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High-Level Lao Delegation to Pay Rare Visit to US

Thongloun Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (file photo)

News reports from Laos say a high-level official delegation, led by the country's foreign minister, will visit the United States next week.

The state-run Vientiane Times newspaper reported Friday that Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who also serves as the deputy prime minister, will head the group. It said the landmark visit, set to begin Monday, is in response to an invitation from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is expected to meet the visitors on Tuesday.

It will be the first visit to the United States by senior Lao officials since communists took over in Laos in 1975. Bilateral relations have been on the mend in recent years after decades of tensions.

U.S. senator Al Franken visited the Asian country this week.

Franken paid a visit to ethnic Hmong people in Laos who had fought alongside U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. Many of them fled to neighboring Asian countries after the communists took over in Vietnam and in Laos.

But Thailand last December repatriated about 4,500 Hmong, saying they were economic migrants and not political refugees. Franken said he would urge Secretary Clinton to press the Lao officials for the release of 158 Hmong who have been recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

The United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands have offered to accept them.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.