Thursday, December 15, 2011
Hmong exiles in the United States on Tuesday saluted a retired French colonel as a hero after he killed himself in a protest over treatment of the Southeast Asian ethnic group.
Robert Jambon, 86, shot himself on the steps of the Monument Indochine in the Breton town of Dinan, leaving behind a letter in which he explained how he fought along the Hmong during France's colonial rule of Indochina.
A suicide letter, published by the newspaper Ouest France, expressed shame at the "cowardly indifference of our officials in the face of the terrible misfortune that is hitting our friends in Laos."
"This is not a suicide but an act of war aimed at rescuing our brothers-in-arms facing death," wrote Jambon, a commander in the French Legion of Honor.
Wangyee Vang, national president of the Lao Veterans of America Institute, called Jambon "a hero."
"The Lao and Hmong veterans salute the supreme sacrifice of Colonel Robert Jambon," Wangyee Vang said in a statement.
Jambon offered his life "to help bring international attention to the ongoing military attacks and human rights violations in Laos and Vietnam directed against the freedom-loving people, including the Hmong," he said.
Bounthanh Rathigna, president of another group, United League for Democracy in Laos, said that Laotians and Hmong "will never forget Colonel Robert Jambon."
The Hmong live mainly in mountainous areas in China, Vietnam and Laos. Many Hmong joined French forces during the war in Indochina and later fought alongside US forces in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s.
The Hmong say that they have faced widespread persecution since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Some 250,000 Hmong have taken refuge in the United States, with smaller numbers in France and Australia.
The latest annual US State Department human rights report said that Laotian authorities remain suspicious of the Hmong but that violence has abated.