Government troops in Laos have been ordered to shoot to kill ethnic Hmong insurgents in the country's northern jungle regions, with cash rewards offered for every "enemy" killed, RFA's Lao service reports.
A military official in the northern province of Luangprabang said the orders had now become an "open secret" in Laos. The orders apply to the region extending from lower Luangprabang to Xiengkkhouang and the northern part of Vientiane province, where the government hopes systematically to break up Hmong opposition groups by force.
For the past year, those who kill a Hmong fighter have been promised automatic grass-roots Communist Party membership and a one-step promotion, together with a reward of six million kip (U.S. $600) per head, said the military official, who requested anonymity. A spokesman for the Laos Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane dismissed the report.
This is sheer fabrication, spread around overseas without any knowledge of real facts.
"This is sheer fabrication, spread around overseas without any knowledge of real facts," Yong Chanthalangsy told RFA. "The fact is there's no truth to it."
The military official added that "opposition" includes not only unidentified armed groups, but also "bad elements" or highwaymen, as well as Hmong villagers in hiding in the jungles.
The past two years have seen a number of ambushes against trucks and cars belonging to gold mining companies in the area.
U.S. eyewitnesses described Hmong villagers coming out of hiding in 2005 as "desperate," with big-bellied children with untreated injuries, and weaker people being carried on the backs of others. Some were starving; others were naked.
Beginning in 2004, Hmong rebels began surrendering to government troops, emerging from the jungle in their thousands amid promises of land and building materials to set up new homes.
But sources say many of those new settlements have dispersed, and it is unknown whether the Hmong who surrendered have gone back into hiding or died. Asked if the Hmong who surrendered had gone back to the jungle, Yong Chanthalangsy said: "Very few of them."
Asked if government troops were hunting down Hmong rebels, he said, "Not true, not true." "Why would the troops be sent to fight when the country is at peace? Our soldiers are carrying out their duties by protecting the roads so as to ensure the security for the public only. The war is over, fighting is no longer needed," he told reporter Thanapha. But Vientiane sources confirmed privately that all Hmong remaining in the jungle were considered enemies.
They also said that a unit of the Vietnamese intelligence service was stationed in Nong Tang, in Phou Kout district (formerly Muong Soui), operating under the guise of a scrap metal business. The unit was using telephone signal detectors to track communications between Hmong to pinpoint the exact locations of the groups, prior to further attacks by Lao government troops.
Last week, U.S. senators from five states with large resettled Hmong constituencies wrote to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asking her to provide an update on U.S. efforts toward setting up more human rights monitoring of the Hmong people back in Laos. The State Department said it was looking into the claims of abuses.
Sources in Laos said the majority of the Hmong who surrendered--including the elderly, women, and children--were also disappearing, either back into the mountainous jungle, or crossing the border into Thailand, or perhaps dying. The Hmong, advised by the CIA, fought on behalf of a pro-American government during the Vietnam War.
They later found themselves all but abandoned after their communist enemies, the Pathet Lao, won a long civil war in 1975 with support from thousands of North Vietnamse troops fighting inside Laos. More than 300,000 Lao refugees, mostly Hmong, fled after the takeover, with many resettling in the United States. Thousands stayed behind, some adjusting to the new hard-line regime and others staying in the jungle, where they face continuing attacks.
Many Hmong, to whom international aid agencies have no access, have voiced hope that after they surrender the United Nations will treat them as political asylum-seekers rather than economic migrants and help find them a home.
Original reporting in Lao by Chareunsouk. RFA Lao service director: Viengsay Luangkhot. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.