BANGKOK— More than 240 relatives of Hmong rebels fighting a low-level insurgency in northern Laos have surrendered to Lao government authorities, sources in northern Laos say.
Some 242 Lao Hmong from Viengthong and Na Yaa hamlets in Bolikhamxay province turned themselves in Oct.6, near the Xang district, a Hmong man who asked to be identified by the surname Lima told RFA’s Lao service.
The group comprises 43 different families and numerous women, children, and elderly people, he said. The man said Lao authorities had effectively forced them to come forward by choking off food supplies.
“Currently, Lao authorities have not yet provided them with shelter and food,” he said. “They are living on rice fields and staying with relatives in that area. They have asked for help from the United Nations and the U.S. Embassy.”
The U.S.-based Fact Finding Commission, which supports the insurgency, corroborated the account. Government official couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
Currently, Lao authorities have not yet provided them with shelter and food. They are living on rice fields and staying with relatives in that area. They have asked for help from the United Nations and the U.S. Embassy.
“These 43 families have nowhere to live and receive no humanitarian aid. They are strictly being watched and controlled by military forces and local authorities,” the commission said in a statement.
During the Vietnam War era, the Hmong in Laos sided with a pro-American government. After the communists won in Laos in 1975, many Hmong fled, fearing persecution.
More than 300,000 Lao, mostly Hmong, are known to have fled to neighboring Thailand, though most were repatriated or resettled in third countries, particularly the United States.
Although pressure on the Hmong has eased, military operations against small bands of Hmong insurgents in Laos continue and tensions persist.
Many Hmong, historically, have voiced hope that after they surrender the United Nations will treat them as political asylum-seekers rather than economic migrants and help find them a home.
In June, about 170 women, children, and elderly people emerged from jungles in the north of the country, where their Hmong ethnic group has been hiding since siding with the United States during the Vietnam War.
The United Nations said they appeared to have been well treated. No foreign international organizations have had any direct access to them.
At the time foreign ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy denied that the Hmong were related to the rebels, saying they were local people who wanted to take part in government aid schemes.
In its 2004 report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department noted that the Hmong—one of the largest and most prominent highland minority groups—accounted for a number of senior posts in the government.
“However, societal discrimination against the Hmong continued, and some Hmong believe their ethnic group cannot coexist with the ethnic Lao population. This belief has fanned separatist or irredentist beliefs among some Hmong.”
“The increased number of attacks by Hmong insurgents against civilian and military targets, coupled with the outbreak of a localized uprising in Houaphanh Province in August 2003, heightened ethnic tensions and aroused the government leadership's suspicion of Hmong irredentist desires. These heightened security problems also resulted in increased efforts by security forces to eliminate scattered pockets of insurgents living in remote jungle areas,” the report said.