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Laos Denies Attacks on Hmong, as Activists Report Abuses in Laos, Thailand

The Lao government has dismissed charges of human rights abuses against ethnic Hmong, freshly detailed in a report and film made by a U.S. advocacy group. The allegations come as 6,000 Hmong have fled to Thailand and set up camp in central Petchabun province.

The charges of human rights abuses against ethnic Hmong living in Laos and Thailand are being aired in a documentary made by the Society for Threatened Peoples International, a U.S. rights group.

The film focuses on Hmong hiding in the mountains of central Laos' Xaysomboun Special Zone, and on the Hmong who have fled to Thailand.

The Hmong fought alongside U.S. forces in Laos during the Vietnam War. When the United States withdrew from Vietnam, about 300,000 were resettled in the U.S., and thousands more fled to Thailand.

Many Hmong remained in Laos and some are today members of local government or active in small businesses.

However, reports in 2004 also showed dozens of Hmong in desperate straits in jungle communities, near starvation and without medical care. Some have since tried to surrender to Lao authorities. There have been reports that the Lao government has tried to hunt down Hmong living in the jungle.

In an interview in the society's documentary, Vaughn Vang, who is with the Lao Human Rights Council, says the Lao military is continuing operations against the Hmong.

"They are still sending troops surrounding everywhere and to hurt them. And Hmong people are very scared. They do not want to die," she said. "They want to live peacefully. They do not want to fight anymore. But if they do not protect themselves they will be killed and tortured."

The society's report and documentary, released this week, detail attacks by Lao government forces in April that killed 67 Hmong men, women and children.

The filmmaker, Rebecca Sommer, says the Lao government has a policy of "genocide" against ethnic Hmong. She hopes the United Nations, with which her group has consultative status, will agree.

"At least from our NGO (non-governmental organizations) circles we do definitely say its genocide," she said.

The human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, condemned the April attacks as a "massacre of unarmed Hmong women and children." It called on the Lao government to better assist ethnic groups seeking to reintegrate into Lao society.

Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy denies any attacks taking place anywhere in Laos.

"They always claim they are repressed by the Lao authorities but in reality there [is] not a single attack against anybody in our country," he said. "There is no more conflict in our country. When they claim they have been attacked it is all justification in order to be able to get a plane ticket to go to the States."

Thailand is negotiating with Laos over the fate of the Hmong now in Thailand. Laos says they are a domestic matter for the Thais to deal with. Thailand takes a tough stance against new arrivals of Lao and other displaced persons, but says it is forming a committee with the United Nations to care for the refugees. Last year, 15,000 Hmong from Thailand were resettled in the U.S.