Thursday, February 18, 2010
Lao Defense Minister Warns Hmong Returnees of Subversive Elements
Last Saturday, the Lao Minister of Defense, Lieutenant General Douangchay Phichit, paid a special visit to a group of 3000 Hmong returnees resettled in Phonkham village, Borikhan district, Borikhamxay province.
On February 15, the Lao government’s state-controlled newspaper Vientiane Times reported that the Defense Minister had called on faster progress in developing the resettlement village. The paper further stated that the Defense Minister “gave advice on the structure of the village’s administrative body. He called for continuous education of the people on Party and government policy, and to make them aware of the tactics employed by subversive elements.”
The Hmong returnees well understand this type of ambiguous language used by the Lao government. The term “subversive elements” refers to “General Vang Pao Hmong” or those who sided with the United States during the Vietnam War and who the Lao military continues to hunt down in remote jungle areas.
Earlier this year, western journalists had again visited remaining jungle groups in military-controlled Saysomboun Special Zone claiming that survivors reported recent Lao government attacks, which included the killing of an unarmed 14-year old boy who was out foraging for food. The Lao foreign ministry spokesperson continues to deny that any such jungle groups exist or that any such attacks take place. Instead, the government refers to these subversive elements as bandits.
Rather than continue to hunt down the small remaining group of starving Hmong in the jungle and threaten former General Vang Pao with a government death sentence if he ever thinks about returning to Laos, his home country, maybe the Lao government should point its finger at someone else. Instead of secretly kicking around these helpless Hmong and blaming their General Vang Pao for the mass U.S. bombings in Laos, why don’t you target those who should really be held accountable. How about former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the one many believe should be held accountable for the mass bombardment of civilians in Laos. Maybe that wouldn’t be politically correct now for the Lao government to direct its anger at such an obvious target after the U.S. just opened up a new Defense Attache Office there.
The Hmong returnees, many believed to be political refugees with legitimate asylum claims, were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos on December 28, 2009. According to the U.S. Ambassador in Thailand, the Thai government had identified about 800 of these returnees as having legitimate protection concerns. The UNHCR had also recognized a group of 158 as being political refugees. Despite assurances from the foreign diplomatic community that these UNHCR-recognized refugees would have access to the UNHCR immediately upon their return to Laos and be allowed to resettle in third countries, they have been isolated and denied access from the outside world.
The Lao government has quite boldly stated that these UNHCR-recognized refugees are just illegal migrants who have broken Lao law by fleeing to Thailand. The Lao government has also stated that these Hmong have now decided to stay in Laos rather than resettle in a third country. At the same time, the government continues to deny UNHCR access to the group.
The Lao government threatens those who do not tow the government line. If they speak out then they are guilty of being manipulated by subversive elements. A Hmong refugee can just not win against the Lao government, especially when they are the whipping dog for something the U.S. government should be responsible for.