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HEADLINE: Laotian delegation visits Vietnam amid mounting unrest

DATELINE: HANOI, June 13

Agence France Presse, June 13, 2000

A Laotian delegation led by a top official from the troubled province of Xiang Khouang, where diplomats say Vietnamese troops have intervened against a mounting rebel insurgency, wound up a week-long visit to Vietnam Tuesday, officials here said.

The delegation, led by the province's communist party deputy secretary Sivonya Yangyongyia, held talks with the powerful external relations commission of the Vietnamese Communist Party, a commission official told AFP.

The visit, made at the invitation of the Vietnamese party's central committee, was aimed at "strengthening relations between the two parties and two countries," the official said asking not to be named.

The delegation also met members of Vietnam's state committee for ethnic minorities and mountainous areas, and visited the minority province of Tuyen Quang north of the capital as well as the port city of Haiphong, he said.

The Laotian army has increasingly been losing control of the northern province of Xiang Khouang in recent months in the face of mounting losses at the hands of rebels from the Hmong minority.

The whole province, including the popular tourist attraction of the Plain of Jars, is now closed to foreign tourists as is the Xaisomboun special zone between it and the capital.

Diplomatic sources in Vientiane said recently they had seen military transports carrying Vietnamese troops on the streets of the Lao capital as the authorities there were forced to secure a renewed military intervention by its key ally in a bid to regain control.

Hmong emigre sources in the United States told AFP that the upsurge in rebel attacks had been made possible by the defection with their weapons of a number of previously pro-Vientiane Hmong units recruited by the Vietnamese.

The Hmong straddle the borders between Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, where nearly 600,000 of them live in the north of the country.

During the Vietnam War the US Central Intelligence Agency recruited an anti- communist militia among the Laotian Hmong, tens of thousands of whom were eventually granted asylum by Washington after the conflict's end in 1975, including their leader General Vang Pao.

The secretive communist authorities in Hanoi and Vientiane both strongly deny that Vietnamese troops have intervened in Laos.