Hmong leader Vang Pao charged in Laotian plot

Vang Pao, a revered leader of the Hmong-American community and a former general in the Royal Army of Laos, is among 10 men charged with plotting to overthrow the Laotian regime. An undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives secretly recorded a Feb. 7 luncheon meeting with Vang Pao, former California National Guard Lt. Col. Harrison Ulrich Jack and others at a Thai restaurant near the state Capitol in Sacramento. They then walked to a recreational vehicle parked nearby to examine machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, anti-personnel mines and other weapons, according to the agent’s affidavit.

Among those charged were the founder of Fresno’s annual Hmong International New Year celebration, a former police officer from the nearby suburb of Clovis and a former aide to a Wisconsin state senator. Federal prosecutors charge the men conspired with a Laotian resistance movement, led in the US by Vang Pao, who splits his time between homes in the Twin Cities and Southern California. The defendants are scheduled for detention hearings later this week, and prosecutors recommended they be held without bail.

In the 1960s, Vang Pao led a Hmong tribal army that resisted the communist guerillas with US support. They were all but abandoned when Laos fell to the communists in 1975, and some 300,000 Hmong refugees fled into Thailand. Tens of thousands have resettled in the US, establishing large enclaves in St. Paul, Fresno and in small towns throughout Arkansas’ Ozark mountains. Hmong are still are subject to discrimination and rights violations in Laos today, according to the US State Department. Sharon Stanley, director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, said Hmong immigrants still arrive traumatized by war and decades of persecution.

“People don’t know right now whether the charges are justified or a witch hunt,” said Peter Vang, refugee community liaison for Fresno County, home to about 30,000 ethnic Hmong. “We just want people to remember that for 20 years the Hmong community has worked to make sure that this is our home.”

Some spoke openly of dreams of overturning the Laotian regime. “People of my father’s generation have hoped one day that they could go back to a free Laos and farm the plot of land they left 30 years ago,” said state Rep. Cy Thao of St. Paul, MN. “Vang Pao is sort of their last hope.” (AP, June 6)

See our last report on the Hmong struggle.