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SEN. GEORGE ASKS UW FOR PROBE ON VANG PAO

By: Pat Schneider The Capital Times, April 27, 2002 Saturday

State Sen. Gary George is calling on UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley to order an investigation into allegations by a UW-Madison professor that the commander of the CIA's secret army in the Vietnam War - now a leader of refugee Hmong in the United States - engaged in drug trafficking in Laos.

The allegations, 30 years old, resurfaced this month, enraging the refugee community.

"We will seek the truth and follow that path wherever it leads," George said Friday at a news conference at the State Capitol packed with Hmong veterans and supporters of Gen. Vang Pao.

Professor Alfred McCoy wrote about his findings on the role of Vang Pao and the CIA in drug trafficking in southeast Asia in a 1972 book, "The Politics of Heroin." McCoy said the U.S. government assisted Vang Pao in bringing opium, an important cash crop for the Hmong, to heroin factories to help Vang Pao seal his leadership role and ensure a supply of fighters who waged a secret war against the North Vietnamese in Laos.

Wiley and Phil Certain, dean of the College of Letters and Science, on Friday issued a statement of support of McCoy. Citing a university tradition of protecting academic freedom, they say: "Though the conclusions our faculty and staff draw from research and historical data sometimes prove unpopular, those conclusions are the very foundation of the academic freedom we cherish."

Since an April 17 article in The Capital Times recounting McCoy's allegations, Hmong veterans and leaders from throughout the state have protested his conclusions vigorously, picketing the University of Wisconsin and demanding that McCoy apologize.

The examination of Vang Pao's history was prompted by a proposal by Madison Park Board member Locha Thao that a new park on the far east side be named in honor of Vang Pao.

Vang Pao, through a statement read Friday by his representative, Xang Vang, vigorously denied the allegations.

"Professor McCoy has made numerous allegations against myself, which are without substance and are completely untrue," the statement said.

Vang Pao referred to an article in the Daily Cardinal newspaper in which McCoy said Vang Pao tried to silence him while he was in Laos in 1971, sending an armed ambush against McCoy and his contacts there.

"I think that Professor McCoy has been watching too many Indiana Jones movies," Vang Pao commented.

Jane Hamilton-Merritt, author of "Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans and the Secret War for Laos," took up the challenge of the Hmong protesters, challenging McCoy to "show us the proof." She said she carefully examined the footnoted sources in his book and finds no proof of his allegations there.

Jack Knotts, president of the Air America Association, a group of former civilian employees of the CIA-owned airline that supported U.S. troops in Laos, said Friday the aircraft were not used to move drugs.

"The CIA was adamant about any of us not carrying drugs," said Knotts. As drug addiction among U.S. troops rose, drug-sniffing dogs were put to work at the airports used by Air America, he said.

A former pilot, Knotts said later that such trafficking could not have occurred without his knowledge and that a heroin lab McCoy says Vang Pao used definitely did not exist.

Hamilton-Merritt said it was important to know the truth about what happened then because "it's not only their history, it's our history too."

The Madison Park Board will consider the proposal for a Vang Pao park on May 8. A board committee voted not to recommend the name after questioning whether it would fulfill park naming guidelines, which emphasize contributions to the Madison park system and community.

GRAPHIC: MIKE DeVRIES/THE CAPITAL TIMES

Hmong veteran Tongfao Vang makes a show of patriotism Friday while joining others in support of Vietnam War-era Gen. Vang Pao. Hmong groups are urging Madison officials to name a city park after the former military leader, but UW Professor Alfred McCoy claims he trafficked in drugs while working with the CIA.

Author Jane Hamilton-Merritt Friday defends Vang Pao from allegations that he trafficked in drugs.