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Cablegate: Update On Hmong-Americans Taken Into Police Custody in Laos

VZCZCXYZ0005
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVN #0723/01 2571046
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141046Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1527
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 7480

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000723

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR CA/OCS/EAP M SHOEMAKER
DEPT FOR EAP/MLS FOR E BESTIC
DEPT FOR DS/IP/EAP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC CASC LA
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON HMONG-AMERICANS TAKEN INTO POLICE CUSTODY IN LAOS

REF: A) VIENTIANE 698 B) SWEENEY-SCHWARTZ EMAIL OF 09/14/2007

The contents of this telegram are SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, please
protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Post continues to investigate the whereabouts of
the three Hmong Americans who were taken into police custody on
August 25. Both Lao and Thai immigration authorities have records
indicating that the Americans departed Laos on August 29. During a
trip to Xiengkhouang Province September 10-12, Conoff and RSO met
with the provincial police commander and interviewed the owner and
staff of the guesthouse where the men were taken into custody. The
guesthouse staff positively identified the three men and provided
details of their arrest. The police commander and other provincial
security officials consistently denied that any U.S. citizens were
arrested, while claiming a drug bust had occurred in Xiengkhouang on
August 25 in which some Lao Hmong men were arrested. During a
routine prison visit in Vientiane, a U.S. citizen prisoner stated
that three Hmong-American men had arrived at the prison on August 26
and left on August 28. Post continues to receive inquiries from
next of kin, the press, and Congressional offices asking for
updates. END SUMMARY.

Inquiry on Events in Xieng Khouang
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) On September 10, Conoff, RSO and Consular LES met with the
owner and two employees of the Number 5 Guesthouse in Phonesavanh,
Xiengkhoung Province. The guesthouse, where the three men were
reported to have stayed, is run by a Lao Hmong family and caters to
ethnic Hmong. Both of the employees, one of whom is the guesthouse
owner's son, positively identified photos of the three men. The
employees stated that the three men checked into the guesthouse on
August 23. After they checked out on August 25, a silver Toyota van
pulled up and the men got in. As the van was pulling out of the
front gate of the guesthouse compound, it was surrounded by unmarked
vehicles and men in civilian clothes who took the men away. The son
of the guesthouse owner went out to see what was going on and was
then taken into custody. He was later taken in a separate vehicle
to the Xiengkhouang Ministry of Public Security (MOPS) compound a
short distance away and held for two days. He stated he never saw
the Hmong Americans in the jail. The son was released on August 27
after being cleared of any charges. He said he was never told why
he was detained. The employees said that they use a registration
book to record the names and passport numbers of any foreigners who
stay at the guesthouse. They stated that they recorded the name and
passport number of Trillion Yunhaison after he checked in with the
other two U.S. citizens and paid for three rooms for the group.
They said the police came and took the registration book from the
guesthouse on August 25 after the three Hmong-Americans were taken
into custody. The guesthouse owner said he had subsequently asked
for it back but it had not yet been returned.

3. (SBU) In a meeting on September 11, the Commander of MOPS for
Xiengkhouang Province refused to acknowledge that any U.S. citizens
had been taken into custody and proceeded to explain that on August
25 a drug raid took place in Phonesavanh against known opium and
methamphetamine users and dealers. He said that some had escaped
and fled to the No. 5 guesthouse, where they were arrested. When
Conoff showed him photos of the U.S. citizens, he claimed none of
them were among those arrested. (Note: Post's DEA office reports
that none of their contacts in Xiengkhouang had heard of any recent
drug arrests in the province. End note.) When asked if Conoff
could see the guesthouse registration book, the Commander stated
that it was being held by the Xiengkhouang Tourist Police and that
he would contact that office the next day to obtain it. When Conoff
returned to his office the next day, the Commander's secretary
stated he was in a meeting and that the registration book was with
the guesthouse. The rest of the morning was spent talking with MOPS
officials from the Tourist Police and the Xiengkhouang Immigration
office, all of whom stated that they had the registration book at
some time recently but could either not locate it or claimed it had
been returned to the guesthouse. Embassy officers repeatedly asked
MOPS officials to call the guesthouse to confirm that they indeed
did not have the missing book. In the end, the book was never seen
by Embassy officers.

Travel Records
--------------

4. (SBU) On September 12, Lao Immigration officials at the Thai-Lao
Friendship Bridge just outside Vientiane told the Consular Section
that all three men had departed Laos for Nongkhai, Thailand on
August 29. Post has requested official written confirmation of these
departures, including a printout of the departure records, and has
requested permission to see the originals. On September 14, the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) informed the embassy by phone that
an official written reply had been sent via diplomatic note to the
Embassy, but the Embassy had not received it by close of business


5. (SBU) On September 13, Thai Immigration officials in Nongkhai,
at the request of Embassy Bangkok, provided copies of arrival cards
for the three men stamped August 29. Vientiane has provided NOK and
other biodata information to ACS Bangkok for assistance in opening
welfare/whereabouts cases for the three men.

6. (SBU) Vientiane's Consular Section confirmed that neither Hakit
nor Congshineng Yang boarded their scheduled flights from Vientiane
to Bangkok, reserved for September 8 or their on-going flights from
Bangkok to Minneapolis for September 9. RSO confirmed with DS that
none of the three have used their passports to enter the U.S. since
their last departure. The spouse of Hakit Yang, Ms. Sheng Xiong,
told the Consular Chief on September 13 that Hakit called her nearly
every day from his arrival in Laos on July 12 until August 24, the
last day that she talked with him. She stated the other two men had
much less frequent phone contact with their relatives in Minnesota.
She repeated that neither she nor any other relatives that she knows
have been contacted by any of them since they were taken into
custody.

American Prisoner Reports Seeing Three Hmong-Americans
--------------------------------------------- ---------

7. (SBU) During a routine visit to Phon Tong prison in Vientiane,
where two U.S. citizen prisoners are detained, one of the prisoners
asked about "the three Hmong Americans". Without stating names, the
prisoner then said that the three had arrived at the prison on
August 26 accompanied by police. They were then moved out of the
prison by what he claimed were Army personnel on August 28,
apparently in a very sudden fashion while the three were in the
middle of bathing. They were taken out of the prison wearing only
shorts and shoes, blindfolded, and put in the back of a vehicle. He
further stated that he had learned that they were arrested with
three to four Lao Hmong men, reportedly for "doing something in the
jungle". The prisoner stated that they were in good condition and
had not been tortured. Because the prison warden was present in the
room with a prison guard, the visiting Conoff did not show the
photos of the three men to the prisoner or press for more
information out of concern for the safety of the prisoner.

8. (SBU) Post will continue to investigate the reported departure of
these three men by asking for complete immigration records from the
Lao and coordinate with Embassy Bangkok in their efforts to find the
three men in Thailand. Post will refer any further press inquiries
to CA.

HUSO

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