Forgotten U.S. allies emerge from jungles of Laos By Ed Cropley
Thu Jun 9, 1:43 PM ET
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Up to 4,000 ethnic Hmong, remnants of a U.S.-backed anti-communist guerrilla army in the Laotian jungles during the Vietnam War, are ready to surrender after 30 years on the run, a U.S. activist said on Thursday.
Ex-California police officer Ed Szendrey, who was detained at the weekend by the Laotian communist government for helping 173 women, children and elderly people give themselves up, said many more Hmong were waiting to come in from the cold.
"We've had indications that there are nearly three to four thousand ready to surrender," Szendrey told a news conference in the Thai capital after his deportation from the landlocked southeast Asian nation as a "trouble-maker."
Human rights groups and Hmong refugees say the Pathet Lao communists, who seized power in Laos in 1975 in the closing stages of the Vietnam War, have prosecuted a war for decades against the Hmong as punishment for their alliance with the United States
Publication in the past two years of photographs of malnourished, wounded and disfigured Hmong fighters and their families, who were abandoned by the U.S. after the Vietnam War, have corroborated those claims.
They also prompted Szendrey and his wife Georgie, who run a pro-Hmong group called the Fact Finding Commission, to try to broker their surrender on humanitarian grounds with the Laotian government.
Szendrey has built up clandestine satellite phone links with the poorly armed jungle guerrillas and he said Hmong fighters feared they could hold out no longer.
"We received a call that things had become so desperate for them that they didn't think the women and children could survive when the rainy season came," Szendrey said.
With assurances of aid from Washington and the United Nations, but no official diplomatic support, he organized a daring midnight rendezvous with the group of 173 refugees by a road near the Xaisomboun "Special Zone," a region off-limits to foreigners.
"It was a very emotional time when the men turned the women and children over to us," Szendrey said. "They had to leave swiftly."
Shortly after dawn, the rag-tag group made its way from the trees to a nearby village, where they were welcomed with open arms by residents and officials with offers of food and water, Szendrey said.
If the initial group were well treated, and he could get word through to the 15,000 Hmong still believed to be hiding in the dense jungle, Szendrey said thousands more were ready to give themselves up.
However, soldiers arrived and the refugees were taken away. State media say they are being cared for in a village near the northeast town of Phonsavanh. There is no independent verification of their condition.
Szendrey, his wife and two U.S.-Hmong activists were then arrested on their way back to the capital, Vientiane. One of the Hmong-Americans is still in custody.
A Laotian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the U.S. group had been deported for interfering in a government scheme to move Hmong villagers into larger, centralized communities to give them with better access to food, water and electricity.
i pray that our government doesnt leave these people out on thier own.
we should assure thier safety in surender, even if by force. we have a beat down reputation, and heres one more chance to fix it up a little