US Hmong salute French colonel after suicide

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.



Robert Jambon: A Bold Life & Death For Laos and Hmong

Wednesday, 14 December 2011, 1:20 pm
Press Release: Centre for Public Policy Analysis

December 13, 2011, Washington, D.C., Paris, France, Bangkok, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos

The Center for Public Policy Analysis, and a coalition of Lao and Hmong non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have issued a statement today honoring the life and legacy of retired French Colonel Robert Jambon and his valiant fight for human rights and freedom for the Laotian, Hmong and Vietnamese people. The NGOs also expressed their condolences to the Jambon family. According to his final statements as reported recently by an investigation concluded by French police, Colonel Jambon sacrificed himself in Dinan, France, as a veteran of the Indochina war, where he took his own life in seeking to bring international attention to the ongoing persecution and killing of the Lao Hmong people in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

“The Lao and Hmong veterans salute the supreme sacrifice of Colonel Robert Jambon in seeking to offer up his life to help bring international attention to the ongoing military attacks, and human rights violations in Laos and Vietnam, directed against freedom-loving people, including the Hmong,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI), the largest Laotian and Hmong non-profit veterans organization in the United States ,with chapters and members in France and internationally.

“Colonel Jambon wanted to help to save our Lao and Hmong people and the refugees, and ordinary people, who are being persecuted now in Laos by the military and communist regime,” Colonel Wangyee Vang stated.

“Colonel Jambon is a hero to our Laotian and Hmong people; He recently killed himself in France as an dramatic and important international statement of protest to try to help our people and to try to save those in the jungles and refugee camps in Laos and Thailand who have fled terrible religious and political persecution, genocide and bloody military attacks,” Wangyee Vang said.

“The Laotian and Hmong people will never forget Colonel Robert Jambon for his sacrifices in defense of the Royal Kingdom of Laos during the Indochina war and his efforts to bring awareness about the plight of Laotians and Hmong people who are the victims of human rights violations,” said Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc. (ULDL).

“Colonel Robert Jambon’s life, and recent suicide in France, is an important and symbolic act of selfless love, and of calculated moral war, against systemic injustice and oppression that continues to be directed against thousands of innocent people in Laos, including the Hmong minority,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington, D.C.

“Robert Jambon’s final tragic act of love, and war, for the forgotten nation of Laos, and the persecuted Lao Hmong minority people there, has been heard in Washington, D.C. and has resonated with many in the Laotian community around the world,” Smith observed.

The CPPA continues to document human rights violations in Laos and Southeast Asia regard the Hmong and other peoples. Thousands of Hmong from Vietnam were arrested, or killed, earlier this year by the Vietnam Peoples' Army (VPA) in Dien Bien province after staging peaceful gatherings and protests. Hmong Christians in Laos have suffered increased persecution, atrocities and attacks by the Lao military and VPA forces.

“Despite the indifference of the international community, the war in Laos is, unfortunately, not over for the Lao Hmong people,” Smith continued. “The Lao People’s Army, and the secret police of the Stalinist regime in Laos, backed by military leaders in Hanoi, continue to kill and persecute the Laotian and Hmong people in the most brutal and egregious manner resulting in many refugees fleeing to neighboring Thailand and the ongoing deaths and casualties of thousands of innocent civilians as well as political and religious dissidents.”

“Colonel Jambon’s bold death, like the self-immolation of Tibetan and Vietnamese monks, is a fiery monument to heroism and self-sacrifice on behalf of the Hmong people of Laos and Vietnam whom he loved and knew, and served with in combat on behalf of France during the first Indochina war,” Smith commented.

“The violent forced repatriation of tens of thousands of Lao Hmong refugees from Ban Huay Nam Khao in Thailand, back to the communist regime in Laos, where they fled mass starvation and genocide in recent years, remains as a stain upon the international community as well as the hearts and minds of those concerned about human rights in Southeast Asia,” Smith stated.

“Colonel Robert Jambon rightly understood the horrific crimes, and incomprehensible abuses, that are still being violently inflicted upon thousands of innocent Hmong and Laotian civilians and religious and political dissident groups in Laos,” Smith continued.

“Colonel Jambon’s passionate and Gauguin-like suicide at the Indochina monument in Dinan, France, is a powerful symbol of devotion and understanding regarding the suffering plight of the Lao and Hmong people,” Smith concluded. “Robert Jambon’s courage in speaking truth to power to a world that has largely forgotten thousands of Lao Hmong people who have been abandoned by France and the United States in the mountains and jungles of Laos, and the refugee camps in Thailand, speaks volumes; The themes of love, war, betrayal, and the need to address the ongoing social injustice in Laos and Vietnam, resonate in the final gunshot that ended Robert Jambon’s amazing and important life”

Joining the CPPA, LVAI and ULDL in issuing a statement on behalf of Colonel Robert Jambon’s life and legacy include the United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy (ULHRD), Laos Institute for Democracy, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Lao Students for Democracy, Hmong Students Association and others.

Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres), the CPPA and independent NGO and journalists have reported about the forced repatriation, persectution and human rights violations directed against the Lao Hmong people in Thailand and Laos.



Protesters demand answers from Merced police in death of 21-year-old man

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Was there a gun? Was it pointed at police officers? And did the officers announce themselves before discharging about half a dozen rounds into a crowd of people, killing one and wounding two others?

An official statement from the Merced Police Department said yes.

Eyewitnesses disagreed.

Vang Thao, shown here in traditional Hmong attire, was fatally shot by Merced police during an incident at a Buckingham Court party. Chief Norm Andrade said Thao was caught in the officers' line of fire after another man, Kong Xiong, pointed a gun at police. SUBMITTED PHOTO.

Tuesday afternoon in front of Merced police headquarters, about 100 people, including friends and family of Vang Thao, 21, held signs all bearing the same message:

"We Want Answers." They chanted the same thing.

Some drivers honked in support. A candlelight vigil was held Tuesday evening at the location where Thao was killed.

Thao, a Merced College student, was shot and killed at a Buckingham Court residence on Saturday. His friends and family members say officers shot Thao without any provocation. Police maintain another man, a gang member named Kong Xiong, was pointing a weapon at the responding officers — and Thao was caught in the officers' line of fire.

Thao was struck by one bullet and pronounced dead at the scene.

Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade extended his sympathies to Thao's family and friends Tuesday in a statement. "He was a young man who had just gone out Saturday night to a party," Andrade said.

Andrade also placed the blame solely on Xiong, the gunman in the case. "Kong Xiong is responsible for the death of Mr. Thao," Andrade said in the statement. "If Xiong had not pointed a weapon at our officers, they would not have opened fire and Mr. Thao would not be dead. Tragically, Mr. Thao was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Andrade said the department's investigation is going slowly, due to the sheer number of witnesses. Police have interviewed about 20 people, and there were between 30 to 40 people at the Buckingham Court residence, where a party was happening. He added that police are keeping some information in the case under wraps, because it "could inadvertently influence the statements made by other witnesses."

According to the department's official statement, police dispatchers received a call of a man brandishing a gun at a party Saturday night in the 1500 block of Buckingham Court in North Merced. Responding to the call, officers on the scene "heard the sound of a weapon being prepared to fire." Officers then saw a man, later identified as Xiong, 18, holding a gun. "Officers pointed their weapons at the man and told him to put the gun down. Instead of putting the gun down the man turned towards officers and pointed his gun at the officers. The two officers fired their weapons."

Tuesday, eyewitnesses said Xiong didn't have a gun and police officers didn't announce themselves before shooting through a fence into a private residence where five or six people were drinking beer and socializing.

Fred Camacho, 21, lives at the house where the incident took place. He said he was less than 10 feet from Xiong when bullets ripped through the fence behind which he, Xiong and other friends were standing. "We didn't hear no cops say nothing about getting down, drop a gun, nothing like that," he said. “All we heard was gunshots fired. And after that, everybody just started running in the house because we didn’t know what was going on. The guy that died, his cousin she was telling everybody, 'call 911.'"

Both Camacho and his sister Nancy, who was also present during the incident, said they had no idea the police were the ones shooting. They also both said Xiong didn't have a gun. "First I hear that they said they got called out here because someone brandishing a gun or something, which wasn't true," she said. "I know no one was going to have a gun here. Everyone knows that there's kids here in the house. There was no gun and they didn’t find a gun as far as I know. If there really was a gun, where is it?"

Next-door neighbor Jacob Khaoone, 18, said he was cleaning up his kitchen when the shots were fired. He said he didn't hear the police officers announce themselves. But after the shots were fired, he said he heard one of the officers say, "I can't believe I just shot someone right now."

"There wasn't no arguing or nothing," Khaoone said. "The cops, they're lying about the argument. They didn't even say Merced PD or nothing. My window right here it was open. If they would have said 'Merced PD,' everyone there, they would have just stopped what they were doing. But the cops didn’t do that. And plus they didn’t have their spotlight on."

Thao's sister, Mai Thao, drove to Merced from Fremont for the protest and said the family was upset that they learned from news reports about her brother’s death. They want to know why police hadn't contacted them. "That's devastating, considering that we’ve been looking for him, calling hospitals, calling the jailhouse, calling anywhere he might be. So right now our question is, what happened? We don’t know."

The alleged gunman, Kong Xiong, 18, was shot in the leg. He was taken to a hospital in Modesto and is being held by law enforcement. An unidentified 17-year-old was also struck in the leg. He was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced.

Xiong was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, participation in a criminal street gang, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition by a person prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Police said they have the gun Xiong was holding. Lt. Bimley West said the matter is being looked at by Internal Affairs. He said the department doesn’t notify the families in case of a death, which is up to the coroner or the sheriffs department.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or



MN VOICES | Sai Vang combines art and activism at Center for Hmong Arts and Talent

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 05, 2011
Sai Vang began to look at activism differently when she was a high school student at South High school in Minneapolis. “It was around the time that a Hmong girl in Wisconsin was at her prom," she recalls. "She had given birth to a stillborn and she threw it in the trash. KQRS made racist and prejudiced comments about her situation and the [Hmong] community in general."

Some people organizing around the issue came and spoke at an assembly at South. “I was just kind of like, ‘Whatever, this is just another presentation,’" says Vang. "During the Q&A section, some of the white male students spoke up and made the same comments that the KQRS DJ had made and that got me really angry. At the end of the presentation, they asked us if we wanted to be a part of the movement, take action, and protest against this radio station, and I went along. That was the first time that I realized that there are injustices in our world and that I could do something.”

Vang went on to St. Catherine University in St. Paul, where she got her degree in studio arts with a concentration in photography. “St. Kate’s is a very social justice-focused school," said Vang, "so it really helped me channel all that anger, all that fear, and my identity issues that I was going through and really put them into context for me. Those were really informative years for me. I really got to study and learn about things that I really cared about or that I had passion for.”

Right out of college, Vang was hired by the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network to work with a photographer. Their project involved driving through Minnesota with a truck full of photos of immigrants and the stories that they’d shared. This, she believes, is what inspired her passions for art, working with others, and exploring her culture. Vang says that it was “eye-opening to really see how we can really use art outside of the context of a gallery to really shape the way our community understands issues.”

Sai Vang describes herself as a Hmong American artist, community organizer and now, the executive director of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT).

CHAT‘s mission states that the organization “exists to nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions.” The organization, located in St. Paul, adopted its mission in 2008 and continues to “address social injustices through Hmong American artists and youth that express their inner truths through contemporary arts by 1) raising awareness, 2) initiating action, and 3) building community.”

As the executive diretor, explains Vang, “My main task is the day-to-day running of the organization. It’s also setting the ground for the vision of the organization and making sure that we lift up the voices of our community, my Hmong community, by bringing our voices and artistic expression to the forefront of the Minnesota art scene and creating awareness about what other issues are going on in our community. I work so that our voices are reflected in the policies that are made in the state of Minnesota and for us to really have an influence and build our culture and heritage and embrace our culture as well.

“Art is something I’m very passionate about. Young people are something I’m very passionate about, too. I did a lot of youth development work before I came to CHAT. It’s about understanding the role models that you’ve had in your life: seeing how important it is to have individuals who support you, who understand you, encourage you and challenge you to do things outside of your comfort zone. So I continue to do that.”

Vang wasn’t sure when she realized what she wanted to do with her life. “I think it just happened,” she said. “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t take that job right out of college and went around Minnesota with that mobile gallery. At the time, I definitely knew that I didn’t want to do commercial photography and that I wanted t focus on fine arts and continue to document what I thought was important involving my life and my identity.

“I think that things happen for a reason, so I think it was just what my destiny was calling for. I don’t know if that was the right move, but I know that all of the things that happened, happened for a reason and I couldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t experience those things.”

Vang said she is still trying to achieve balance in her life. “I’m still very young and I’ve got a lot to learn, but I also understand how important it is to find a balance in life. Part of that is having a support network that supports you and I’m very fortunate that I have a great family that supports me and also friends, allies and mentors that are also there for me. They keep me sane. But finding a balance is learning about your own individual boundaries as well. I’ve come to learn about where I need to step back for my own sanity and my own health. It’s a continuous journey – a continuous process, and hopefully I’ll find it one day.”

Vang’s words of wisdom: “Do what you love. Everything else will fall into place.”