Laos Deports 3 U.S. Nationals, Holds 1 for Questioning


BANGKOK—A Lao government spokesman has said three of four U.S. nationals held in Laos since Saturday have been deported to Thailand and a fourth remains in custody. The group witnessed the surrender of some 170 people related to ethnic Hmong rebels over the weekend.

“In order to maintain good relations between the US and Laos, the Lao government decided to deport three of these bad U.S. elements. As for the fourth, also a U.S. national, licensed to do business in Laos, he is still detained for further investigation,” Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy told RFA’s Lao service.

Chanthalangsy said the four had been detained since late Saturday afternoon. Three were deported to Thailand late Monday and the fourth remains in Lao custody in the capital, Vientiane, for questioning.

U.S. Ambassador to Laos Patricia Haslasch has been summoned to the ministry and been informed of the situation, Yong said. He declined to give further details.

Outside observers sought

Last year 500 to 700 rebels surrendered to Lao authorities in the northern provinces of Laos. Lao and Hmong leaders and human rights groups had asked the Lao government to allow international observers to witness the surrender to be sure that they were treated humanely. The surrender on Saturday was expected to be followed by thousands of others, winding up the Hmongs’ decades in the wilderness.

In order to maintain good relations between the U.S. and Laos, the Lao government decided to deport three of these bad U.S. elements. As for the fourth, also a U.S. national, licensed to do business in Laos, he is still detained for further investigation.

The group met up Saturday with a group of 170 Hmong women, children and old men in the central province of Xieng Khouang just before they trekked out of the jungle to turn themselves in to authorities.

The Associated Press quoted one of them, Ed Szendrey of California, as saying they had been welcomed by the local police chief, also an ethnic Hmong, and didn’t encounter any soldiers.

Szendrey, his wife Georgie, and Hmong-American Nhia Yang were freed and deported together, while their driver, Hmong-American Sia Cher Vang, remained in jail.

“We were doing really fine there with the local authorities,” he said. On their way back, their bus was stopped at a military checkpoint and the four were seized, along with their satellite phone, cameras, and film, he said.

Foot soldiers for the United States

The Hmong, advised by the CIA, fought on behalf of a pro-American government during the Vietnam War, only to find themselves all but abandoned after their communist enemies, the Pathet Lao, won a long civil war in 1975.

More than 300,000 Lao refugees, mostly Hmong, fled after the takeover, with many resettling in the United States. Thousands stayed behind, some adjusting to the new hard-line regime and others staying in the jungle, where they faced continuing attacks.

In recent years, the Szendreys helped found the U.S.-based Fact Finding Commission, which seeks to publicize the plight of the Hmong.

Szendrey said he and the others were not mistreated in custody. But he described their situation as "very uncomfortable," saying they were interrogated on their first night in detention about the commission’s work and accused of fomenting trouble.


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