December 22, 2009 - Sacramento Bee - Gen. Vang Pao Announces Return to Laos
Gen. Vang Pao announces return to Laos
Published Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009
a passionate 30-minute speech Tuesday night, Gen. Vang Pao said that he plans to return to Laos after 35 years in virtual
The general, who celebrates his 80th birthday this week, made the announcement at a dinner for about 1,000
people, about a third of them from Sacramento, at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds.
Vang Pao said now is the time for
reconciliation with Laos to liberate thousands of Hmong trapped in the jungles and stuck in a Thai refugee camp.
"We have to make a change right now," Vang Pao said. "The government of Laos has tried to open the door.
We should put something on the table and sit down in peace."
On Jan. 10, Vang will take part in a reconciliation
event at the Freedom Bridge between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos, said one of his 18 sons, 44-year-old Chai Vang.
The news Tuesday night at the dinner to honor Vang Pao stunned many Hmong. The U.S. government in September dropped
charges against him for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of communist Laos. A dozen other defendants have pleaded
not guilty but still are facing charges of trying to overthrow the Laotian government.
"Many Hmong people
think he's crazy," said Atari Xiong, a Sacramento Hmong producer for Crossing TV. "All the charges and legal issues
here, and now he goes back to Laos?"
Vang Pao is the former leader of a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army of Hmong
and Iu Mien soldiers that fought Southeast Asian communists for 14 years.
An American citizen, he is free to go
to Laos and return to the United States.
Xiong said the Hmong had been hearing that the general is going to Laos
in January "on an official trip because of the refugees in Thailand, and people fighting from the jungle."
Chai Vang said Tuesday that his father and his representatives are working through the Thai and Lao governments to resolve
During his speech Tuesday night, Vang Pao urged his people "to forget about the past so we can
bring those back to live a normal life. Right now the government of Laos thinks it's time to live together peacefully with
equal rights and equal opportunities."
Vang Pao did not offer a timetable for the liberation of those in the
jungle, but he promised "that shall be coming soon, and I will be the one to be there. ... I was the one in the beginning,
and I will be the one to finish it in the end. I'm not going to give up. I will carry my people on my back no matter how heavy
"For those Hmong trapped in the jungle and the refugee camp, I will be the one responsible for solving
It's unclear what Vang's return to Laos could mean for 4,600 Hmong refugees at Hoi Nam Kao in
north-central Thailand and an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 Hmong reportedly still trapped in the jungles of Laos, where they've
been running from the communists since the Vietnam War.
Many in the jungles have reportedly been waiting for Vang
Pao's return for decades. If he were to ask them to lay down their muskets and come out of the jungles, said Sacramento Hmong
activist T.T. Vang, they might do so.
But how they would be treated by Lao authorities is an open question. The
Lao government has accused the jungle Hmong of terrorist acts but denies human rights violations against them. Amnesty International
and other human rights groups say the jungle Hmong have been tortured and killed.