LAOS : Reprisal blamed for deadly raid


Ten people were killed when a passenger bus was attacked in northern Laos on June 6, a day after 20 ethnic minority Hmong were arrested by the authorities, sources said yesterday.The ambush took place about 3km north of Muang Cha in the heavily militarised Xaysomboun special zone, northeast of Vientiane, according to expatriate sources in the region.
A group of unidentified men ``shot up'' the bus as it was passing an electricity transmission tower belonging to a project financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Several others were injured.

``A day before, the authorities arrested around 20 Hmong and then there was this apparent reprisal attack,'' one of the sources said. An ADB spokesman in Ventiane confirmed an incident had taken place.

``We don't have the details but we have asked for clarification from the government,'' he said.Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Sodom Petrasy said he had not received any information on the attack, nor was he able to shed light on reports of another ambush on a bus in tightly-controlled Xaysomboun on June 16.

United States-based opposition group the Fact Finding Commission said 11 people had been killed in the attack, which was carried out by people wearing ``military uniforms''. The exact location of the alleged ambush was unclear, but 10 injured passengers were reportedly taken to Hospital 103 in Vientiane for treatment.

If confirmed the June 6 raid would be the third this month in Laos. On June 18 one person was killed and 20 others injured in a bomb blast on a bus in the southern province of Khammuan.Two similar ambushes on Feb 6 and April 20 along the main highway north of the Lao capital left 25 people dead, including two Swiss nationals and a Chinese citizen.
The government blamed these two attacks, as well as the June 18 bus blast, on ``bandits'', a term it often uses to describe Hmong rebels fighting the regime, in line with its stance that Laos has never had an insurgency problem.

``It wouldn't surprise me that these attacks did happen and that others have occurred we don't know about,'' said Vientiane-based University of Hong Kong Lao scholar Grant Evans.``The situation seems to have developed a dangerous momentum of tit-for-tat killings.''
Laos has found itself in the spotlight over the past few weeks following the arrests of two European journalists and a US national on June 4 in Xieng Khuang province, north of Xaysamboun.Four local people accompanying the trio, who were carrying out research for a report on the Hmong rebels, were also taken into custody.The three foreign nationals are due to face trial in Phonsavan on Monday, although diplomats have not been informed of charges against them.The Lao Foreign Ministry has said the seven were arrested because they were ``cooperating with bandits'' who killed a security guard in the village of Khai in the Phoukout district.
Tens of thousands of Hmong were recruited by the US to fight its secret war in Laos against North Vietnamese troops and Pathet Lao rebels during the Vietnam War. But after the 1973 Paris Peace Accord which paved the way for US withdrawal from the region, the 10,000-strong Hmong fighters were abandoned. The desperate rag-tag rebels were never completely wiped out, however.
French and American diplomats have visited two European journalists and a US national detained in Laos, three days before they are due to face trial in the north of Laos.Ambassador Bernard Pottier held brief talks yesterday with Belgian Thierry Falise and Frenchman Vincent