Hmong activists protest US engagement on Laos

Friday, July 16, 2010

WASHINGTON — Advocates for the Hmong on Friday voiced concern about the new US engagement with Laos, urging the communist nation to improve treatment of the ethnic minority.

Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith this week paid the first visit by a senior Laotian official to Washington since the communist victory in his country in 1975, shortly after the fall of US-allied South Vietnam.

Thongloun and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to step up contacts and signed an aviation agreement, part of a renewed focus on Southeast Asia under President Barack Obama.

Hmong-American groups, along with Lao-American groups critical of the Vientiane government, issued a joint statement voicing opposition to the Laotian minister's visit.

Clinton "may not know that the Lao military regime continues to engage in widespread corruption and the exploitation of the Laotian people," said Bounthanh Rathigna, president of the United League for Democracy in Laos.

Laos "remains a one-party regime closely allied with corrupt military generals in Hanoi as well as Burma and North Korea," he said.

The groups urged Laos to improve treatment of its people, including the Hmong, by allowing 158 internationally recognized refugees to leave the country.

The Hmong, a hill people, assisted US forces against North Vietnam during the secret wartime campaign in Laos and faced retribution after the communist takeover.

Some 250,000 Hmong have resettled in the United States and have gained a foothold in US politics, often asking lawmakers from states with large Hmong communities such as California, Minnesota and Wisconsin to pressure Laos.

State Department officials said that Clinton raised the treatment of the Hmong with Thongloun but was also eager to find ways of cooperation with Laos after decades of frosty ties.


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