The Secret War in Laos Redux
On May 10, a small group of aging Laotian and Hmong veterans of the CIA's "Secret Army," a handful of American advisors who served during the Vietnam War, and a few others gathered at Arlington Cemetery to honor the Lao and Hmong veterans, their families, and the American advisors who gave their all in the covert U.S. war in Laos.
The group has been meeting there every year since the small granite memorial, now shaded by an Atlas cedar tree, was placed there in 1997. As time goes by, the numbers of those who fought the invading Soviet- and Chinese-backed Vietnamese communist forces in Laos grow fewer. Speaking at the ceremony, Colonel Wangyee Vang, the president of the Fresno, California-based Lao Veterans of America Institute, commented, "When we were all alive, we promised to remember each other."
Over 125,000 Lao Hmong, Kmu, Mien, Lahu, and other ethnics fought in the CIA's Secret War in Laos; of that number, an estimated 39,000 were killed from 1961-75 while fighting the communist North Vietnamese (NVA). They fought to protect their homelands, to stem the flow of NVA soldiers and supplies fueling the war in South Viet Nam, and to guard U.S. assets -- such as the Lima Site 85 radar control guidance system that made it possible to bomb North Vietnam in any weather. They kept more than three NVA divisions at bay by pinpointing for bombing countless NVA troop movements, supply depots, and convoys of men and supplies headed for South Vietnam. They also rescued a large number of American pilots and crews -- without them, there would be hundreds more names on that somber black granite wall at the Vietnam Memorial.
On May 9, 1975, in the Pathet Lao newspaper, the Lao Peoples' Revolutionary Party announced its policy toward the Hmong and other participants in the Secret Army, proclaiming that it would hunt down the "American collaborators and their families to the last root," adding that they would be "butchered like wild animals." Even though the Vietnam War ended over 38 years ago, in the "Second Secret War," Hmong men, women, and infants are still being killed in Laos for the purported "sins of their fathers and grandfathers" -- the handful of aged fighters who sided with the U.S. in the 1960s.
After Laos fell to the communists in 1975 and the U.S. abandoned its allies, an estimated 745,000 Laotian and Hmong refugees fled to Thailand. A large number of them were eventually given political asylum in America, France, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. However, many were turned back by the Thais. It is estimated that 230,000 Hmong people have been killed by the Pathet Lao and their communist Vietnamese advisors, some killed while fleeing, others brutally murdered since then.
In 1977, the Vietnamese and the Laotian communists signed a treaty of "Friendship and Special Cooperation," similar to those Russia forced upon neighboring countries after invading and occupying them to form the Soviet Union. This treaty guaranteed Hanoi's guardianship of Laos and legalized the permanent settlement of more than 100,000 Vietnamese troops stationed in Laos and their families, all of whom were given Laotian citizenship and land. The treaty also allows Vietnam to place "technicians" at every level of the Laotian government, religious and cultural organizations, military, and police.
Although the Vietnam War and the CIA's Secret War in Laos have been over for 38 years, the communist Pathet Lao and their Vietnamese counterparts are now conducting their own Secret War Redux. Three NVA divisions are still stationed in Laos, but this war is both military and economic. It involves the ethnic cleansing of those who fought in the U.S. proxy army, as well as their wives, children, and other family members. The insular, xenophobic Pathet Lao communists (the Lao Peoples' Revolutionary Party), operating behind a bamboo curtain and with apparent aid from the Vietnamese communists, are still intent on annihilating these people.
Much of the CIA's Secret War was ignored by the media in collusion with the U.S. government; today's media largely ignores the Secret War Redux. On October 26, 1999, a group of teachers and students from Dongdok University in Vientiane staged a demonstration against the government. They "disappeared" and were never heard from again -- a common occurrence. This was ignored by the major news media.
In a rare exception in 2007, the New York Times surprised everyone by reporting on the genocide against the Hmong in a front-page story with color photos, "Old U.S. Allies, Still Hiding in Laos."
Also in 2007, the Voice of America reported that a Pathet Lao military official had stated that government troops who kill Hmong fighters are promised automatic grassroots Communist Party membership and a reward of six million Kip (U.S. $600, more than a year's pay) for every "enemy" killed. That same year, the State Department's annual human rights report stated that the increased intent of the Pathet Lao to eliminate the scattered pockets of Hmong fighters "was intended to starve the remnants of insurgent families from their jungle dwellings." But this was considered old news and ignored by the major news media.
In 2009, more than 10,000 Lao Hmong refugees, including veterans of the U.S. Secret War, were forcibly repatriated from Thailand back into the hands of the Communist regime in Laos they had fled. The U.S. did nothing. Hundreds were tortured and killed in Soviet-styled gulags, including many of the leaders. The others simply "disappeared."
According to Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the Washington, D.C.-based United League for Democracy in Laos (ULDL), "Vietnam's security forces and army continue to be heavily involved in Laos. This includes Hanoi's ruthless persecution of religious dissident believers, especially independent Christians, Catholics and Animists[.]"
Over the years, a number of American citizens of Lao or Hmong descent who traveled back to Laos have been imprisoned or have vanished. As a Lao-Hmong human rights group reported, "[t]he Marxist regime in Laos is engaged in a new and intensified round of military attacks and brutal security force operations. Thousands just simply disappear."
On May 1, 2011, the brutal communist regime in Vietnam reportedly slaughtered more than 75 ethnic Hmong Christians, while hundreds of others were wounded or arrested, or "disappeared." An estimated 9,000 Hmong, mainly Catholics and Protestant Christians, had gathered in the Muong Nhe district in North Vietnam to honor the beatification of the late "Polish Pope," John Paul II. Some fled to the mountains on the Lao border only to be hunted by heli-borne Dac Cong Special Forces units; at least two Hmong villages and several enclaves were attacked with rockets and Gatling guns, killing an unknown number of persons. Others worshipers when caught are reported to have been summarily executed. Compass Direct News (CDN), World Watch Monitor, and other Laotian sources reported that executions without trial of Lao and Hmong Christians fleeing persecution in Vietnam by Pathet Lao forces working in cooperation with the Vietnamese are commonplace.
In December of last year, prominent Lao civic activist Sombath Somphone, who had studied in the U.S. and was a recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, was arrested and vanished into the bowels of the brutal Lao security forces prison system. In January, three Lao-American men from Minnesota, Bounthie Insixiengma, Bounma Phannhotha, and Souli Kongmalavong, participated in a peacefully pro-democracy demonstration in front of the Laotian Embassy in Washington, D.C., which was photographed by Embassy security personnel. Souli and Bounma were members of the United League for Democracy in Laos. The three then traveled to Vientiane and were arrested by security forces shortly after arrival. For weeks, they too had disappeared in the prison system, but their bodies were recently found outside Savannakhet, burned beyond recognition in a minivan that had been set on fire. Lao security forces claimed their deaths were the result of an automobile accident.
In January, Christian Solidary Worldwide (CSW) issued an international appeal for the release of a Lao Christian family: Mr. Bountheong and his wife and son, last seen in the capital, Vientiane, on July 3, 2004. International Christian Concern (ICC) wrote, "Christians call on [the] President of Laos to investigate the disappearance of this Christian family. On February 22nd, Lao security forces arbitrarily fired on a group of innocent Hmong civilians out gathering food and killed four of them; two of which were teachers from a nearby school."
While the Secret War Redux is no secret, it is rarely covered by the major media. By remaining silent, abetted by the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane and the Department of State, these enablers are complicit in the ongoing pogrom of "ethnic cleansing" of the Hmong and other ethnic groups that extends across Laos and into Northern Vietnam.
And the band plays on...
Michael Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam as a foreign service officer and is a student of South East Asian politics. He is very active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of the region and has written extensively on these subjects.