July 8, 2006
Hmong Women, Children Leave Hiding Place in Laos Special Zone; Call US for Help by Cell Phone
By HNN Staff
New York, NY (Special to HNN) – On Thursday, July 6, 2006, forty-six Hmong women and children turned up in a Hmong village in the Xaysomboun Special Zone in Laos, where they hoped to be allowed to surrender — safely.
According to Rebecca Sommer, Representative to the United Nations for the Society of Threatened Peoples, the 46 women and children had been walking for nine days since leaving their hiding place on Phou Bia, the highest mountain in Laos.
The group of half-starved, sickly women and children appeared in Van Pha, a village close to Road No. 4, which leads to That Vieng, a town about 50 km away from Xieng Khouang City in Xieng Khouang Province. Once there, a generous inhabitant lent a cell phone to the small group’s leader, Maixia Thao, and she placed a call to an uncle now living in the United States.
The brief call, which came at 3 p.m. EST, was recorded. She told her uncle that over 100 members of her group were also willing to come out and were waiting to see how the women and children would be treated. If she becomes convinced the soldiers will not harm them, she is also authorized to take the soldiers back to her group’s hiding place. Her husband, who escorted them down the mountain, died on the nine-day walk.
Before the call was interrupted by the arrival of Vietnamese and Lao authorities to take the women and children into custody, she begged her uncle to call for help and protection.
The women belong to a Hmong group-in-hiding called Vangzia, one of many such groups hiding in the mountain-top jungles of the Xaysomboun Special Zone in Laos since 1975, when various ethnic groups fled the retribution of the communist Pathet Lao when it seized control of the government following the Vietnam conflict.
Because it was not possible for American forces to fight the Vietnamese inside Laos, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited many ethnic minority fighters into a “Secret Army” that fought, very effectively, in their stead.
For over 30 years, these groups have been under constant attack by first Lao and now Lao and Vietnamese military forces. Early on, some of the groups engaged in somewhat organized active resistance – but that was a very long time ago. Almost all of the original Secret Army soldiers were killed decades ago, but the groups, many of which have no weapons whatsoever, are still casually referred to as “rebel groups”.
The one-time low intensity conflict has escalated significantly in recent years. In recent months especially, the military effort has been transformed with an influx of many thousands of Vietnamese soldiers reported earlier this year. From the sheer numbers of Vietnamese soldiers that have moved into the area, it appears that the Vietnamese and Lao soldiers are attempting to completely eliminate the Hmong groups-in-hiding.
Most of today’s Hmong-in-hiding are direct descendents, first, second and third generation, of former CIA Secret Army soldiers. But more and more frequently, the military has been attacking traditional Hmong villages. Sometimes they burn the villages, slaughter the animals, and destroy the crops and fields. Other times, they merely drive the inhabitants out and set up a new military camp in the abandoned village. The inhabitants are then forced to join the Hmong groups that have been in hiding since 1975.
According to numerous reports coming from journalists, witnesses, refugees, and the Hmong-in-hiding themselves via satellite telephone, the Vietnamese and Lao militaries use artillery, bombs, grenades and even chemical weapons on the groups-in-hiding, keeping them eternally on the run, without homes or access to food. Most of these groups also do not possess weapons or ammunition with which to defend themselves..
Unless help and protection does arrive, it is unlikely that Maixia and her companions will survive. Over a two-month period this spring, several small groups of women and girls appeared in Hmong villages in the valley around Mount Phou Bia. According to a witness, a survivor, they were all taken into custody and forced into sexual slavery in a military camp with over 3,000 Vietnamese soldiers. After several weeks of daily gang-rape, most of them – especially the young girls, ages 10 to 13 – died from the trauma. The survivor, one of three who made it back to the jungle, says all the others were eventually killed.
For more information, please contact: Ms. Rebecca Sommer, Representative to the United Nations for the Society of Threatened Peoples, at Tel: 1-718-302-1949.