Cablegate: From Poppies to Peaches: Hmong Progress Remains Mixed

DE RUEHCHI #0131/01 2061855
P 251855Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A



CHIANG MAI 00000131 001.2 OF 003

1. Summary. Despite generally low economic status, land tenure
issues, and a renewed refugee inflow from Laos, the Hmong hill
people today are considered among the more successful hill tribe
groups in Thailand. Best known for fighting beside US forces in
Laos from the 1960s to1975 while a significant number of others
joined the Communist Party of Thailand insurgency, this group
has benefited both from agricultural development projects and
from the support of a large Hmong population in the US. At the
same time, however, some Thai-Hmong are suspected of involvement
in cross-border activities in Laos, and the ethnic group itself
remains on top of the official drug trafficking watch list. Our
Thai-Hmong contacts disavow any connection with the alleged plot
that led to the "Tarnished Eagle" June 4 arrests in the US (ref
a). End summary
2. The Hmong people's history and continued connections with the
US and Laos give them a significance beyond their relatively
small numbers in Thailand -- estimated at just under 200,000.
Hmong anthropologist and Chiang Mai University professor Dr.
Prasit Leepreecha (Hmong name Tsav Txhiaj Lis) compared the
Hmong situation in northern Thailand during the 1960s to the
circumstances in Thailand's south today, where government
suspicion of an ethnic group fuels the opposition. (Dr. Prasit
stopped short of suggesting that today's improved position of
the Hmong offers a solution for the south. While the Thai Hmong
who joined the Communist insurgency had little interest in the
ideology of the party and therefore easily accepted the
government's amnesty in the early 1980s, the southern
insurgency, he believes, has deeper roots.)
--- Cashing in on Fruits and Flowers ---
3. A Hmong leader eager to showcase his communitQs adaptation
to changing social, economic and environmental conditions in
northern Thailand provided Consulate staff with a tableau of the
new livelihood that has replaced the opium economy of Golden
Triangle infamy. Por Luang Koed, whose village is located in
Chiang Mai's Doi Inthanon National Park, invited the Consul
General and others to visit in late April - timed for ripe
peaches. With continued political debate over forest
management and the right of forest dwellers to remain in
protected areas, Por Luang wanted to show how he and his Hmong
neighbors protect the environment and cooperate with the Royal
Project Foundation to produce and develop new cash crops in
fruits and cut flowers.

4. Recent Hmong history has been more linked to guns and drugs
than peaches and roses. As a result of their role in US
engagement in Laos from the early 1960s to 1975, nearly 200,000
fled to Thailand as refugees. Approximately 90 percent of the
refugees were eventually resettled in the US, where an estimated
200,000 now live. Several million more live in the greater
Mekong region, primarily in southern China, with 160,000-180,000
in Thailand. Within this community are many different groups,
including Hmong who fought for the U.S. in Laos and crossed to
Thailand, Hmong in Laos who did not side with the U.S., Hmong
who have long lived in Thailand and joined the communist
insurgency against the RTG, and Hmong who have long lived in
Thailand but did not join the insurgency. During the past few
years, some 8,000 Lao-Hmong have entered Thailand's Petchaboon
province, re-opening a refugee chapter that had been considered
over by 2004-2005 as resettlement came to an end at the Wat Tham
Krabok refugee camp.

5. Both Por Luang Koed and Dr. Prasit dismissed the current
Petchaboon group as economic migrants, claiming that many had
left their homes in Laos after being told by relatives in the US
that they would be resettled there (ref b). Dr. Prasit agreed
that some Hmong in Thailand and the US are making money off
encouraging the flow into Thailand, but insisted that the
long-settled Thai-Hmong here are not involved.

--- Hmong Come Calling ---

6. Thanks to the large Hmong population in the US and in the
northern Thai region, Consulate Chiang Mai handles a sizeable
number of Hmong visa applicants. Organizations in the US such
as the Lao Family Community in California, Wisconsin and
Minnesota, Hmong Wisconsin Radio, United Hmong International,
and the Hmong International New Year visit the Consulate and fax
support for visa applicants. One of the individuals arrested in
June, Youa True Vang, also known as Joseph Youa Vang, has been
listed as a sponsor or trip coordinator by some of our visa

7. The Consulate is also in touch with other US-based
organizations about AmCit concerns, human rights, and similar
non-visa issues. These include the Center for Hmong Studies at
Concordia University, Lao Human Rights Council, Lao Veterans of
America, Hmong National Development, and Hmong Wisconsin Radio.
In addition, we have briefed US study abroad groups that
include Hmong students, including St. Olaf College and

CHIANG MAI 00000131 002.2 OF 003

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

8. The US-based Hmong groups pursue contacts with government
officials as well. Chiang Rai Gov. Amorapun Nimanandh consulted
earlier this year with the CG about a letter of invitation he
had received to the Hmong New Year in Fresno, California; after
the arrest of Gen. Vang Pao in June, Gov. Amorapun notified the
Consulate that he had cancelled a planned trip to a Hmong
celebration in Minnesota.

--- Communism to Crops ---

9. Hmong Thailand Network chair Por Luang Koed, who showed off
his peach crop and peaceful village to Consulate staff last
April, is recognized by staff of the Royal Project and the
Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) for his contribution to
various RTG counter-narcotics-related programs. A former
Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) mid-level commander in the
1970-1980s insurgency who mobilized popular support from Hmong
communities in the Chiang Rai-Phayao-Nan area, Por Luang Koed
joined other insurgents in accepting amnesty from the Thai
government in the early 1980s.

10. With different government agencies pursuing competing
interests in areas declared "natural habitat," Por Luang's
community has plenty of motivation to demonstrate its wise land
management and good citizenship. A much-debated Community
Forest bill that would protect indigenous forest dwellers from
being resettled elsewhere has made little progress since the
coup. Although agricultural burning by hill tribes was cited,
accurately or not, as one of the causes of the heavy haze that
settled over northern Thailand in March, Por Luang said his
village no longer practices traditional slash-and-burn farming.

--- Role of the Royal Projects ---
11. Por Luang ties improvements in the Hmong community to the
Royal Project Foundation, set up by the King over three decades
ago to encourage hill people to switch from opium poppies to new
cash crops. The Doi Inthanon Royal Project near Por Luang's
village concentrates on temperate fruits and cut flowers,
including strawberries, plums, peaches, roses, chrysanthemums,
dahlias and fuchsia. Plant tissues are purchased from
commercial dealers in places such as the Netherlands and Hawaii;
the Royal Project cultivates the tissue and sells it to
hilltribe farmers who willing to try new crops. Farmers are
encouraged to use ecologically friendly farming methods and as
few pesticides as possible; Por Luang insisted that his peaches
and plums are chemical free.
12. The Royal Project Foundation runs research stations and 36
development centers which cover 444 villages comprising 24,043
households with a total population of approximately 100,000
people. Por Luang sells his crops to the Royal Project, which
in turns cools, packs, and markets the produce in Bangkok and
Chiang Mai under the Doi Kham brand name. The products have a
niche market in Thailand; a Royal Project official said little
is exported but that success can be measured by a reduction of
13. Many problems remain, including issues of land tenure in
protected areas, cultural identity and continued identification
with the drug trade. A senior ONCB official in Chiang Mai
portrayed the Hmong as interested only in wealth, at the price
of social values; he noted that Hmong remain on the top of
ONCB's watch list of hill tribe groups involved in drug
trafficking. A contact from the National Intelligence Agency
(NIA) reported that counterparts from ONCB, the Police Narcotics
Suppression Bureau (NSB) and Provincial Police Region 5 have
seen a recent upward trend in methamphetamine "yaba" and "ice"
cases involving Hmong.
---- Making it in Thai Society ---
14. Over all, however, living conditions and acceptance in Thai
society are much improved from earlier decades. The Hmong are
considered more willing than some other hill groups to integrate
with the local majority when given the chance - Por Luang's
granddaughter speaks Hmong at home but attends a Thai school in
the district town of Chom Thong. Dr Chupinit Ketmanee, chair
of the Inter-Mountain Peoples' Education and Culture Thailand
(IMPECT) Association, ranked the Hmong ahead of other tribal
groups in many respects, especially in accessing education and
in economic and social-legal status. Over 90% are now
registered as Thai citizens, he claimed, a percentage backed up
by a recent UNESCO survey of hill tribe citizenship that looked
at the influence of legal status and ethnicity on access to
education, health care and other social services in border
15. Comment: While most stories about the Hmong still tend to
focus on refugees, drugs, or border clashes, Consulate Chiang
Mai sees a somewhat more positive if still mixed picture. After
over 30 years of efforts by numerous organizations to introduce
new crops to replace poppy cultivation, the Royal Project has
been able to provide a degree of land security and income from

CHIANG MAI 00000131 003.2 OF 003

crops previously unknown in the region. In the meantime Hmong
resettled to the US over the past three decades have started to
explore returning as retirees and to send their children as
exchange students. For those who live in Thailand, the high
percentage of citizenship both indicates and contributes to the
community's stability. Although this rosy view is clouded by Lao
border issues and continued connections with the drug trade, it
indicates a marked improvement over negative images from earlier

© Scoop Media

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