safety can be guaranteed, Vang Pao will shake hands with representatives of his old enemies halfway across a bridge over the Mekong river, which separates Thailand from Laos. He will then make a brief visit to Laos's capital, Vientiane. That's the ceremonial part.

    The economic part is that Vang Pao and his Laotian and Thai partners would set up a 25,000-acre farm cooperative in the highlands of southern Laos on land leased for 99 years from the Laotian government. The hope is that many of the 4,000-plus Hmong refugees in Thailand - currently facing forced repatriation to Laos - now would return voluntarily to farm and become reintegrated into Laotian society. The old general would also try to persuade the remaining tribal resistance fighters to come down out of the jungle in peace, and would work with the Laotian regime to ensure their safety. Realistically, Vang Pao's return by itself cannot end the refugee crisis or the insurgency. But it might mark the beginning of the end, by changing the mindset of the Hmong involved and by giving the local governments a new way to resolve the impasse without losing face.

    Though the U.S. embassies in Thailand and Laos were briefed on the negotiations, they played no role in planning this possible breakthrough. Why? In part because of financial concerns. Who would profit from the farm in Laos? Vang Pao's lead negotiator, a Californian named Charlie Waters, says Hmong-Americans are not seeking financial gain from the farm co-op and that he will set it up in whatever way works best once the startup capital can be found. Other Hmong-Americans not connected to this initiative say the U.S. embassy in Laos has a reputation for being anti-Hmong, and for giving a chilly reception to outside ideas. That was certainly my impression when I met with the embassy staff in 2008. I was told that the Hmong insurgency was a fifty-year problem in its thirty-third year.

    The tribe and the State Department have had a long, roller-coaster relationship. During the Vietnam war era, the U.S. ambassador to Laos actually ran the covert military effort. The C.I.A. and the U.S. Air Force reported to the ambassador and, because there were no U.S. ground troops, Vang Pao and the Hmong were the favorite proxy soldiers. After the communists took over Laos in 1975 and began their revenge, slaughtering more than 10,000 Hmong, the State Department withdrew most of its embassy staff and turned its attention elsewhere. It has done no serious post-conflict resolution work in Laos up to today.

    Eventually, one third of all Laotian Hmong came to the U.S. as refugees - an act of great American generosity. But the State Department seldom bothered to track the Hmong factions that continued to fight the Laotian regime, or chart the relationships between the jungle Hmong and their cousins in America. This bureaucratic underperformance - together with the misrule in Laos, one of the last five communist regimes in the world - allowed a curious kind of anarchy to take root in the Hmong populations of both countries. The symptoms included widespread illegal fundraising in America to support the resistance, young Hmong-Americans traveling to Laos to fight, and a persistent myth of Vang Pao's inevitable return at the head of great invading army. "A lot of this could have been prevented," says Bill Lair, Vang Pao's former CIA advisor, "If there had been a liaison" between the State and Justice Departments, on the one hand, and the Hmong-American community on the other. But there wasn't. Nor did the State and Justice Departments appear to be sharing solid intelligence information with each other - if they had any.

    In 2007, the Justice Department indicted Vang Pao and ten others on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Laotian regime with a massive, spectacular armed coup. It soon became clear that the old general learned about the coup idea from his fellow defendants, but hadn't endorsed it, because he knew it wouldn't work. The plan was a kind of exaggerated military fantasy, heavily promoted by a U.S. undercover agent, as part of a widespread pattern of federal sting operations in the post-9/11 era.

    The reality was that the tiny, vestigial, Hmong resistance was little threat to the Laotian regime and no threat to the U.S. government. The resistance at that time - maybe one or two thousand people in an Asian country the size of California - consisted of small bands of hungry men, women, and children who stayed on the run and ate roots and bugs to stave off starvation. Via satellite phones, resistance leaders in the mountains of Laos spoke regularly with Hmong in the U.S. Their underlying message: They wanted to come out of the mountains and lead normal lives, if only there was a way for them to surrender in safety.

    Even before the charges against him were dropped in September, the old general had decided to return home, to make peace with his enemies and do the best he can for his people. He is doing so now without the support of many of his Hmong-Americans followers. It is as though he were the most prominent Cuban-American exile in Florida, and he had decided to go to Havana for a chat about normalizing relations with Fidel and Raul Castro. To many unreconciled Hmong-American exiles, this is simply unthinkable. He is puncturing their reality bubbles.

    Vang Pao's gambit could easily fail - disrupted by angry Hmong-Americans, or by hard-line elements within the Laotian regime. But it is in the U.S. interest for him to succeed. To maximize his chances, the State Department should pop its own reality bubble. It should get involved, for a change, supplying technical expertise and behind-the-scenes diplomatic muscle. And it should do so for reasons that are much bigger than America's relationship with Laos - which is, when all is said and done, just an obscure, impoverished, strategically marginal country. It should get engaged because there's a bigger game afoot.

    The game is being played in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and in smaller conflicts that seldom make the news in northern Africa. The success or failure of many of today's U.S. conflicts revolves around relationships with local indigenous people and their power brokers. In an interconnected world, it doesn't help a U.S. Army captain recruit a tribal chief if the chief knows the U.S. has a history of abandoning tribal allies, as it notoriously did in Laos. And it doesn't help U.S. Treasury agents stop the flow of money for jihad, if Egyptians and Syrians know that American citizens of Hmong descent send money to Southeast Asia, to support an insurgency there. On an international scale, leaving the Hmong mess unresolved makes the U.S. look foolish and hypocritical.

    So it's time for Secretary of State Clinton to send in skilled practitioners of statecraft to end this little conflict that should have ended a generation ago. And then apply the lessons of Laos to cleaning up the aftermaths of wars elsewhere. Unless her State Department gets much more aggressive and creative, and sends talented people out into the field for years at a time to work with local people and seek constructive opportunities, insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan will last for many decades after the Americans leave. The drama unfolding now in Laos should be seen as a warning sign - and a training mission - for the much tougher jobs of peacemongering that lay ahead.

    Note: Roger Warner is writing a book and shooting a documentary film about Vang Pao, C.I.A. operative Bill Lair, and how they brought the Hmong tribe to America. Warner's previous book, Shooting At the Moon, won the book-of-the-year award from the Overseas Press Club; and excerpts from his current film project can be found on the web.
    Roger Warner: No Thanks to the State Department, the Last Remnant of the Vietnam War May Be About to End

    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C


    • #3
      Thanks BF.
      “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all” -- Joan Robinson