US issues travel warning for central Laos after apparent Hmong attacks

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The US issued an official warning on February 12 urging Americans to avoid the central Laos province of Xaisomboun which is popular with adventure travelers and mountaineers, but also with Chinese investors in the mining and rubber industry, after a recent sudden spate of deadly bomb and gun attacks.

Two roadside attacks killed three people in the province in end-January, whereby one of the victims was an employee of a Chinese mining firm. Those attacks followed a series of shootings at the end of last year, according to a note published by the US Embassy in the capital Vientiane.

While the US did not specify any possible perpetrators and no one committed to the attacks, speculations are that the violence might have to do with a decade-old quasi-insurgency of the Hmong minority, a relic of the Vietnam war.

The Hmong fought on the side of a pro-American regime in Laos during the Vietnam War, and after the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975, a part fled abroad or hid in the jungle, and others who had participated in the military conflict were singled out for retribution. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide against the Hmong with the help of the Vietnamese army, with up to 100,000 killed out of a population of 400,000. Atrocities included massacres, terror bombing and mass rape.

Of those Hmong people who remained in Laos, over 30,000 were sent to re-education camps as political prisoners where they served indeterminate, sometimes life sentences. Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions, particularly to Phou Bia, the highest and least accessible mountain in Laos located in Xaisomboun’s neighbouring province of Xiangkhuang, both east of popular tourist town of Vang Vieng.

Until a few years ago, there were several small groups of remaining Hmong resistance fighters who continue to hide in the mountainous jungle areas and occasionally clash with security forces, but most eventually surrendered.

Violence quieted down in the 2000s, as the Lao army pursued the remaining guerrilla groups, but in recent times, in fact since November last year, it seems to have picked up again and occasional reports of violence  have emerged at a time when both US Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s special envoy to Laos were about to visit the country.

Radio Free Asia, a news service funded by the US government, reported additional attacks in December and January, citing unnamed police and other sources. In one of the latest attacks, a bus came under fire on January 14, leaving about a dozen passengers hurt but none killed.

People close to the Hmong minority gave their own version of the recent events, saying that from mid-November until the end of December there had been six attacks by government forces on groups of Hmong, killing at least seven and wounding more than 20.

That the latest attacks targeted Chinese nationals could have to do with the fact that Chinese investors and business people are not very popular in many communities in central and northern Laos, which has to do with alleged land grabbing and environmental problems related to Chinese investment in the rubber industry and mining in the region.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The US issued an official warning on February 12 urging Americans to avoid the central Laos province of Xaisomboun which is popular with adventure travelers and mountaineers, but also with Chinese investors in the mining and rubber industry, after a recent sudden spate of deadly bomb and gun attacks.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The US issued an official warning on February 12 urging Americans to avoid the central Laos province of Xaisomboun which is popular with adventure travelers and mountaineers, but also with Chinese investors in the mining and rubber industry, after a recent sudden spate of deadly bomb and gun attacks.

Two roadside attacks killed three people in the province in end-January, whereby one of the victims was an employee of a Chinese mining firm. Those attacks followed a series of shootings at the end of last year, according to a note published by the US Embassy in the capital Vientiane.

While the US did not specify any possible perpetrators and no one committed to the attacks, speculations are that the violence might have to do with a decade-old quasi-insurgency of the Hmong minority, a relic of the Vietnam war.

The Hmong fought on the side of a pro-American regime in Laos during the Vietnam War, and after the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975, a part fled abroad or hid in the jungle, and others who had participated in the military conflict were singled out for retribution. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide against the Hmong with the help of the Vietnamese army, with up to 100,000 killed out of a population of 400,000. Atrocities included massacres, terror bombing and mass rape.

Of those Hmong people who remained in Laos, over 30,000 were sent to re-education camps as political prisoners where they served indeterminate, sometimes life sentences. Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions, particularly to Phou Bia, the highest and least accessible mountain in Laos located in Xaisomboun’s neighbouring province of Xiangkhuang, both east of popular tourist town of Vang Vieng.

Until a few years ago, there were several small groups of remaining Hmong resistance fighters who continue to hide in the mountainous jungle areas and occasionally clash with security forces, but most eventually surrendered.

Violence quieted down in the 2000s, as the Lao army pursued the remaining guerrilla groups, but in recent times, in fact since November last year, it seems to have picked up again and occasional reports of violence  have emerged at a time when both US Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s special envoy to Laos were about to visit the country.

Radio Free Asia, a news service funded by the US government, reported additional attacks in December and January, citing unnamed police and other sources. In one of the latest attacks, a bus came under fire on January 14, leaving about a dozen passengers hurt but none killed.

People close to the Hmong minority gave their own version of the recent events, saying that from mid-November until the end of December there had been six attacks by government forces on groups of Hmong, killing at least seven and wounding more than 20.

That the latest attacks targeted Chinese nationals could have to do with the fact that Chinese investors and business people are not very popular in many communities in central and northern Laos, which has to do with alleged land grabbing and environmental problems related to Chinese investment in the rubber industry and mining in the region.

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