Hundreds of anti-government rebels and their relatives in Laos have surrendered to Lao authorities. Many of the rebels belong to the Hmong ethnic minority, the country's most prominent minority.
In late February, Lao troops surrounded several areas in the north of the country where they believed insurgents were active, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. These areas were located in Xieng Khouang Province and Saysomboun Special Zone.
Aided by leaflets and megaphones, the troops then communicated to the rebels that authorities would grant them amnesty and a special living area if they surrendered.
Some 300 people surrendered near Luang Prabang after traveling on foot from farther north, including three high-ranking rebel officers, the sources said. In Xieng Khouang Province, between 300 and 400 people surrendered, including five Hmong generals.
No further details and no comments from the rebels were immediately available. How many of those who surrendered were rebels, and how many were their dependents, was also unclear.
Some U.S.-backed Hmong fought Lao and Vietnamese communists during the Vietnam War. When the communists took over in 1975, about 130,000 Hmong fled to the United States through Thailand. Many of those who were left behind have continued their struggle against the communist authorities.
According to the State Department's 2003 report on human rights around the world, rebel and counterinsurgent clashes increased last year.
"As a result of intensified insurgent attacks against civilian targets, security forces increased counterinsurgency operations, leading to unconfirmed reports of deaths of ethnic Hmong villagers in connection with security sweeps in remote parts of Saysomboun Special Zone, Xieng Khouang, and Houaphanh Provinces," the report said. "Relatively quiescent in recent years, the long-running anti-government insurgency increased its activities during the year, resulting in scores of civilian and military casualties."
Despite the presence of Hmong officials in the upper ranks of the Lao government, discrimination against the Hmong continued, the report said, adding "some Hmong believe their ethnic group cannot coexist on an equal basis with the ethnic Lao population."