"BANDITS OR REBELS? Hmong Resistance in the New Lao State"
They drove Pachai (Pachay Vue) to seek refuge in Laos where he attracted a larger group of followers. It was claimed that the rebellion at its peak covered a territory of 40,000 square kilometres, spanning from Dien Bien Phu in Tonkin (North Vietnam) to Nam Ou in Luang Prabang, Laos, down south to Muong Cha (now renamed Saisomboun) north of Vientiane, and going north-east to Sam Neua. Many Hmong took up arms with Pachai either out of their own personal grievances against lowlanders or in the fervent belief that they were part of a holy war foretold in many of their myths to regain the country they had lost long ago.

In China, the Hmong had staged many such bloody uprisings through the centuries against Chinese domination based on a belief in the coming of a mythical king and a new Hmong kingdom (Tapp, 1982: 114-127). As stated by Gunn (1986: 115), the largest military expedition ever organised in Laos "by that date was mounted to break Batchai's (Pachay Vue) rebellion; four companies of tirailleurs were brought in from other parts of Indochina to restore order." Pachai was eventually tracked down and killed in his hide-out in Muong Heup, Luang Prabang, on 17 November 1921 (Le Boulanger, 1969: 360).

A number of more than 15,000 Vang Pao followers, ever distrustful of the new authorities, went into hiding with their families deep in the jungles of Phu Bia, the highest mountain of Laos and other adjacent areas from where they have continued to wage a constricted war of resistance against the Lao PDR government (Lee, 1982: 212-214).

At first, the new government tried to talk the Hmong into joining in the new political life and socialist economy of the country through face-to-face discussion, leaflet drops and radio propaganda broadcast. However, after much frustrated efforts, it resorted to armed suppression following increasing ambushes of Lao army convoys and troops by the Hmong along Route 13 and the road linking Vangvieng and Vientiane in 1976. The Hmong reportedly used arms and ammunition left hidden by Vang Pao in the Phu Bia region, and later captured weapons from their enemy or took them from dead government soldiers. As these ambushes became more wide-spread and government troops proved ineffective to stop them, four regiments of Vietnamese troops were sent into the Phu Bia area in 1977 to crush the rebellion, causing thousands of Hmong to flee to Thailand with 2,500 arriving in December 1977 alone.

Since 1977, the Lao government has carried out many intermittent suppression campaigns, and its casualties continue to be heavy - with some military units reported to be nearly wiped out in ambushes by the Hmong and a group of 200 Lao soldiers in the Vangvieng area were allegedly killed by mistaken aerial bombardment from their own air force MIG bombers in 1988. In December 1997, the "Chao Fa" are said to have eradicated all but one member of a company of government troops near Khang Khai south of the Plain of Jars. Hmong civilians are also targeted, and many have died from attacks on villages or ambushes by both sides. Visitors to Laos in 1998 reported that the "Chao Fa" now claimed to occupy the following areas: (1) Muong Mai, Thasi, Pa Na, Nam Hia, Na Kong, Phu Makthao, Chomthong and Muong Sa in Borikhamsay province; (2) Khang Khai, Tha Papang, Nam Tao Samseng, Phu Bia, Muong Mork, Phu Nanon and Samthong in Xieng Khouang province; and (3) Phu Kongkhao and Phu Nhay in Luang Prabang province. Hmong and other inhabitants in these places were said to be living in fear, not knowing which side to align themselves with.

The Lao Government has continued to try and get more Hmong involved in the resistance to "come out" from their jungle hide-outs and to lead "a normal life". Apart from military suppression, it has tried various development projects, chiefly in the "Saisomboun Special Zone" which was established in 1994 north of Vientiane in an area formerly known as Muong Cha under the old Royal Lao Government. This is the area closest to Phu Bia, the base of most of the "Chao Fa" groups. It hopes to make Saisomboun the centre for political and economic development to attract resistance Hmong into the folds of the Lao PDR authorities, by withdrawing lowland ethnic Lao personnel from the area and putting Gen. Bounchanh (a Khmu who successfully suppressed many "Chao Fa" Hmong in the late 1970's) as the local military commander, with Col. Lo Lu Yang (a PL Hmong) as deputy commander and Mr Siatou Yang (another Hmong who was formerly the Chao Muong or district governor at Moung Hom) as the unification coordinator. The Special Zone covers the districts of Muong Phoun, Muong Hom, Muong Cha and Long San. The Lao authorities are now putting Hmong to work with the dissident Hmong to try to bridge the deep political divide between them.

There is no doubt that the Government believes it best to have the Hmong deal with each other over this long-standing political issue. This does not seem, however, to have assuaged the anger of the so-called Hmong " bandits". They continue to ambush army convoys and even taxis travelling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, or to and from Saisomboun. This has escalated since May 1998 into free-for-all shooting by Hmong government troops against "Chao Fa" villages, with the resultant armed retaliations on Saisomboun town itself. Whereas it was lowland Lao soldiers shooting at Hmong before, now the Hmong are killing each other. It is said that many Hmong families have fled Saisomboun to Kilometre 52, the major Hmong settlement on the road linking Vientiane to Muong Phon Haung and onto Vangvieng.

The Lao PDR government has appointed Mr Tong Yer Thao, the Vice-Chairman of the United Lao National Reconstruction Front (previously known as the Pathet Lao Revolutionary Front) to negotiate with resistance leaders and to be responsible for the resettlement of former Hmong rebels in the Muong Kao area, Borikamsay province, where they are given lowland wet rice farming land and other forms of assistance.

In a sense, the Hmong cannot be said to be rebels against the Lao PDR government, as these dissidents have never joined the new regime. They have chosen to resist by isolating themselves in their mountain fastnesses and refusing to be under the control of the new authorities.

In 1976, the two major groups of rebels in Phu Bia were under Mr Yong Youa Her (Ntxoov Zuag Hawj), a former sargeant in Vang Pao's secret army, and Mr Xai Shua Yang, a former Tasseng (canton chief) at Pha Khao, east of Long Cheng that used to be Vang Pao's former headquarters. Yong Youa joined a Hmong revivalist movement in 1972 which, amidst all the suffering sustained by Hmong refugees in the Lao civil war, was advocating the formation of a "true" Hmong society, in anticipation of the return of the legendary Hmong king who would rescue the movement's followers from oppression by other groups. Under Yong Youa's military guidance and messianic leadership, the resistance movement soon became known as "Chao Fa" (a Lao term meaning "Lord of the Sky or Heaven" or God).

In 1979, Xai Shua Yang's followers had to split up into small bands, no longer able to withstand the shelling and gassing of their strongholds. A few months later, most of them reached Thailand with their families, leaving only Yong Youa and his "Chao Fa" freedom fighters to roam the thickets of Phou Bia in a hopeless resistance struggle for their promised Hmong kingdom.

The Lao PDR government appears to recourse to Vietnamese military intervention every time the Hmong rebels intensify their activities. This has not helped to quench the resistance movement, but only to reinforce the claim by anti-government elements that Laos is but a colony of communist Vietnam, although the latter denies any involvement by saying that Laos is a country capable of looking after its own security. This is despite the fact that in June 2000, Vietnamese Communist Party chief, Le Kha Phieu, told a visiting Laotian army delegation that he wanted the two countries' armies "to cooperate in the struggle against hostile forces." ( 1298).

Resistance sources claim that two battalions of Vietnamese troops have been sent to Laos since October 1999 (Hmong Voice Radio, 22 July 2000). This seems to have been confirmed by foreign diplomats in Vientiane, one of whom was quoted by Agence France Press (2 June 2000) as saying that "in the past few months there have been frequent clashes in Xieng Khouang province which are getting bigger, causing mounting casualties for the Lao army", including heavy material losses such as a helicopter carrying artillery being shot down by the rebels. These losses have forced the Lao government to seek help from Vietnam. The diplomat went on to say that "the Vietnamese army has sent soldiers and military equipment to bolster the Lao army which is struggling to control the situation. We have seen military vehicles carrying Vietnamese troops on the streets of the capital."

The Hmong International Human Rights Watch recently stated in its submission to the UN Commission on Human Rights, cited above, that evidence of Lao and Vietnamese government joint involvement in the planning of military actions against Hmong insurgents in Laos "surfaced over two years ago when, on 25 May 1998, a Russian-made YAK-40 military jet flying over Saisomboun…. was shot down". Among those killed in the crash were said to be 14 senior Vietnamese officers (including Lieut.Gen. Dao Trong Lich, the Chief of Staff and Deputy Defence Minister, another lieutenant-general, three major-generals and nine colonels and lieutenant colonels) together with 12 Laotian top military personnel (HIHRW, Press Release: Deteriorating Human Rights Conditions for the Hmong Living in Laos, 22 July 2000).

At any rate, recent exchanges of official visits between Vietnam and Laos seem to have increased markedly in June and July this year since news of the bombings in Vientiane emerged internationally. For example, On 16 July 2000, the Vietnam News Agency reports a story on a six-day visit to Laos by "a high-level Vietnamese military delegation" which was headed by the Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister, Lieut. Gen. Le Van Dzung, member of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee and Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army. The delegation was said to hold "talks with their Lao counterparts in the spirit of solidarity, friendship and mutual understanding…. (and) also discussed activities to promote mutual assistance and set the orientation for further friendship and cooperation in the near future."

A high-level provincial delegation from Xieng Khouang, the seat of most of the Hmong resistance activities, also visited Hanoi on 13 June 2000 - just after the spate of bombings in Vientiane. The visit was headed by the province's Communist Party deputy secretary, Mr Sivongya Yangyongyia (a Hmong). The group met with the powerful external relations commission of the Vietnamese Communist Party (Agence-France Press, 14 June 2000) with the aim to "strengthen relations between the two parties". The Lao delegation also visited areas with ethnic hill tribes in Vietnam to see how they are being run by the Vietnamese government. Hmong Voice Radio (22 July 2000), however, sees the visit as a punishment for the PL Hmong leadership in Xieng Khouang for being too weak and lenient by allowing Hmong dissidents to shoot government officials at random, to burn houses and to kill innocent villagers. The party leadership was thus called to Vietnam to get a lecture.

The Lao PDR government has tried hard to blame the instability on overseas Hmong, not local Hmong inside Laos whose dissidents have so far been officially labelled only as "bandits". It has tried quietly to solve the problem of Hmong resistance in the backwaters of its jungles in northern Laos. It has tried to deny that such resistance groups exist rather than acknowledging them for what they are. It has made prominent reference in the country's Constitution to ethnic minorities as inseparable groups in the make-up of the Lao nation's unity who are accorded equal rights and obligations. It has established the Saisomboun Special Zone as a show-case development site for the Hmong to attract Hmong rebels. There are now Hmong district and provincial governors, Hmong deputies in the National Assembly and even a Hmong Minister (for rural development) in the current Lao government. Many Hmong are now in middle management in the Lao public service, more than under the old right-wing Royal Lao Government. A group of Lao soldiers who arrested and killed a number of Hmong civilians a few months ago in Saisomboun were reportedly executed by their local commander in front of survivors as an example of what is not allowed by the Lao government.

"BANDITS OR REBELS? Hmong Resistance in the New Lao State"

Copyright 2000 Gary Yia Lee

43 Hmong families in the jungles in Bolikhamxay Province Surrender
The following report was reported to Fact Finding Commission on October 11, 2005 by FFC network team in Southeast Asia.

Recently a group of Hmong families who had became displaced people after the communist Lao government took over the country of Laos in May 1975 and were chased, hunted and pushed to live in the jungles and mountains of Laos in Bolkhamxay Province surrendered to the Lao government due to lack of food and medical care. The surrender was a hard decision for these individuals to make, for they have to choose from being constantly chased, hunted, and killed by LPDR military forces and die of starvation or surrender and face the harsh persecution and the mental and physical tortures by Lao military forces and local authorities.

They finally reached a decision. It was reported that on Thursday, October 6, 2005, 43 Hmong families from Bolikhamxay province surrendered to the Laos government at one of the local villages in Muang Xang, Bolikhamxay Province. Together there are 242 individuals who surrendered at Ban NaYaa, Muang Xang, Bolikhamxay Province. It has been five days since the date they surrendered, and they report they have not received any humanitarian support. They are being kept at Ban Na Yaa, staying underneath the open platforms of the villagers’ houses. These 43 families have nowhere to live and receive no humanitarian aid. They are strictly being watched and controlled by LPDR military forces and local authorities.

There are still 800 more Hmong individuals living in the jungles in Bolikhamxay Province being chased, hunted, and killed by LPDR military forces. They will consider surrendering if there is humanitarian support from international community, NGOs, and United Nations.

Fact Finding Commission urges the United Nations, United States Embassy, and other Embassies in Vientiane and as well as NGOs to immediately intervene and provide humanitarian support to these 242 individuals.

The Fact Finding Commission is dedicated to exposing the plight of the displaced veterans of the U.S. Secret War who have hid in the mountains and jungles of Laos for nearly thirty years to escape the retribution of the communist Lao government for their loyalty to the United States during the War in Southeast Asia.

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