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Laos Rebels Draw Eye Of USA


Laos Rebels Draw Eye Of USA

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. State Department has warned of increased security concerns in tiny communist Laos because of deadly, politically motivated assaults against markets and buses and "more attacks could occur" endangering Americans.

"In Laos, there have been attacks on public markets, transportation facilities and all forms of ground transportation," the State Department said in a "public announcement...being issued to advise U.S. citizens of increased security concerns in Laos."

In 1975, Vietnamese-backed Lao communists achieved victory over U.S. troops and their royalist Lao allies during the U.S.-Vietnam War, sealing the impoverished nation in a cocoon of stagnation and human rights abuses.

Today, a handful of die-hard Lao guerrillas sporadically attack hard and soft targets throughout the lightly populated country, often killing innocent civilians in a haphazard, quixotic quest to topple the internationally financed regime.

Most victims are Lao, but casualties have involved foreign tourists and businessmen.

Scattered attacks by "heavily armed groups" have resulted in bloodshed along the Lao-Thai border and in the mountainous north, the State Department said on Monday (Jan. 5).

Gangs occasionally attack passenger buses plying lonesome winding roads -- robbing, killing and escaping with relative ease. Other assaults involve small explosions in crowded outdoor markets, killing and maiming passersby.

"More attacks could occur," the State Department said.

"Provinces that are most prominent in reports of attacks are Xieng Khouang, Luang Prabang, Houaphan, Sayaboury, Saysomboun Special Zone and north of Vang Vieng in Vientiane Province," it noted, listing the most important urban areas and some traditionally anti-communist rural sectors.

"The Lao government has characterized these attacks as 'banditry,' but given the extreme violence of the attacks, political motives are likely," it said.

"Due to these security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel overland in this area."

Much of the obscure, smoldering, anti-communist insurgency is fuelled by jingoistic slogans and money provided by minority ethnic Hmong and other Americans living in the United States.

They inspire several hundred Hmong insurgents who eke out a perilous survival in jungles, occasionally attacking government positions but more often trying to stay one step ahead of security forces intent on rooting them out.

"The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid road travel between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, and on Route 7 from the Route 13 junction to Phonsavan town."

Luang Prabang is the most famous spot in Laos for foreign tourists who marvel at its exquisite Buddhist temples and hand-woven silk textiles along the churning Mekong River.

South from Luang Prabang on the highway to Vang Vieng town, however, the route passes through treacherous, hilly jungle used for hit-and-run assaults since the early 1970s.

The other deadly zone cited by the State Department is close to Phonsavan town in the fabled Plain of Jars, which is peppered by ancient, unexplained stone jugs and dangerous, unexploded U.S. bombs dropped during the war.

The latest warning coincides with the start of a U.S. interview process for the possible resettlement in America of thousands of Lao refugees and their descendents who fled to Thailand to escape the communist takeover.

In January, Lao refugees who live next to Wat Krabok, a Thai Buddhist temple in central Thailand, will receive information about the resettlement program. Registration begins in February through the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

Most of Wat Krabok's displaced Lao are Hmong and suffer accusations in Thailand of fomenting bloody revenge attacks on Laos or smuggling opium and heroin, because some Hmong guerrillas enriched themselves through illegal drug trafficking during the U.S.-Vietnam War while working alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Thailand earlier threatened to shift the refugees elsewhere because they posed a perceived security threat, but the U.S. resettlement program was expected to greatly reduce their numbers.

*****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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