By Kevin O’Sullivan
On 4 June 2007 US Federal prosecutors in California arrested ten people on the charge of conspiring to overthrow the Communist government of Laos. The story behind the arrests reads like a Hollywood thriller. Earlier that year an undercover agent posing as an arms dealer named Steve Hoffmaster had contacted Harrison Jack, an American Vietnam War veteran associated with the group. In the months that followed Hoffmaster and Jack prepared an inventory list of weapons worth $9.8 million that included AK-47s, M-16 machine guns, rockets, mines, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and three shoulder-fired Stinger missiles designed to shoot down aircraft. When Hoffmaster finally turned the men in, among those arrested was 77-year-old General Vang Pao, senior leader-in-exile of the Hmong ethnic group and the man recruited by the CIA in 1960 to lead a ‘Secret Army’ to rid Laos of the influence of the communist Pathet Lao (the latter ably aided by North Vietnamese troops).
Vang Pao and over 100,000 Hmong had fled across the Mekong River into Thailand and on to the US after the Pathet Lao gained full control of Laos in 1975, but for those left behind the years of conflict had an even more devastating legacy. Read More