Laos Rules Out Early Pardons for Hmong Held With Foreigners

2003-07-09
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WASHINGTON, July 9, 2003--The Lao government says there will be no early release for three Lao Hmong arrested and tried along with three foreigners last month.

The two European journalists and their American translator were freed Wednesday after more than a month of diplomatic wrangling, but Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Sodom Phetrasy said the minority Hmong wouldn't receive the same treatment.

The three Hmong--guides Thao Moua and Char Yang and driver Pa Hue Khang--were handed sentences ranging from 12 to 20 years. They committed "quite serious" crimes against their own country, Phetrasy said. "They obstructed the work of officials, and they were in possession of weapons--a bomb and firearms--and illegal drugs," he said in a telephone interview broadcast Wednesday in Asia.

The three "received more or less the same sentence, except for one who got a harsher sentence because we have evidence on him, which is one kilo of drugs," Phetrasy said without specifying the type of drugs involved. Which of the men received the stiffest sentence was also unclear.

Asked whether they might receive an amnesty, he replied: "Everybody has the same chance, the same opportunity, to get a pardon. Their sentences could be gradually reduced depending upon their behavior... There was nothing political at all [about this case]. Everything will go according to the sentences handed down by the court--whatever the court says, that's what it's going to be."

"They have to be punished according to the sentence they have recieved from the court but they also have the right to appeal within 15 days," Phetrasy said. "These foreigners were pardoned at the request of the governments of their respective countries, and also because those governments acknowledged that they had committed crimes."

"We solve international problems in different ways--we try to do it through political and diplomatic means, to maintain the good relationship that we already have with those countries. But when it comes to our own nationals, we have to apply Lao laws."

French journalist Vincent Reynaud, Belgian reporter Thierry Falise, and American translator Naw Karl Mua were convicted of "obstructing police and possessing illegal explosives" after a two-hour trial in Phonesavanh, in the northeastern province of Xieng Khouang, on June 30. After 36 days of detention, they were released and immediately expelled from the country.

The journalists were arrested June 4 while reporting on a rebellion among the Hmong ethnic minority in the northeast of the country and after being caught in a shoot-out with security forces.

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