Human Rights Concerns in Laos and Thailand

Laos, Thailand Concerns: Senator Russ Feingold, Norm Coleman, Amy Klobuchar, Herb Kohl, Dianne Feinstein 

Washington, D.C. (RUSHPRNEWS) February 11, 2008 – A series of U.S. Congressional and Capitol Hill policy events, meetings and conferences were concluded in Washington, D.C. last week, by Lao and Hmong leaders and U.S. and international policymakers regarding the catastrophic human rights situation in Laos and refugee crisis in Thailand, which continues to seriously worsen.Members of Congress and Lao-Hmong delegations from St. Paul, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, California, Connecticut, North Carolina Virginia and other states urged the Bush Administration and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to act in a timely manner to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and halt forced repatriation of Laotian and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers.

A U.S. Senate letter signed by five U.S. Senators to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was released and discussed regarding the current human rights crisis in Laos, the plight of Lao and Hmong refugees and those trapped and suffering in the jungles of Laos, and the ongoing attacks in Laos by Lao government forces on unarmed Lao and Hmong civilians and increased fighting.

The U.S. Senate letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rice was signed by U.S. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R-CA), U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Participants in the Capitol Hill events called for an immediate stop to ongoing military attacks and ethnic cleansing operations by the Lao government largely directed at unarmed civilians and villagers whose Lao and Hmong relatives and families often reside in the
United States.

Highlighting the national events was a U.S. Congressional forum and policy briefing on Laos and the Hmong people which was held on Capitol Hill to discuss recent developments in Laos and
Thailand regarding the current human rights, refugee and humanitarian crisis facing thousands of Laotian and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers. The event was held from 9:00 A..M.-12:00 P.M. on Thursday, January 31, 2008, in 122 Cannon House Office Building, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C. The event was cosponsored by Members of Congress in cooperation with the Center for Public Policy Analysis, the Lao Veterans of America, the Lao Human Rights Council, Lao Hmong American Students Association, the United League for Democracy in Laos, Wisconsin Hmong Students, the Lao-Hmong Community of North Carolina, South East Lao Hmong for Justice Committee and other Lao and Hmong human rights, non-profit and community-based organizations.

“Amnesty International released a major report in March of 2007 about the Lao and Hmong people trapped in the jungles of Laos; and it is clear from this report that the Lao government is continuing to use military attacks and food as a weapon to starve and kill the Laotian and Hmong people,” stated T. Kumar of Amnesty International in Washington, D.C. who served as one of the keynote speakers at the Congressional Forum on Laos. “Amnesty International has issued a number of reports, urgent action appeals and press releases about this matter in recent years and I want to thank you for holding this Congressional forum and briefing today regarding the issue of the persecution of the Laotian and Hmong people by the Lao government,” T. Kumar concluded.

“The U.S. Senate letter is an important first step in urging the State Department and the Bush Administration to address the killing, horrific butchering and mass starvation of Hmong and Laotian civilians in the Lao jungle by the Lao Government; Indeed, a a recent Congress briefing on Laos, T. Kumar, of Amnesty International reported that only two Asian countries use food as a weapon against their own people–Laos and North Korea,” stated Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Southeast Asian historian and scholar, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee for her human rights work on Laos and the Hmong people, and acclaimed author of the award-winning book “Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos,” (Indiana University Press). Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt also served as keynote speaker at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos and was a participant in the Capitol Hill meetings and conferences which concluded last week.

Ethnic cleansing operations and increased atrocities and military attacks by the Lao military directed against unarmed civilians and opposition groups as well as the emergency plight of over 8,000 Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand were highlighted at the Congressional Forum and Capitol Hill events that were cosponsored by the Center for Public Policy Analysis in cooperation with Members of Congress and the U.S. Senate.

“Currently, there is an all-out ethnic cleansing war that has been launched by the Lao military to wipe out the remaining 9,000-15,000 unarmed Hmong civilians hiding in the mountain jungles of Laos,” stated Vaughn Vang, Director of the Lao Human Rights Council. Vaughn Vang stated further: “The Lao Government, which we strongly condemn for its barbaric attacks and mass starvation of civilians, has requested more North Vietnam military troops to assist Lao Government troops to exterminate peaceful Lao and Hmong villagers opposed to the regime. Artillery and helicopter gunship attacks that have intensified against unarmed Hmong and Laotian groups. Currently, new battalions of North Vietnamese troops from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have been deployed and are station in Laos and cooperating with Laos Government troops to conduct these war crimes directed against thousands of innocent Hmong and Laotian civilians trapped in the jungles and mountains.”

“We do not forget the ongoing imprisonment and brutal jailing of the peaceful Lao student demonstrators from the 1999 protests in Vientiane, Laos by the communist Pathet Lao regime and its secret police,’ said Khamphet Moukdarat of the United League for Democracy in Laos.

“Our people are suffering and dying and we have waited for too long; we want all of the provisions and text of House Resolution 402, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004, implemented by the Bush Administration and international community to help stop the killing of innocent Lao and Hmong people in Laos and help to bring human rights and democracy to Laos,”stated Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America.

“These peaceful Lao pro-democracy student demonstrators are still being jailed by the Lao communist regime according to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations and we want them immediately and unconditionally released along with Mr. Hakit Yang and the other two Hmong-American citizens from St. Paul, Minnesota that have been arrested and imprisoned in Laos,“ stated Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos. “Where are the peaceful Lao student leaders from the October 1999 Lao Students Movement for Democracy arrested and jailed by the Communist regime’s secret police now and where are the Ban Vang Thao patriots who flew the Royal flag of our beloved Kingdom of Laos over Lao soil in defense of the peaceful students movement ? This is what the freedom-loving Lao people want to ask the Lao military junta and its and its brutal and corrupt communist leaders and Vietnamese communist puppet masters,” concluded Mr. Rathigna.

Concerns about the coercion and threatened forced repatriation by elements of the Thai Third Army of over 8,000 Laotian and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers at Ban Huay Nam Khao, Petchabun, Thailand and Nong Khai, Thailand were also discussed by Members of the US Congress, Congressional offices, US policymakers, UN officials, non-governmental organizations, human rights organizations and community leaders at the events. A US Congressional letter signed by a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress appealing to the King of Thailand for assistance regarding this matter was read by the office of
US Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).

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