An unidentified armed group shot and killed a member of a Lao government security force last week as his unit patrolled the forested areas of central Xaysomboun province during a crackdown on opium growers, RFA has learned.
The incident occurred July 16 as the security force was engaged in missions on Xaysomboun’s borders with Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang provinces.
RFA’s Lao Service obtained photos of the soldier’s body from a reliable source who declined to be named, and reports of the incident appeared on Lao social media shortly thereafter.
The soldier’s remains were airlifted to his family in their village, where a funeral was held Sunday. The funeral was documented by the family on Facebook.
Rural villagers are now frightened to enter the forests, which many in the rural parts of the mountainous province rely on for subsistence.
“I feel unsafe and afraid to go into the forest to gather wild fruits and vegetables,” a villager, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA’s Lao Service.
Another villager told RFA that while the well-traveled roads are still safe, people have become afraid of traveling into deeper areas of the forest.
“The police and army have set up small posts along the roads to check on people regularly, but there are some bad elements hiding in the forest, so we are too scared to go there,” said the second villager, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
An official at the Xaysomboun security office confirmed the death of the soldier, adding that such incidents have a history in Xaysomboun.
RFA was unable to reach officials at Laos’ ministry of defense for comment.
‘Bandits’ blamed in previous attacks
Laos has a decades-long history of shooting violence perpetrated by unidentified armed groups, sometimes referred to as “bandits.”
In Xaysomboun, several notable recent shootings have targeted Chinese developers and passenger buses.
In June 2017, an unknown group shot and killed a Chinese investor visiting the area. In January 2016, bandits attacked a truck carrying minerals, killing two Chinese nationals and injuring one more.
In August 2015, bandits attacked a bus on the main road through Xaysomboun, resulting in fighting between government forces and the unknown group. Three soldiers and four villagers died, with the government accusing “bad elements” of trying to create violence in the province.
Xaysomboun was once a base for thousands of ethnic minority Hmong who fought under U.S. Central Intelligence Agency advisers during a so-called “secret war” backing the Lao Royal Army against the Pathet Lao communist forces.
After the communist takeover in 1975, a ragtag band of ethnic Hmong resisters hid in the jungle, fearing government persecution for having fought for the pro-American side during the war.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.