[A-List] Laos: US rewards an old ally
michael011 at fastmail.fm
Wed Jun 6 04:48:09 MDT 2007
US smashes Dads Army conspiracy against an old communist enemy
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor
The Times, June 6 2007
A plot by pro-American dissidents to overthrow one of the last Asian
communist dictatorships has been thwarted by a US undercover agent who
posed as an arms dealer.
Prosecutors in California charged ten people with conspiring to stage a
coup in Laos, in a plot that recalls an airport departure lounge spy
The alleged leader of the plot is a 77-year-old former Laotian general
who has dedicated his life in exile in America to removing the communist
regime from his homeland.
Laos remains one of the worlds most obscure countries, a landlocked
jungle where communist guerrillas and US special forces fought a secret
war 40 years ago. But now US authorities find themselves in the ironic
position of leaping to the defence of an authoritarian regime they spent
13 years, and many lives, fighting to destroy.
Chief among those arrested yesterday and Monday was General Vang Pao,
77, a senior leader-in-exile of the Hmong ethnic group, and a former
protégé of the US in its covert war in Laos, which lasted from 1962 to
Members of his group are accused of fundraising to form and equip a
mercenary army in violation of the Neutrality Act, which forbids
Americans from plotting against countries with which the US is at peace.
The plot was uncovered through the work of an undercover officer of the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) who posed as
an arms dealer offering to sell the group automatic rifles,
rocket-propelled and Claymore grenades, anti-tank weapons, plastic
explosives and Stinger surface-to-air missiles.
This investigation read like a movie script, but turned out to be
reality, said Michael Sullivan, head of the ATF, who directed the
operation code-named Tarnished Eagle. Fortunately, we were able to
disrupt their activities before their plot evolved into a coup against a
country with which the United States is at peace.
Laos was strategically important as a route for North Vietnamese
communist forces travelling to and from the US-backed South. In an
effort to block off the Ho Chi Minh trail, the US carried out intense
bombing and enlisted the help of the Hmong, an ethnic group scattered
across South-East Asia and southern China.
Tens of thousands of Hmong, under the command of General Vang, were
killed or injured fighting on the American side. When the US abandoned
South Vietnam in 1975, communist Pathet Lao forces took over in Laos,
and the Hmong became objects of suspicion and persecution. More than
100,000 emigrated to the US, especially California, where leaders such
as General Vang have kept alive the dream of overthrowing the communist
regime and remained resentful of the way in which the Hmong were used
and abandoned by the US forces.
According to prosecutors General Vangs group had dispatched spies to
the Lao capital, Vientiane, and taken photographs of government
buildings and the historic Royal Palace, which it was planning to
destroy with explosives. [The] insurgency planned to . . . topple [the]
Lao Government and reduce government buildings in Vientiane to rubble,
a prosecution statement issued in Sacramento said.
Bob Twiss, the assistant US attorney, said: Were looking at conspiracy
to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time.
The former soldier accused of acting as a middleman for the arms deal is
Lieutenant-Colonel Harrison Jack, a member of the California National
Guard, who served as a covert operative in SouthEast Asia during the
Vietnam War. The prosecutors claim that the conspirators had promised
$150,000 (£75,000) for the first tranche of weapons in three
instalments, and up to $9.8 million for further deliveries, to be raised
from Hmong communities across the country.
The arms were to be shipped later this month to Thailand, which borders
Laos. Meanwhile, the defendants allegedly attempted to recruit
mercenaries from former members of the US army and navy special forces.
The Lao Government welcomed the arrest of its old enemy General Vang by
the government that fought it for so long. This is the great news,
said Yong Chanhthal-ansy, the Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman. We hope
the United States will prosecute them under the Patriot Act and punish
the violators severely.
The Lao population of 6.5 million has lived under communist
dictatorship since Pathet Lao guerrillas took control of the country in
In the 19th and 20th centuries Laos formed part of French Indochina
and was briefly occupied by Japan during the Second World War
Since 1986 gradual economic liberalisation and relaxation of laws
governing foreign investment has prompted rapid economic growth
Tourism, particularly visitors from China, is the fastest-growing
industry, although 80 per cent of the population still work in
Travel and communication networks remain rudimentary and access to the
internet is tightly controlled
193,000 Laotians, mostly members of the Hmong minority, live in the
United States. More than 60,000 live in California
Sources: CIA World Factbook; Times archives; Columbia Electronic
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