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Amnesty International Says Lao Soldiers Killed and Mutilated Hmong Children - 2004-09-14

Amnesty International says soldiers in Laos brutally killed five ethnic Hmong children last May, in an act the rights group describes as a war crime. Amnesty International says it has eyewitness accounts and video evidence of the brutal killings of four girls and one boy, aged between 13 and 16, who were killed by 30 to 40 government soldiers in the mountains of central Laos on May 19. The human rights group says the children were unarmed and foraging for food near their camp when soldiers raped the girls, then murdered all the children.

The children belonged to a group of Hmong rebels living near the Xaisomboun Special Zone. The Lao foreign ministry spokesman, Yong Chanthalangsy, denied the accusations, saying they were designed to create disorder and that Amnesty's evidence was not reliable.

Saria Rees-Roberts from Amnesty International in London says the killings should be described as a war crime and the Laos government should punish those responsible.

"From what we have seen of those reports, the video evidence, and the testimony also, what that describes is war crimes," she said. Amnesty International says the Hmong are destitute and that the Laos government should allow U.N. agencies and independent monitors to assess their living conditions.

"There are hundreds, possibly thousands of Hmong people in the mountains and it's so difficult to know what their situation is," she added.

Many Hmong sided with the United States and fought against the communists during the Vietnam War. When it was over, hundreds of thousands of Hmong fled to neighboring Thailand.

But thousands stayed in Laos and continue to fight against the communist government. Earlier this year, hundreds of Hmong rebels surrendered to the government, which has never acknowledged their existence.

Human rights groups accuse the government and military of abuses against the ethnic Hmong, committed as the government tries to wipe out the rebels.