"The trial was based on the death of one Lao militiaman, but there is no way to confirm he really is dead,� Rev. Naw-Karl Mua said in an interview. "Nobody actually knows whether he is dead because no [Westerner] was allowed to conduct an investigation.�
The prosecution never produced a body, nor did it seek to prove that anyone had been injured or killed in the incident that led to the arrest of Mua, Belgian freelance reporter Thierry Falise, French cameraman and photographer Vincent Reynaud, and three Lao nationals whom they hired as guides.
The three foreign nationals were found guilty of "obstructing police and possessing illegal explosives" in the two-hour closed trial and given 15-year sentences each, prompting fierce international criticism. Among the Laotians, Thao Moua was jailed for 12 years, with Pa Fue Khang handed a 15-year prison term. Char Yang, who was also accused of being a drug trafficker, was jailed for 20 years.
The three foreigners had entered Laos on tourist visas to report on the remnants and descendants of a Hmong-dominated secret army created by the US Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War.
The guerrillas have waged a low-level insurgency against the communist government ever since Washington abandoned them in 1973. The group has never posed a serious threat to the regime, but the Lao government has been accused by human rights groups of using heavy-handed and often brutal tactics to eliminate them.
"The six resistance soldiers who escorted us in the jungle were not mentioned either. The government didn�t want to acknowledge that we were escorted by soldiers because it would prompt questions as to why we needed soldiers to escort us," Mua said.
"The trial was conducted only from the angle of the Lao government, not from the point of view of the others. The two European journalists wanted to see for themselves the Hmong resistance in Laos�but why they sneaked in without proper authorization from the government was not mentioned at the trial," he said.
The three men received tourist visas and flew to Laos. They traveled as far as they could in the jungle by car before hiring Hmong soldiers to guide them to a village. Trouble began after their visit to the village. The group arrived back at the road where they were supposed to be picked up June 3. The driver didn't show, and the journalists grew impatient, Mua said.
A guide went to find another driver. An encounter with the Laotian soldiers came about midnight. The group moved to a small hollow to hide, but found soldiers them. Shooting erupted when the soldiers shined a flashlight on the journalists, although who shot first remains unclear. Mua, who was unarmed, fled.
After spending the next day in the jungle by himself, Mua surrendered. Authorities told him a Laotian soldier had died. Mua was taken to a provincial prison, then transferred to one in a larger city.
Mua was born in Xiengkhuang Province, where he was arrested, and left Laos more than 25 years ago. He now lives in Minnesota, in the midwestern United States, where there is a relatively large Lao community.
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