Lao Government Troops Launch New Assault Against Hmong at Phou Bia Mountain

2021-04-01
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Lao Government Troops Launch New Assault Against Hmong at Phou Bia Mountain Two members of an unidentified armed group pose for a photo after a clash with Lao government soldiers in Xaysomboun province, March 9, 2021.
Photo: RFA

Lao government troops have launched a new campaign of attacks against groups of ethnic Hmong living in forests near Phou Bia Mountain in an effort to remove them from areas targeted for development and foreign investment schemes, rights group and Hmong sources say.

The new push against the Hmong—who fought under U.S. advisors against communist forces during the Vietnam War—follows the March 14 publication of an order by authorities in Xaysomboun province barring access by civilians to the forests near Phou Bia, the highest mountain in Laos, an international NGO said at the weekend.

Hmong civilians living in the area are now reporting an increase in violence at the hands of government troops, an official of the Brussels-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) told RFA in an email on March 28.

“As you know, this escalation of violence coincides with a push towards the development of Phou Bia Mountain as both a tourist site and an area of interest to foreign investment,” the UNPO official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The government continues to deny any wrongdoing and refuses access by international observers, even on humanitarian or medical grounds,” RFA’s source said, adding, “We’re deeply concerned that a recent escalation may result in a serious humanitarian and human rights crisis endangering the life of civilians, including women and children.

Estimates of development funding planned for Phou Bia Mountain run as high as hundreds of millions of dollars, with foreign investment also now growing tied to industrial expansion in the area, UNPO sources say.

The Lao military has long pushed a campaign targeting Hmong in the region in a program of military attacks and forced relocations into government-controlled camps and villages, with repression and the use of force entering “a new phase of severity” in 2016, the UNPO said in a March 25 statement urging an international response to the crisis.

“UNPO further urges the government of the Lao PDR [People’s Democratic Republic] to immediately cease any acts of violence against the Hmong people in the area, to grant immediate and unfettered access to the area to impartial international observers, to make measures to protect civilians living in the region and work towards a peaceful resolution of historical disputes,” the group said.

Authorities in multi-ethnic Laos have long been wary of opposition among the country’s Hmong ethnic minority, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their U.S. ties during the Vietnam War, when thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisors during the so-called Secret War against communists in Laos.

Call for UN help 

Speaking to RFA on March 26, a leader of ChaoFa—a Hmong group living in a remote area of Xaysomboun and deemed an “anti-government” force by Lao authorities—appealed for United Nations help in protecting his people from attack.

“We have been attacked by the Red Lao government since 1975, and on Aug. 21, 2020 a group of about 100 Lao government soldiers launched an assault against us in the Phou Bia area, aiming to kill us all by the end of the year.”

“I would like to ask the U.N. to help us as soon as they possibly can,” he said.

“The Lao government claims that the Hmong in the Phou Bia area of Xaysomboun province are members of an anti-Lao government group so that the government military can crack down on them,” added a prominent Hmong living in exile in the United States, asking that his name not be used.

“Actually they are just ordinary people,” he said.

One killed in recent clash

A member of an unidentified group of gunmen was killed last month in a clash with Lao government troops in the latest of a series of sporadic attacks in Xaysomboun by what authorities described as anti-government forces, sources close to the Lao military and police told RFA in an earlier report.

The March 9 clash was only the latest in a series of shootings and other attacks in the province, most recently on June 20, 2020 when a government soldier was shot and killed while on patrol inspecting for illegal poppy cultivation.

In January 2016, a car carrying Chinese miners was ambushed in the province, leaving two dead and one injured, and in November 2015 an exchange of gunfire between an armed group and local troops left three soldiers and four civilians dead, source said in earlier reports.

In most cases, Laos’ secretive government stops short of identifying individuals or groups who might have perpetrated the attacks, and no political statements or claims of responsibility are usually issued in connection with the incidents.

Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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