Laos: An Egregious Regime

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ever wonder what happened to Laos, that little country sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand where the U.S. waged a "secret war" against Hanoi interdicting North Vietnamese troops infiltrating into South Vietnam? Laos, like its neighbor Vietnam, has a repressive communist regime that is waging a persistent campaign of ethnic cleansing against its ethnic minorities, the Hmong, who like the Montagnards in Vietnam, were staunch U.S. allies during the Vietnam War. Laos has hardly been a blip on the map of the international news media. That is, until recently.

According to press reports, Laos recently served as the conduit for smuggling cesium 134 into Thailand. Cesium 134 is a radioactive byproduct that could be easily used by terrorists to make a "dirty bomb." On the heels of this, the Lao communists jailed the Rev. Naw-Kan Mua, a Hmong-American, who is the pastor of Light of Life Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn., and two European journalists, French cameraman Vincent Reynaud and Belgian photojournalist Thierry Falise on a bogus charge of accessory to murder. In a typical communist kangaroo court, the Lao regime sentenced the three to 15 years in prison (The Washington Times, July 1). The truth is they were caught documenting the ethnic cleansing of the Hmong and religious repression of Lao Christian believers.

There's an old saying in Southeast Asia: "As Vietnam goes, so goes Laos." In Laos, scores of political prisoners have been detained for years in Nazi-style gulags, and Christians are told to denounce their faith or face imprisonment. As with the Montagnards in Vietnam, Christians in Laos are forced to drink a mixture of pig's or goat's blood and alcohol and renounce Christianity or they are tortured and sent to gulags. In 1999, two Lao Hmong-Americans simply disappeared after entering the country.

Laos ranks among the most repressive regime in Asia, and as in Vietnam, neither political dissent nor any right of assembly is tolerated. Not too long ago, two-dozen students protesting religious persecution were arrested and "disappeared" into the Laotian communist gulag system. Similarly, thousands of Christian Montagnards have been rounded, killed, tortured, imprisoned and sent to gulags in Vietnam.

Ironically, the Lao and Vietnamese communist regimes have branded the Hmong and Montagnards as terrorists in hopes that the U.S. government will turn a blind eye to their persecution by the repressive communist regimes.

It seems as if the Laotian communists have convinced at least one official U.S. Ambassador to Laos Douglas Hartwick. Mr. Hartwick recently went to Minnesota, where a large Lao-American community resides, to lobby them and influential Americans to support his initiative to grant the repressive Lao regime normalized trade relations (NTR). This took a lot of gall on his part since the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom had just issued a report recommending that President Bush designate Laos as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in order to convey to the Lao regime U.S. concern over particularly severe violations of religious freedom and other human-rights abuses. CPC designation carries with it a set of punitive measures including trade restrictions.

In 1988, the Lao Communist Party proclaimed it would hunt down the "American collaborators" and their families, "to the last root. …