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Agence France Presse, June 2, 2000

HEADLINE: Upsurge in rebel attacks forces new Vietnamese intervention in Laos

BY: Philippe Perdriau

DATELINE: VIENTIANE, June 2

Mounting losses at the hands of Hmong minority rebels have forced the government to seek renewed Vietnamese military intervention, Lao diplomats said on Friday.

The scale of the casualties is making it difficult for the tiny communist state's secretive government to hide the rebellion in the northern mountains from an increasingly fearful population, diplomats said.

Following a spate of bomb attacks in the capital that prompted authorities to announce a nationwide security alert on Tuesday, the mounting death toll in the mountains is beginning to create a siege mentality, the diplomats said.

"In the past few months there have been frequent clashes in Xiang Khouang province which are getting bigger, causing mounting casualties for the army," one western diplomat told AFP.

The diplomat said material losses suffered by the army had also been severe. "A helicopter carrying artillery was shot down recently," he said asking not to be named.

Mounting losses have forced Lao authorities to request military support from their chief ally, Vietnam.

"The Vietnamese army has sent soldiers and military equipment to bolster the Lao army which is struggling to control the situation. We have seen military vehicles carrying Vietnamese troops on the streets of the capital," he said.

Vietnamese military support in the late 1970s and 1980s largely eliminated the remnants of an anti-communist militia recruited from the Hmong by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War.

However an influx of weapons smuggled in across the porous Thai border by Hmong emigres based in the United States has enabled rebel attacks to escalate in recent months, another diplomat said.

Washington granted asylum to tens of thousands of former Hmong militiamen after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, including their leader General Vang Pao.

The diplomat said emigre groups were now funding large-scale arms deliveries to those who remained.

Hmong live on both sides of Laos's 2,000-kilometre border with Thailand, making it difficult for Lao authorities to police.

"The intensification of the attacks is beginning to create a siege mentality among the population," the second diplomat said, also asking not be named.

"Despite the secrecy maintained by authorities here, the casualties being suffered by the army can no longer be hidden from a population which have relatives being killed and injured," he said.

"As well as troop losses, a large number of government officials in the northern villages have been killed by the rebels."

Several residents of the capital told AFP of their fears.

"I'm terrified for my mother's safety but it's too dangerous to travel home to check on her," said one ethnic Lao resident of the capital with family in the mountains.

Authorities have still not confirmed the mounting rebellion, despite recently stopping tourists visiting the Plain of Jars, one of the country's most popular attractions, lying in a previously safe part of Xiang Khouang province.

Following a weekend bomb blast in the capital's market which wounded about 15 people, the authorities finally broke with their usual secrecy on Tuesday and admitted to a security problem.

"Investigations suggested the explosion was caused by persons wishing to destroy the peaceful atmosphere of Vientiane," government spokesmen told the official KPL news agency before ordering a nationwide security alert.

Diplomats say it is not certain Hmong rebels were behind Sunday's blast, the latest of four to hit the capital in the past two months, although the market bombing appeared to have been an act of political violence.

Vietnam insists that all remains well in its tiny neighbour and ally. "As far as we know, the security, political and social situation in Laos is still stable," foreign ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told AFP on Wednesday.

Mounting losses at the hands of rebels from the Hmong minority have forced the Lao government to secure a renewed military intervention by its communist ally Vietnam, diplomats here said Friday.

Military transports carrying Vietnamese troops have been seen on the streets of the capital in recent weeks, Western diplomats told AFP, although Hanoi issued a swift and angry denial.

Agence France Presse, June 2, 2000

The scale of the casualties being suffered by the Lao army is making it increasingly difficult for the tiny communist state's ultra-secretive government to hide the rebellion in the northern mountains from an increasingly fearful population, the diplomats said.

Coming on top of a still unexplained spate of bomb attacks in the capital which prompted the authorities to announce a nationwide security alert on Tuesday, the mounting death toll in the mountains is beginning to create a siege mentality, they said.

"In the past few months there have been frequent clashes in Xiang Khouang province which are getting ever bigger, causing mounting casualties for the army," one Western diplomat in post here told AFP.

"A helicopter carrying artillery was shot down recently," he said, asking not to be named.

The mounting human and material losses have once again forced the Lao authorities to turn to their chief ally Vietnam for military support, the diplomat said.

"The Vietnamese army has sent soldiers and military equipment to bolster the Lao army which is struggling to control the situation. We have seen military transports carrying Vietnamese troops on the streets of the capital," he said.

Massive military support from Vietnam in the late 1970s and 1980s largely eliminated the remnants of an anti-communist militia recruited among the Hmong by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War, although low-level attacks continued through the 1990s.

But an influx of weapons smuggled in across the porous Thai border by Hmong emigres based in the United States has enabled a sharp escalation in rebel attacks in recent months, another diplomat said.

Washington granted asylum to several tens of thousands of former Hmong militiamen after the end of the war in 1975, including their leader General Vang Pao, and the diplomat said that emigre groups were now funding large-scale arms deliveries to those who stayed behind.

"The intensification of the attacks is beginning to create a siege mentality among the population," the second diplomat said, also asking not be named.

"Despite the cult of secrecy maintained by the authorities here, the casualties being suffered by the army can no longer be hidden from a population which has relatives being killed and injured.

"As well as the troop losses, a large number of government officials in the northern villages have been killed by the rebels."

Several Vientiane residents with relatives in the mountains broke with the normal reluctance here to speak to foreigners to tell AFP of their fears.

"I'm terrified for my mother's safety but it's too dangerous to travel home to check on her," said one ethnic Lao resident of the capital with family in the

Agence France Presse, June 2, 2000 mountains.

The authorities here have still made no admission of the mounting rebellion even though they recently stopped allowing tourists to visit one of the country's most popular attractions, the Plain of Jars, which lies in a previously safe part of Xiang Khouang province.

But on Tuesday, following a weekend bomb at the capital's morning market which wounded around 15 people, the authorities finally broke with their ususal secrecy and acknowledged that they faced a security problem.

"Investigations suggested that the explosion was caused by persons who wanted to destroy the peaceful atmosphere of Vientiane," government spokesmen told the official KPL news agency before ordering a nationwide security alert.

Diplomats here say there is no clear evidence that Hmong rebels were behind Sunday's blast, the latest of four to hit the capital in just two months, although it does appear to have been an act of political violence.

But Vietnam still steadfastly denies that it has sent any troops to Laos or that its ally is facing any difficulties.

"These reports are totally fabricated and malicious," foreign ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told AFP Friday.

"As far as we know, the security, political and social situation in Laos is still stable," she had said on Wednesday.