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Laos Detains US Activists Over Alleged Surrender of Hmong Rebels

Authorities in Laos have detained four U.S. activists claiming to have witnessed the surrender of ethnic Hmong rebels who have been battling the government for decades. The Lao government accuses the activists of distorting facts to provoke international condemnation of the small, landlocked nation.

Lao government spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy said the four U.S. nationals were detained for questioning Saturday after they reported that 170 ethnic Hmong rebels had surrendered [in Xieng Khouang province] in central Laos near the border with Vietnam. "[The activists] jump in and try to make propaganda, saying [the Hmong] are surrendering to the government, which is not true at all," he said.

Mr. Yong called the detainees troublemakers trying to harm relations between Laos and the United States. He said they would be deported.

Activists in the United States say some 15,000 former Hmong and their families continue a four-decade-old fight against the Lao government. They accuse security forces of committing atrocities against them. The Lao government does not acknowledge any rebellion and denies the human rights charges. Human rights groups have not been able to verify the situation because they are denied access to the region.

The four activists, who include two naturalized U.S. citizens of Hmong descent, reported before their arrest that the encounter between the villagers and government officials had gone well.

The government spokesman said the villagers were from small, remote villages and were being brought together as part of its rural development program. "What we are trying to do is to regroup those people so that the development agencies can get in, help them to build access roads, help them to bring social services, electricity, water supply," he said.

The Laos communist government says the program is aimed at combating poverty in one of the poorest countries in Asia. Critics say the government is using the program to quash political dissent.

During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and '70s, members of the Hmong ethnic group were recruited as part of the U.S.-led war against communism. After the war, hundreds of thousands of them fled as refugees. Many eventually settled in the United States.