Authorities in Laos have stepped up security in a northeastern province where ethnic minority Hmongs are concerned over the health and treatment of three members of their community imprisoned for illegal possession of firearms, sources said.
The three elderly men among a group of 14 convicted a year ago for having firearms in Xiengkhuang province are believed to be in poor health, a source in the province said.
Hmongs believe that Pa Cheng Cha, in his early eighties, and Pa Yelor and Cher Wa Lor, both in their early sixties, have not been treated well in prison and never received a fair trial after their arrest following a police raid in 2012, according to the source.
In response to the concern about their cases, authorities in Xiengkhuang, the birthplace of Hmong war hero General Vang Pao, have ordered villages to bolster their security forces to monitor Hmong people’s activities, he said.
“Each village has been ordered to step up its own security,” he told RFA's Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“In general, it is part of a campaign to alert people in the villages to be observant in helping the security forces,” he said.
The three men are serving terms of between 15 and 18 years in prison, according to the local Vientiane Times newspaper.
They were arrested along with 11 others in July 2012 after police patrolling Phonsavanxay village in Xiengkhuang’s Paek district found an AK-47 rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition.
Villagers were taken in for questioning, leading to the discovery of others with rifles and handguns only police or soldiers are allowed to possess, according to the newspaper.
Of the 11 other men, five were sentenced to 15 years in prison and six given one-year terms.
According to the paper, Pa Cheng Cha, Pa Yelor, and Chea Wa Lor are serving imprisonment of 18, 17, and 15 years respectively.
Lao authorities have long been wary of opposition among the Hmong, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States.
Thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos.
General Vang Pao, who spearheaded the 15-year CIA-sponsored war, died in the United States in 2011 at the age of 81.
The outspoken opponent of the Lao government emigrated to the United States after the communists seized power in his country in 1975.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.