Laos' forgotten "killing fields"

Oct 9, 2002 at 12:00 am

Say the words “killing fields” and the image of the Khmer Rouge government under Pol Pot comes to mind. An estimated 2 million Cambodians were killed on Pol Pot’s watch after the Vietnam War.

But the killing fields of Southeast Asia were not limited to Cambodia.

In neighboring Laos, more than 300,000 people, many of Hmong ethnicity like Guy Vang and his family, have been victims of genocide since 1975, according to the Lao Human Rights Council, based in Eau Claire, Wisc.

The Hmong happened to pick the losing side — the United States. Fearful of an armed takeover by hostile North Vietnamese troops, from 1961 to 1973 the Laotians fought fiercely under the storied Hmong leader Gen. Vang Pao against the communists. It was a secret war. Vang Pao was supplied and financed by the CIA. His Armee Clandestine, composed mostly of Hmongs and numbering more than 30,000 at its peak, helped cut off North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, supplied intelligence for U.S. bombing missions and helped rescue hundreds of downed U. S. pilots.

In May 1975, with the U.S. presence in the region a fading memory, the communist Pathet Lao took over Laos. Gen. Vang Pao fled the country with his family and as many of his soldiers as could be transported.

On May 16, 1997, General Vang Pao and some 3,000 veterans of his Armee Clandestine stood at Arlington National Cemetery for the dedication of a monument — a small stone bearing a copper plaque, commemorating the “secret war” in Laos and those who died in the Laos theater of the Vietnam War.

In February, Dr. Vang Pobzeb, executive director of the Lao Human Rights Council, told a congressional forum in Washington, D.C., that the killing goes on.

“The war is not over for Hmong and Lao people,” Vang Pobzeb said. “This is because the communist Lao and Vietnamese governments have been conducting the war and genocide against former CIA soldiers and other people in Laos since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and continue to do so today.”

Gen. Vang Pao and his family now live in California.

Check out the rest of Tom Schram's "Expatriot games" series

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Tom Schram is co-chair of the National Writers Union of Southeast Michigan. E-mail [email protected]