Vietnam on Tuesday said forces of former rebel Hmong general Vang Pao were committing terrorist attacks in neighbouring Laos, the first time Hanoi has publicly pointed to the Hmong figure as a source of mounting unrest.
Vang Pao is widely thought to be behind some of the half-dozen bombings that have rocked the sleepy landlocked nation over the last few months, when reports began trickling out that a simmering armed Hmong insurgency was yielding military and civilian casualties.
Dr. Dao Duy Quat, vice chairman of the Communist Party department on ideology and culture, said there was no connection between Vietnam's reported army cooperation with Laos and recent financial support of a military hospital in Xieng Khoang province, where fighting has reportedly escalated.
"The assistance of Vietnam to Laos to build a hospital was already in the plan of cooperation between the two armies and it is not that terrorist attacks carried out by Vang Pao forces led to the hospital," Quat said.
He was speaking at a press conference following the conclusion of the party's 10th plenum, which addressed goals and reports for next year's Ninth Party Congress.
Hanoi has angrily rejected reports it is involved in suppressing a rebellion in Laos, which has turned increasingly to China and Vietnam for political guidance and economic ties.
"The 10th plenum did not have any separate discussion on the situation in Laos," Quat said.
Despite such pronouncements, Hanoi and Vientiane have been quietly discussing military cooperation.
Vientiane's army commander, General Khamphuong Chantahaphomma, ventured to Hanoi last month for five days of talks with Vietnam Defence Minister General Pham Van Tra, among others.
A high-level delegation from Xieng Khouang province, which borders Vietnam, also visited Hanoi for a week last month.
Notoriously tight-lipped Vientiane does not publicly invoke the name of Vang Pao, who now lives in the United States.
But observers have long viewed the aging Hmong revolutionary as the source of funding for Hmong rebels, who are displaying alarming resistance in the country's northern mountains.
Many Hmong tribesmen were recruited by the French and, later, the Americans to help fight communist forces in both Laos and Vietnam from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, when the war in Indochina ended.