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Laos blames US-based Hmong for Laos blasts: report

DATELINE: BANGKOK, July 1, 2000, Saturday

Vientiane believes US-based ethnic Hmong are behind a string of bomb blasts which have recently roiled normally placid Laos, reports said Saturday.

"Vientiane believes the spate of bombings is the work of foreign-based Hmong led by former resistance leader General Vang Pao," Laos ambassador to Thailand Hiem Phommachanh said in the Bangkok Post.

"With communities inside Laos firmly organised, clashes or problems are rare unless there is external support ... it is logical to assume General Vang Pao, an ethnic Hmong, was behind the bombings," the ambassador said.

General Vang Pao is "the only former resistance leader still criticising the Lao government and soliciting support" for resistance movements, he said.

Over the past three months, at least five explosions have rocked central Laos.

Two of the explosions caused little damage, but as many as 15 people were injured May 29 when a bomb ripped through a popular indoor shopping market in Vientiane.

In two previous blasts, a dozen foreign tourists were injured in a Vientiane restaurant at the end of March, and a bombing in April killed two Laos citizens.

Two men have been arrested in connection with this series of bombings, but no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Some Vientiane residents have attributed the blasts to a business dispute or in-fighting within Laos' secretive and tightly controlled ruling regime.

Hmong insurgents -- remnants of a guerrilla army trained by the CIA during the Vietnam War -- have been battling Laos' government intermittently since the communists took over the country in 1975 and the CIA pulled out.

Laos' government had previously charged that the Hmong insurgents were receiving increasing amounts of money from Hmong-Americans and using it to smuggle arms across the porous Thai-Lao border.

After the communists took over Laos, about 300,000 Hmong including General Vang Pao fled to the United States.

Vang Pao, one of the leaders of the CIA-trained Vietnam War-era Hmong army, retains a sizable following among Hmong communities in California, Minnesota and several other US states.