Laos Govt. Accused Of Atrocities Against Children
Amnesty Accuses Laos Govt. Of Atrocities Against Children
by Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- The military in communist Laos committed "war crimes" and "atrocities against Hmong children" by raping, killing and mutilating descendents of a tribe formerly used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in its failed bid to topple the regime, according to Amnesty International.
The "military atrocities against Hmong children are war crimes," the London-based human rights organization said after examining "video evidence and witness testimony" which described how Lao soldiers slaughtered four teenage girls and one boy.
The foreign ministry in Laos reportedly dismissed the videotape as possible propaganda fabricated by anti-communists in Laos and America who the regime blamed in the past for sporadic bombings and raids on markets, highways and security posts.
"Amnesty International is horrified," the organization said in an unusually blunt announcement about the alleged gruesome killings in the isolated, mountainous Xaysomboune military zone of the Plain of Jars region in northern Laos.
"These rapes and killings constitute war crimes. The Lao authorities must bring to justice those responsible for this atrocity and cease attacks on unarmed civilians," the respected human rights group said.
Several hundred Hmong men, women and children have fought a losing, hit-and-run guerrilla struggle against Lao forces ever since 1975 after the CIA failed to win its "secret war" against the communists.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, the CIA used more than 30,000 unsophisticated, impoverished Hmong tribesmen -- alongside some anti-communist Chinese who had turned against Mao Zedong's regime in China -- as part of Washington's losing strategy to try and stop North Vietnamese communists crossing Lao territory to attack American and South Vietnamese targets.
After a triple American defeat in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, thousands of Hmong fled from communist Laos across the Mekong River into U.S.-backed Thailand where they languished in hopes of gaining sanctuary as refugees in America.
Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok are now, belatedly, flying hundreds of Hmong from Thailand to the United States in what has been described as a final refugee program to assist many of those who fled and their descendants.
Coinciding with these last flights is a bid by bankrupt Laos to have its trade links with the United States normalized, instead of being relegated to a pariah status similar to that of Cuba and North Korea.
Amnesty International's report, released on Monday (Sept. 13), was expected to be used by anti-communist and Christian Lao groups in America in their demand that the regime be punished instead of rewarded.
"The children, aged between 13 and 16 years old and part of an ethnic Hmong rebel group, were brutally mutilated -- the girls apparently raped before being killed -- by a group of approximately 30-40 soldiers," Amnesty International said.
"The victims -- four girls, Mao Lee, 14; her sister Chao Lee, 16; Chi Her, 14; Pang Lor, 14; and Tou Lor, Pang Lor's 15 year old brother -- were killed whilst foraging for food close to their camp. They were unarmed," it said.
"One of the girls was disemboweled," Amnesty added.
It quoted an unidentified "witness who has subsequently fled the country and been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees."
Time magazine viewed the videotape and said it was shot by Va Char Yang, 38, an anti-communist Lao fugitive who aided the guerrillas for the past decade and recently gained asylum in the United States.
Some of the videotape shows what Mr. Va Char claims are five dead Hmong teenagers, filmed on May 19 immediately after Lao government forces ambushed them, while he watched and listened from hiding.
It was impossible to immediately verify his claims independently.
His camera was provided by a U.S.-based Hmong group called the Fact Finding Commission.
The five dead Hmong appear in clothes soaked by blood, their arms and legs wounded by bullets.
"At the site of the alleged ambush, a girl is seen, dead in the bushes, her intestines spilling out through her dress," Time reported in its latest issue.
Other children's fatal injuries are also shown.
"Va Char says she had been raped," Time added, referring to a different dead girl in the video.
Lao security forces arrested Mr. Va last year when he escorted two European journalists and an American Lutheran reverend to meet Hmong guerrillas in the Plain of Jars.
Hmong-American Lutheran pastor Naw Karl Mua, from St. Paul, Minnesota, was arrested along with the two European reporters and they were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
But the trio were deported after one month of international diplomatic pressure on Laos, which receives more than half its budget from foreign aid.
Mr. Va, meanwhile, escaped from custody and reportedly sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment.
He fled to Thailand and, bringing the videotape, settled in California.
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Minnesota -- where many Lao-Americans reside -- several urban attacks occurred in May about the same time as the alleged atrocities in Laos.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with St. Paul police, were trying to determine if the attacks were deliberately against relatives and colleagues of a former CIA-backed Lao general, Vang Pao, who is based in California.
Gen. Van Pao remains influential among ethnic Hmong and for decades opposed the communists in Laos.
But in November, Gen. Vang Pao stunned supporters by favoring negotiations and commercial relations with the regime if human rights violations ended in Laos.
The general's announcement sparked a split among many Hmong in the U.S.
In May, the St. Paul home of Gen. Vang Pao's son was firebombed, and the home of the son's translator was hit in a drive-by shooting, but the motive was unclear, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
A fire in May also wrecked a social service agency set up by the general in St. Paul, and an apparent hit list which named a St. Paul police officer was also discovered, the paper added.
"Because of who the general is, and how he fits into the world...there's a lot of alleys to go down," Maplewood Police Chief David Thomalla told the newspaper.
Chief Thomalla said his police also contacted the U.S. State Department about the incidents.
Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 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 www.geocities.com/glossograph/